Lisu (draft)
Fraser script

Updated 16 April, 2022

This page brings together basic information about the Lisu script and its use for the Lisu language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Lisu using Unicode.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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ꓞꓳ ꓘꓹ ꓠꓯꓹꓼ ꓢꓲ ꓫꓬ ꓟ ꓙ ꓖꓴ ꓗꓪ ꓟꓬꓱꓽ ꓧꓳꓽ ꓢꓴ ꓠꓬ꓾ ꓞꓳ ꓘꓹ ꓗꓪ ꓟ ꓞꓳ ꓟ ꓐꓴ ꓔꓯ ꓮ ꓡꓲ ꓬꓰ ꓠꓯꓹ ꓟ꓾ ꓟꓬꓱꓽ ꓔꓯ ꓧꓳꓽ ꓪꓴꓸ ꓟꓴ ꓢꓴ ꓬꓲ ꓜꓴꓻ ꓤ (Committee) ꓕꓲ ꓜꓴꓻ ꓢꓲꓺ ꓖꓶ ꓠꓯꓹ ꓡꓳ꓿

Usage & history

According to ScriptSource, "there are 630,000 Lisu people in China, mainly in the regions of Nujiang, Diqing, Lijiang, Dehong, Baoshan, Kunming and Chuxiong in the Yunnan Province. Another 350,000 Lisu live in Myanmar, Thailand and India. Other user communities are mostly Christians from the Dulong, the Nu and the Bai nationalities in China."

The Chinese government recognized the alphabet in 1992 as the official script for writing in Lisu.

Around 200,000 Lisu in China use the Lisu script and about 160,000 in the other countries are literate in it. The Lisu script is widely used in China in education, publishing, the media and religion, and various schools and universities at the national, provincial and prefectural levels have been offering Lisu courses for many years. Globally, the script is also widely used in a variety of Lisu literature.

ꓡꓲ-ꓢꓴ li-su Lisu

The script was invented around 1815 by a Karen preacher from Myanmar, Sara Ba Thaw, and revised by the missionary James Fraser.

Because there are newer, Latin-based orthographies for writing the Lisu language, this is sometimes called the Old Lisu script.

Sources: Unicode Standard, Wikipedia.

Basic features

The script is an abugida. Consonants carry an inherent vowel which can be modified by appending vowel-signs to the consonant. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Lisu orthography.

The Lisu script combines characteristics of an abugida and an alphabet, in that it uses vowel letters rather than vowel-signs to override the inherent vowel.

The script is based on a fairly simple syllabic structure.

Many Lisu characters look like Latin characters, but they are not unified. There is no case distinction.

Generally, syllables are separated by spaces, whether or not they are part of a multisyllabic word, and text is wrapped at spaces regardless of word boundaries. Syllables in proper nouns, however, are separated by hyphens and wrapped as a unit.

Lisu has 30 basic consonant letters.

There are 10 vowel letters, although 3 consonants are also used to represent vowels.

Lisu is tonal and has 6 tone marks (which resemble Latin punctuation). Tones are written at the end of the syllable, using what look like western punctuation marks.

The script is monocameral.

Punctuation mixes western and Chinese characters with a couple of Lisu-only characters. European digits are used.

Character index














Items to show in lists


These are sounds for the Lisu language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels.

i y y ɨ ɨ ʉ ʉ ɯ ɯ u e ø ø ɘ ɘ ɤ ɤ o ɛ ɑ ɑ

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
palatal velar glottal
stops p b t d       k ɡ  
affricates   t͡s d͡z   t͡ɕ d͡ʑ      
aspirated   t͡sʰ   t͡ɕʰ      
fricatives f v   s z ɕ
  x ɣ
nasals m   n   ɲ ŋ
approximants w   l   j  


Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information.

Inherent vowel

ɑ following a consonant is not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so is written by simply using the consonant letter [U+A4D7 LISU LETTER KA].

Vowel characters

Non-inherent vowel sounds that follow a consonant can be represented using vowel-signs, eg. ki is written ꓗꓲ [U+A4D7 LISU LETTER KA + U+A4F2 LISU LETTER I].

Lisu is unusual for an abugida. Normally, abugidas produce a different vowel than the inherent one by attaching vowel-signs to the base consonant. Lisu instead uses a standalone vowel character after the consonant, so it looks very much like an alphabet except where the inherent vowel is used.


Lisu vowel-signs, then, are all ordinary spacing characters that follow the consonant. There are no composite vowels or circumgraphs.

Consonant characters used as vowels

Three consonants are sometimes used as vowels.


Vowel-related modifiers


ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE] is used to indicate nasalisation.

ˍ [U+02CD MODIFIER LETTER LOW MACRON] marks various aspects of verbal forms. It is pronounced ɑ with a falling 31 tone, and is written at the end of a syllable.

Neither of the above are encoded in the Unicode Lisu block.


Lisu uses the following signs, which look like western punctuation, to represent the tone of a syllable. The Unicode Standard says that they may use the same fixed-width spacing as the letters.


The expected typing and storage position for tone marks is after all other elements in a syllable.

The first four tone letters can be used in combination with the last two to represent certain combination tones. Of the various possibilities, only ,; is still in use; the rest are now rarely seen in China.u


Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information.

Consonant letters

Many Lisu consonants look like Latin characters, but they are not unified.









Other sonorants



Lisu uses european digits.

The thousands and decimal separators are the same as those used in English.

Text direction

Lisu text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Lisu orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the Lisu character app.

There is no glyph shaping or positioning required for Lisu. Nor is it cursive.

Lisu is a monocameral script, and no transforms are needed to convert between different forms of a given letter.

Font styles


Text segmentation

Grapheme boundaries

Since there are no combining marks or decompositions, graphemes correspond to individual characters.

Unicode grapheme clusters can be applied to Lisu without problems. There are no special issues related to operations that use grapheme clusters as their basic unit of text.

Word boundaries

Syllables are separated by spaces, however where syllables combine to form a proper noun, a hyphen is used to bind the syllables together.u,754

For multi-syllable words the inter-syllable space is still used. Because of difficulties determining which syllable sequences correspond to multi-syllablic words, except when dealing with proper nouns, the syllable is normally taken to be the basic unit for text processing.u,754

Hyphens.As just mentioned, - [U+002D HYPHEN-MINUS] is used between the syllables that compose a proper noun. The Unicode Standard suggests the use of [U+2010 HYPHEN] instead, as its semantics are less ambiguous.

Punctuation & inline features

Phrase & section boundaries







biblical texts


: [U+003A COLON]

A lesser and greater degree of finality are represented by [U+A4FE LISU PUNCTUATION COMMA] and [U+A4FF LISU PUNCTUATION FULL STOP].

Chapter and verse in biblical texts tend to be separated by the ASCII colon and semicolon. The numeric context helps distinguish these separators from the Lisu tone marks.

Lisu also uses the ASCII characters ? [U+003F QUESTION MARK] and ! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK] for question and exclamation marks. The question mark replaces the ꓺꓽ꓿ [U+A4FA LISU LETTER TONE MYA CYA + U+A4FD LISU LETTER TONE MYA JEU + U+A4FF LISU PUNCTUATION FULL STOP] sequence of characters, which was used in older texts.

Parentheses & brackets

  start end







Other inline ranges

Book titles

  start end



The fullwidth characters [U+300A LEFT DOUBLE ANGLE BRACKET] and [U+300B RIGHT DOUBLE ANGLE BRACKET] are used to identify book titles.

Text spacing


Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

Ellipsis is written using [U+2026 HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS].

In Chinese texts this is always doubled, ie. ……

Inline notes & annotations


Other punctuation


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

The space between syllables provides the primary break opportunity for wrapping text, even where that occurs in the middle of a multi-syllable word, since the syllables are separated by spaces (see word).u,754

Line breaks are not allowed inside a syllable, or before a punctuation mark (even if that is separated from the previous syllable by a space).u,753

A multi-syllable proper noun, where syllables are separated by a hyphen, can be wrapped after the hyphen.u,754

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Lisu orthography.


Since syllables are not split during line wrapping, and there are spaces or hyphens between syllables, there is no need for automatic hyphenation.u,754

Text alignment & justification


Counters, lists, etc.


Styling initials


Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Lisu and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.

Further reading