The Naxi (or Nakhi; the x/kh is palatal, as in German Chemie or Russian khitryi) are a people of western Yunnan in China. A thousand years ago they were a power in the area, the dominant people of the bend of the Yangtze, but since the Mongol conquest of the fourteenth century they have been politically subject to China (though culturally under the influence of Tibet), and they have lost their former prosperity. But they have retained a rich literary tradition that is expressed in a unique pictographic script that is almost, but not quite, a real writing system; you can read about it here and here and see a beautifully reproduced specimen here. And they made an impact on Ezra Pound, who began Canto CIV:

Na Khi talk made out of wind noise,
    And North Khi, not to be heard amid sounds of the forest
but to fit in with them unperceived by the game…

and quoted a Naxi love story in Canto CX (“The nine fates and the seven,/ and the black tree was born dumb…”).


  1. oooh. Very nice. I found another very nice Naxi Dongba article with some good images of the pictographs. Also – guess what!- they make software for everything these days. This is described as “shareware”, though the registration price is about $400… I was tempted to download it just to see if I could get the pictograph for “Languagehat”, but the size was a little hefty for me…

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