Classic Yi

From: Martin Heijdra (
Date: Wed Oct 27 1999 - 17:53:39 EDT

Also this was sent to an individual, instead of the list. Thanks, Peter, for
pointing this out.

Now that Standard, Modern Yi has been encoded, it's perhaps time to get to
Classic Yi, the script most extant Yi works are written in. Modern Yi script
is based on, yet quite different from the actual Yi works which are extent
from the last 500 years or so (mostly manuscripts, very few blockprints, an
increasing number of inscriptions discovered, etc.) There are more than 60
different Yi groups (most recently investigated by the American
Christian-sponsored Asian Minorities Center in Chiangmai), and characters
between the few groups with writing can differ substantially.

A very recent, very extensive new encyclopedic dictionary on Classic Yi by its
foremost scholar was published earlier this year:

Ma Xueliang, Yiwen jingji wenhua cidian, Beijing: Jinghua chubanshe, 1998/12,
some $100. (jingji: classics+books, not economy).

Ma lists here for 1150 syllables (standardized to Wuding reading, neo-IPA
transcription) 1432 characters plus 2 punctuation symbols; separately are
listed 2484 variants of these characters, 3918 total (my count).

An effort has been made to "standardize" classic Yi based upon the idea that
inscriptions should be considered basic to written variants. These "variants"
range from barely distinguishable to completely different. Propbably in
keeping up with official Chinese standpoint those variants are not analyzed as
belonging to specific ethnic and/or geographic subgroups of Yi. Variants do
not include, as far as I can see, the 90-degree turned variants in use in some
Yi areas; whether they are left out or simply "restored" to non-turned
variants I cannot see.

Martin Heijdra
Gest Oriental Library
317 Palmer Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544

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