Gelao dialects


The Gelao are distributed over at least twenty counties of four provinces: Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan and Sichuan.

Their linguistic situation is very complex (1). Sometimes Gelao people living in one county cannot communicate with other Gelao who live only kilometers away. This is the case with Gelao living in Zhengning, Guanling, Liuzhi, Zijin and Puding counties, all located in western Guizhou Province.

According to the grammar, phonetics and vocabulary, as well as the way the Gelao people refer to themselves, their distribution, their life and their customs, we can divide the Gelao people and their language into four major branches according to dialect.

1. Central Guizhou Dialect:

This is spoken by the Gelao people living between Guiyang and Anshun, consisting of about 10,000 speakers with three different local variants

A. Pingpa sub dialect. The Gelao who speak this sub-dialect call themselves "Lau" or "Pulau". It is used in two places: Anshun (Wanzi and Heizhai Counties) and Pingba. There are so evident differences among those sub dialects that makes difficult the communication among their speakers.

B. Puning Xinzhai sub dialect. They call themselves "Gao" It is used in Puning County, in the area of Baiyan, Xinzhai, Wozi, Zhanchong, and Meiqi. The phonetic and grammatical differences make difficult the communication with the Pingba speakers.

C. Xijing or Xiongzhai sub dialect. It is used in Xijing County, in Longchang, Xiongjia and other villages. It is almost impossible for their speakers to understand the Gelao that speak the previous sub dialects.

2. Central - Northern Guizhou Dialect.

This dialect is spoken by the Gelao living in Renhuai and Zunyi Counties of Guizhou, and Longlin County in Guangxi. Altogether about 14.000 people speak it. It has two local varieties with differences so marked that communication is impossible between the Gelao who speak one of the dialects listed below or the other.

A. First sub dialect. Its speakers call themselves "Hake" or "Hakei". They are considered the true Gelao.

B. Second sub dialect. With very few speakers, that call themselves "Pumuhen" or "Men pu". They are found only in Renhuai County, in the Maoba, Fanliwan, and Zunyi Zones, and in Pingzheng County. They are considered Red Gelao.

3. Southwest Guizhou Dialect.

This dialect has a wider distribution and more branches. It extends from Guangxi through Guizhou into Yunnan. In Guizhou it is used particularly in the following counties: Liubanshui, Liuzhi and Shuicheng, in Guangxi, in Longlin county, in Yunnan, in Wenshan County. There are 12,000 speakers with four local variants.

A. Liuzhi Niupo sub dialect. Those that speak this dialect call themselves "Tolou". They live in some villages in Liuzhi, Puning and Jijin Counties.

B. Longlin Moji sub dialect. There are only 400 people in Longlin County that speak it.

C. Malipo sub dialect. It is spoken by Gelao living in Laozhai County, Tiechang Zone, altogether about 2,000 people. Scarcely used nowadays.

D. Shuicheng sub dialect. There are now only some old folks who can speak it. In Zunyi Zone (Jianshan County) there are about 500 speakers. They are called Red Gelao and Green Gelao.

4. Western Guizhou Dialect.

It is used in Dafang, Qionxi and Qingzheng Counties. There are 15.000 people who speak it. It has two main local variants.

1. Dafang sub dialect. It is used in Dafan County. Their speakers call themselves "Puer".

2. Zhenning sub dialect. People who speak this sub dialect live in Bigong Village, and call themselves "Ren".

(1) Zhang Jimin. - Gelao yu yanjiu (Investigation on the Gelao language). Guizhou Nationalities Press. 1993.

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