I visited Yunnan last year and found the fascinating dongba hieroglyph of naxi people and their great epic poetry. I am curious about any online resources on this dongba hieroglyph?

I, personally, start an amateur project to draw these glyph by metafont according to a dictionary I bought at Yunnan. But I was confused by

  • how to label these hieroglyph with pronunciation?
  • how to organize these hieroglyph by a meaningful index?
  • ...

Any online resources or advices on dongba language and hieroglyph are welcome. Thanks.

2 Answers 2


I'd recommend 纳西族象形标音文字字典 (Nàxī zú xiàng xíng biāo yīn wénzì zìdiăn) — Naxi Pictographs and Transcription Characters Dictionary, 2001, Author: 李霖灿 (Lĭ Líncàn), publisher: 云南民族出版社 (Yunnan National Publishing House), in which each Naxi pictograph has IPA transcription and explanation in Chinese, and there's also a part about the Geba syllabary.

The dictionary is organized semantically. There are 2120 pictograms arranged under 18 categories according to the object depicted: heavenly bodies, people, animals, plants, tools, etc.:

  1. Hieroglyphics about phenomena connected with heaven; e. g. heaven, sun, moon, stars, wind, clouds, thunder, snow, spring, morning, darkness, blessing from heaven, forming of the universe.
  2. Hieroglyphics about geographical phases; e. g. earth, mountain, water, lake, stone, field, way, north, south, frozen earth, mountain in fire, falling of stone.
  3. Hieroglyphics about human natures, relatives and movements; e. g. man, woman, father, son, sovereign, friend, Chinese, I, you, lazy, cold, bitter, rich, to sit, to stand, to get, to beg, to be afraid, to make fire, to bring up a beautiful daughter.
  4. Hieroglyphics about different parts of human body and their movements; e.g. head, face, eye, ears, hand, foot, to see, to hear, to cry, to drink, to think, to press.
  5. Hieroglyphics about birds; e. g. cock, goose, stork, dove, bird' swing, bird' s tail, crest, to fly, to claw, to hatch eggs.
  6. Hieroglyphics about animals and insects; e. g. tiger, lion, pig, dog, horn, hoof, butterfly, frog, fish, wine in yak's horn, to plough, to kill an ox, to scorch an animal's shoulder-blade.
  7. Hieroglyphics about plants; e. g. tree, grass, forest, flower, seeds, poisonous flower, falling of fruits, to bend (a tree) , to cut (a tree)
  8. Hieroglyphics about objects made and need by human beings; e. g. spade, round, to pour out, to melt, to wave, to connect, to break, black, bad, sound of to hang, to open the door. pail, basket, box, plank, door, book, flag, flute, to weigh, to measure, to write,
  9. Hieroglyphics relating to eating and drinking; e. g. vase, bowl, chopsticks, rice in bowl, soap, tea, to cook, to twin, to have something to eat, difficult (to have something to eat)
  10. Hieroglyphics about clothes and decorative pieces; e. g. hat, dress, boots, a needle, thread, ear-ring, finger-ring, silver, gold, jade, coral, to weave, to inlay.
  11. Hieroglyphics about weapons; e. g. knife, bow, arrow, armor, iron ax, broken lance-point, to cut, to shoot, to hammer, to cast iron, to throw stones.
  12. Hieroglyphics about buildings, numbers, movements, etc.; e. g. village, house, tent, home, to repair a house, one, two, three, hundred, thousand, to surround, to pour out, to melt, to wave, to connect, to break, black, bad, sound of blowing a leaf.
  13. Hieroglyphics used in the Jo-K'a district only
  14. Hieroglyphics words phoneticized in Mo-so script, each word spelt with two Mo-so hieroglyphics.
  15. Hieroglyphics about ceremonial rites and tools; e. g. incense-burner, bell, horn, hand-drum, charting beads, a piece of wood used for offering , to prepare a shrine, to offer a sacrifice, to give food to ghosts.
  16. Hieroglyphics about ghosts and spirits, mostly their names.
  17. Hieroglyphics about to-mba and Dragon King, mostly their names.
  18. Hieroglyphics about gods, mostly their names.

I would start with this article, and also since Dongba is just a script, investigate the language that underlies it, Naxi. This is a list of materials on the language. The article on Dongba explains that it is not a system for writing a language, it is a mnemonic set of symbols for reciting classical texts, so there isn't a fixed pronunciation for a given picture. The Geba syllabary, on the other hand, seems to have a more phonetic basis, though it is even more endangered.

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