Akha language

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Native to Burma, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Ethnicity Akha
Native speakers
ca. 600,000 (2007)[1]
  • Ako
  • Asong
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ahk
Glottolog akha1245[2]

Akha is the language spoken by the Akha people of southern China (Yunnan Province), eastern Burma (Shan State), northern Laos, and northern Thailand.

Western scholars group Akha, Hani and Honi into the Hani languages, treating all three as separate mutually unintelligible, but closely related, languages. The Hani languages are, in turn, classified in the Hanoish branch of Loloish. Alternatively, Chinese linguists consider all Hani languages, including Akha, to be dialects of a single language in accordance with China's official classification of ethnic groups, which groups all speakers of Hani languages into one ethnicity.

Speakers of Akha live in remote mountainous areas where it has developed into a wide-ranging dialect continuum. Dialects from villages separated by as little as ten kilometers may show marked differences. The isolated nature of Akha communities has also resulted in several villages with divergent dialects. Dialects from extreme ends of the continuum and the more divergent dialects are mutually unintelligible.[3]


The Akha dialect spoken in Alu village, 55 kilometers northwest of Chiang Rai city in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand is described below. Katsura conducted his study in during the late 1960s. With a population of 400 it was, at the time, one of the largest Akha villages in Northern Thailand and was still growing as a result of cross-border migration from Burma. The Akha in Alu spoke no Standard Thai and communicated with outsiders using either Lahu Na or Shan.

The Alu dialect has 23 or 24 consonants depending on how the syllabic nasal is analyzed. The /m̩/, realized variously as [ˀm] or [m̥], can be analyzed as a separate single consonant or as sequences of /ʔm/ and /hm/. Katsura chose the latter but listed the /m/ component of the syllabic consonant with the vowels.[3]

Consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop voiced b d ɟ ɡ
tenuis p t c k ʔ*
Fricative s x h
Approximant l j ɣ

*Akha /ʔ/ is often described as glottal "tension" rather than a true stop

Any consonant may begin a syllable, but native Akha syllables which don't end in a vowel may only end in either -m or -ɔŋ. A few loan words have been noted that end in -aŋ or -aj. In the case of a nasal coda, some vowels become nasalized. Alu Akha distinguishes ten vowel qualities, contrasting rounded and unrounded back vowels at three heights while only the mid front vowels contrast roundness.

Vowel phonemes
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close /i/ /ɯ/ /u/
Mid /e/ /ø/ /ə/ /o/
Open /ɛ/ /a/ /ɔ/

Three vowels, /u/, /ɔ/ and /ɯ/, show marked nasalization when followed by a nasal consonant becoming /ũ/, /ɔ̃/ and /ɯ̃/, respectively.



The table below lists the Akha varieties surveyed in Kingsada (1999), Shintani (2001), and Kato (2008), with autonyms and informant birth places given as well. All locations are in Phongsaly Province, northern Laos.

Akha varieties of Phongsaly Province, northern Laos
Language Autonym Locations Source
Ko-Pala pa33 la33 tshɔ55 ja11 Sen Kham village, Khua District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Oma kɔ33 ɔ55 ma11 Nana village, Phongsaly District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Phuso kɔ33 phɯ55 sɔ33 Phapung Kao village, Bun Neua District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Puli a11 kha11 pu33 li11 Culaosaen Kao village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Chipia a11 kha11 cɛ11 pja11 Sano Kao village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Eupa ɯ21 pa21 Cabe village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Ko-Nyaü a11 kha11 ɲa11 ɯ55 Huayphot village, Khua District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Ko-Luma lu21 ma21 Lasamay village, Samphan District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Akha Nukui a21 kha21, nu21 ɣø21 a21 kha21 Kungci village, Nyot U District, Phongsaly Province Kato (2008)


In Jinghong City and Menghai County, the two major Hani subgroups are Jiuwei 鸠为 and Jizuo 吉坐.[4] The Jizuo 吉坐 are the largest Hani ethnic subgroup in Jinghong.

The Jiuwei claim to have migrated from Honghe and Mojiang. The Jiuwei live in various villages in Jinghong, including:

  • Mengbozhai 勐波寨, Menghan Town 勐罕寨, Jinghong City
  • Agupu 阿古普 (also called Manwoke 曼窝科) in Leiwu 类吴, Mengsong Township 勐宋, Jinghong City
  • Napazhai 那帕寨 in Damenglong 大勐笼, Jinghong City
  • Baiya village 拜牙村 in Menghun 勐混, Menghai County (The Ake 阿克 subgroup lives in Lougu 楼固村, located in Menghun 勐混 as well.)
  • Babingzhai 坝丙寨, Xidingshan 西定山, Menghai County

There are also ethnic Hani that are locally called Aini 爱尼 living in 7 villages on Nanlin Mountain 南林山 of southwestern Jinghong, namely Manbage 曼八阁, Manjinglong 曼景龙, Manjingnan 曼景囡, Mangudu 曼固独, Manbaqi 曼把奇, Manbasan 曼巴伞, and Manjingmai 曼景卖.[5]


  1. ^ Akha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Akha". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Katsura, M. (1973). "Phonemes of the Alu Dialect of Akha". Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No.3. Pacific Linguistics, the Australian National University. 3 (3): 35–54.
  4. ^ 云南省编辑委员会编. 2009. "景洪县哈尼族社会调查." In 哈尼族社会历史调查, p.116-119. 民族出版社. ISBN 9787105087754
  5. ^ 云南省编辑委员会编. 2009. "景洪县南林山哈尼族社会调查." In 哈尼族社会历史调查, p.109-119. 民族出版社. ISBN 9787105087754

Further reading

  • Hansson, Inga-Lill (2003). "Akha". In Graham Thurgood and Randy J. LaPolla. The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. London &New York: Routledge. pp. 236–252.
  • Lewis, Paul (1968). "Akha phonology". Anthropological Linguistics. 10 (2): 8–18. JSTOR 30029167.
  • Lewis, Paul (1973). "Tone in the Akha language". Anthropological Linguistics. 15 (4): 183–188. JSTOR 30029534.
  • Nishida Tatsuo 西田 龍雄 (1966). アカ語の音素体系: タイ国北部における山地民アカ族の言語の記述的研究 [A Preliminary Report on the Akha Language ―A Language of a Hill Tribe in Northern Thailand]. 音声科学研究 Studia phonologica (in Japanese). 4 (1): 1–36.
Word lists for language varieties of Laos
  • Kingsadā, Thō̜ngphet, and Tadahiko Shintani. 1999. Basic Vocabularies of the Languages Spoken in Phongxaly, Lao P.D.R. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).
  • Shintani, Tadahiko, Ryuichi Kosaka, and Takashi Kato. 2001. Linguistic Survey of Phongxaly, Lao P.D.R. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).
  • Kato, Takashi. 2008. Linguistic Survey of Tibeto-Burman languages in Lao P.D.R. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).
  • Hayashi, Norihiko. 2016. A Phonological Sketch of Akha Buli: A Lolo-Burmese language of Muang Sing, Laos. 神戸市外国語大学外国学研究 [Kobe University of Foreign Studies, Foreign Language Studies] 92: 67-98.

External links

  • ELAR archive of Archaic Akha language documentation materials
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