1. Letters and Pronunciation1

The Old Miao script of Northeastern Yunnan features 24 basic single consonants. From these, there are derivatives including 12 aspirated consonants, 8 nasal consonants, and 8 nasal aspirated consonants, making a total of 52 consonants. Additionally, there are 19 basic vowels, with 14 forming compound vowels in combination with ‘i’ and 8 forming compound vowels with “u,” resulting in a total of 39 vowels.


1). The 24 basic single consonants and their pronunciations are listed as follows (see Chart 1: Single Consonants):


2).The nineteen single vowels and their pronunciations


In the structure of the Miao script, the initial consonants serve as the basic musical scale, while the vowels function to alter the pitch. These vowels are positioned to the right of the consonants. The 19 basic vowels and their pronunciations are as follows (see Chart 3: Nineteen Single Vowels):


2. Tones

1). Tone Positions

The Northeastern Dian sub-dialect of the Miao language has six tones, which are arranged in order from high to low based on the pitch. The highest pitch is at the top of the head, decreasing progressively to the lowest at the foot position. The second and third tones are both at the shoulder level, while the fifth and sixth tones are at the foot level. Apart from the first tone at the top of the head, the other five tones are positioned to the right of the characters. The diagram is as follows (Chart 9: Tone Positions).

1). 声调位置


2). Spelling Tones with Musical Notes

For outsiders, it is not easy to distinguish the high and low tones of the Miao language, similar to the experiences described by Berlie. However, using musical scales to vocalize makes it easier to grasp. Below, the tones are spelled out using musical notes to differentiate the pitch of each of the six tones (Chart 10: Spelling Tones).

2). 用音符拼读声调


The pitches of the Miao language tones are as follows (Chart 11: Tone Pitches).


(Edited and translated by ECura team)

  1. This content is adapted and excerpted with permission from original work 滇东北次方言老苗文与苗文谱的田野调查与研 (Investigation and Research on the Old Miao Script and Miao Script Spectrum in the Northeastern Yunnan Sub-dialect) by Yunhui Yang, which was originally published in the journal of 内蒙古大学学报 (Journal of Inner Mongolia University). All rights remain with the original author. ↩︎