Naxi (Naqxi geezheeq)

Naxi is a member of the Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family. It is spoken by about 300,000 people in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, particularly in the Lijiang (丽江) region. There are also Naxi people in Tibet and possibly in Burma/Myanmar.

Naxi has been written with three different scripts:

Naxi Dongba script    Naxi script (sər33 tɕə21 lʏ33 tɕə21)

The Naxi Dongba script (a.k.a. Tomba or dto-mba) was reputedly invented by King Moubao Azong in the 13th century. It is used exclusively by the Dongba (shamans/priests) as an aid to the recitation of ritual texts during religious ceremonies and shamanistic rituals.

Use of the Naxi language and script was discouraged after the Communist victory in 1949, and they were actively suppressed during the Cultural Revolution in the 60s when thousands of manuscripts were destroyed.

Today there are about 60 Dongba priests who can read and write the Dongba script. Most are over 70, though at least three are under 30. In an effort to revive the script, the younger Dongbas frequently visit local schools in the Lijiang region to teach classes on it.

A newspaper was published during the 1980s printed in the Dongba script and the Latin alphabet in an attempt to increase the level of literacy among the Naxi people in their own language. Over 30 books were also published. There efforts were successful at first - in 1982, 200 people could read Naxi in the Latin alphabet. By 1985, 1,700 could do so. The Chinese government phased out Naxi language teaching in the late 80s, but recently effort have been made to start teaching the language again.

The script is also used on road signs and shop names in Lijiang.

Notable features

Sample of the Naxi Dongba script

Sample of the Naxi Dongba script

Naxi Geba script

The Geba script is structurally similar to Chinese and contains a mixture of symbols derived from Chinese characters, independently invented symbols and simplified pictographs taken from the Dongba script. Few examples of texts in the Geba script are known, so the script is little understood.

Notable features

Part of the Naxi Geba syllabary

Part of the Naxi Geba syllabary

Sample Naxi text in the Geba script

Sample Naxi text in the Geba script

Latin alphabet for Naxi

A version of the Latin alphabet based on Pinyin was introduced to write Naxi in 1957 and revised in 1984.

Latin alphabet for Naxi

Download an alphabet chart for Naxi (Excel)

Details provided by Michael Peter Füstumum, with corrections by Wolfram Siegel


Sample of Naxi in the Latin alphabet

Naqxi tei'ee jju pil gguf, Naqxi balzhee tv ceeq sie. Naqxi tei'ee Naqxi bal, sseiweq leq gee dde bbaq leq bbaq ssi ddee ddoq nee, Naqxi xiyuq huahuaq.

Since the Naxi people have their own script, they publish a Naxi newspaper. The Naxi script newspaper is as beautiful as a blooming flower. Seeing this beautiful flower, we know that the life of the Naxi people will be joyful.

Sample videos in and about the Naxi language and script

Information about Naxi | Numbers


Information about Naxi納西語

Information about the Naxi Dongba script

edongba - software for typing the Naxi Dongba script

Naxi dongba fonts

Naxi Manuscript Collection in The Library of Congress

Information about the Naxi people

Information about and photos of Lijiang

Tibeto-Burman languages

Achang, Arakanese, Balti, Bisu, Chocha Ngacha, Drung, Hajong, Hani, Hmar, Jingpho, Lashi, Lepcha, Lhao Vo, Lhomi, Lisu, Magar, Manipuri, Mro, Naxi, Newar, Nusu, Pahari, Tangkhul Naga, Tujia, Yolmo, Zaiwa

Semanto-phonetic writing systems

Akkadian Cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian (Demotic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieratic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), Chinese, Chữ-nôm, Cuneiform, Japanese, Jurchen, Khitan, Linear B, Luwian, Mayan, Naxi, Sawndip (Old Zhuang), Sui, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)

Other writing systems

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 15.03.23


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