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Hlai languages

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Native toChina
Native speakers
667,000 (1999)[1]
Early form
Proto-Hlai (reconstructed)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
lic – Hlai
cuq – Cun
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The Hlai languages (Chinese: 黎语; pinyin: Lí yǔ) are a primary branch of the Kra–Dai language family spoken in the mountains of central and south-central Hainan in China, not to be confused with the colloquial name for the Leizhou branch of Min Chinese (Chinese: 黎话; pinyin: Lí huà). They include Cun, whose speakers are ethnically distinct.[3] A quarter of Hlai speakers are monolingual. None of the Hlai languages had a writing system until the 1950s, when the Latin script was adopted for Ha.


Norquest (2007) classifies the Hlai languages as follows.[4] Individual languages are highlighted in bold. There are some 750,000 Hlai speakers.

  • Proto-Hlai
    • Bouhin (Heitu 黑土) – 73,000
    • Greater Hlai
      • Ha Em 哈 (Zhongsha 中沙) – 193,000, the basis of the literary language
      • Central Hlai
        • East Central Hlai – 344,000
          • Lauhut (Baoding 保定) – 166,000
          • Qi 杞 also known as Gei – 178,000
            • Tongzha (Tongshi 通什) – 125,000
            • Zandui (Qiandui 堑对) – 29,000
            • Baoting 保亭 – 24,000
        • North Central Hlai – 136,500
          • Northwest Central Hlai – 62,500
            • Cun (Ngan Fon, Gelong 仡隆) – 60,000
            • Nadou (Dongfang 东方) – 2,500
          • Northeast Central Hlai – 74,000
            • Meifu 美孚 (Moifau) – 30,000
            • Run (Zwn) also known as Bendi – 44,000
              • Baisha 白沙 – 36,000
              • Yuanmen 元门 – 8,000

The Fuma 府玛 dialect is spoken in one village north of Changcheng 昌城, Hainan. It had about 800 speakers in 1994.[5]

Jiamao 加茂 (52,000) is an aberrant Kra-Dai language with a Hlai superstratum and a non-Hlai substratum.


The Proto-Hlai language is the reconstructed ancestor of the Hlai languages. Proto-Hlai reconstructions include those of Matisoff (1988), Thurgood (1991), Ostapirat (2004), and Norquest (2007).


The following displays the phonological features of the modern Hlai dialects[6][7][8]:


Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Alveolo-
Velar Glottal
plain lab. plain lab. pal.
Plosive voiceless p t ȶ k ʔ
aspirated kʰʷ
voiced ɡ ɡʷ
implosive ɓ ɗ
Affricate voiceless ts
aspirated tsʰ
Fricative voiceless f (s) x h
voiced v z ɣ
lateral ɬ
Nasal m ɱ n ȵ ŋ ŋʷ
Trill r
Approximant l ˀj ˀw
  • [ɣ] can occur as an allophone of /ɡ/.
  • [ɬ], [f] mainly occur word-initially among various dialects. [ɬ] may also be realized as [tɬ].
  • [x], [ɣ] mainly occur among the Xifang dialects.
  • /ts/, /tsʰ/, /z/ are pronounced as alveolo-palatal sounds [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [ɕ], among other various dialects.
  • /r/ can have allophones as [ɾ, dɾ].


Front Central Back
High i ɯ u
Mid e ə o
ɛ ɔ
Low a
  • Among other Hlai dialects, /a, i, e, o/ can have allophones of [ɐ, ɪ, ɛ, ɔ].
  • Vowel sounds /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are common among the Baisha and Jiamao dialects.
  • /ə/ occurs among some dialects.


Liang & Zhang (1996:18-21)[9] consider the original homeland of the Hlai languages to be the Leizhou Peninsula, and estimate that the Hlai had migrated across the Hainan Strait into Hainan island about 4,000 years before present.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Hlai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Cun at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nuclear Hlaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Ethnologue mistakenly lists Cun among the Kra languages.
  4. ^ Norquest, Peter K. (2007). A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai (Ph.D. dissertation). Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  5. ^ http://asiaharvest.org/wp-content/themes/asia/docs/people-groups/China/chinaPeoples/F/Fuma.pdf
  6. ^ Ostapirat, Weera (2008). The Hlai language. The Tai-Kadai Languages: London & New York: Routledge. pp. 623–652.
  7. ^ Yuan, Zhongshu (1994). 黎语语法纲要 (Liyu Yufa Gangyao) [An outline of Li grammar]. Beijing: Central University for Nationalities. pp. 1–10.
  8. ^ Ouyang, Jueya (1980). Li-yu jianzhi [Description of the Li language]. Beijing: National Minorities Publ.
  9. ^ a b Liang Min 梁敏 & Zhang Junru 张均如. 1996. Dongtai yuzu gailun 侗台语族概论 / An introduction to the Kam–Tai languages. Beijing: China Social Sciences Academy Press 中国社会科学出版社. ISBN 9787500416814


Further reading

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Hlai languages
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