Updated 11 November, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Lisu (Fraser) 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.
Richard Ishida, Lisu (Fraser script) Orthography Notes, 11-Nov-2023, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/lisu/lis
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꓿
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.
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. ❯ consonants
The Lisu orthography is an abugida with one inherent vowel.
Other vowels are written using 10 vowel letters, and 1 glide consonant. There are no combining marks, no circumgraphs, pre-base glyphs or multipart vowels. ❯ 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. ❯ tones
Punctuation mixes western and Chinese characters with a couple of Lisu-only characters. ASCII digits are used.
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.
|stops||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|affricates||t͡s d͡z||t͡ɕ d͡ʑ|
|fricatives||f v||s z||ɕ
Wikipedia gives the following description of Lisu tones.wf,#Tones
It also has the following, but it's not clear how they match.
Lisu has six tones: high [˥], mid creaky [˦ˀ], mid [˧], low [˨˩], rising [˧˥] and low checked [˨˩ʔ] (that is, [tá ta̰ ta tà tǎ tàʔ]). In some dialects the creaky tone is higher than mid tone, in others they are equal. The rising tone is infrequent, but common in baby talk (which has a stereotypical disyllabic low–rising pattern); both high and rising tone are uncommon after voiced consonants.wl,#Tones
Three consonants apparently have a vowel function, but more research is needed to clarify what sounds they map to (not shown here). See also nasalisation and tones.
ꓗ ka U+A4D7 LISU LETTER KA
ɑ following a consonant is not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so kɑ is written by simply using the consonant letter.
ꓗꓲ ki U+A4D7 LISU LETTER KA + U+A4F2 LISU LETTER I
Non-inherent vowel sounds that follow a consonant can be represented using vowel signs.
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 ordinary spacing letters after the consonant to represent vowels, so it looks very much like an alphabet except where the inherent vowel is used.
There are no multipart vowels, prebase vowels, or circumgraphs.
No combining marks are used to represent vowels.
It appearswf,#Tones that ꓬ is used as a glide for diphthongs.
According to Wikipedia, 3 consonants are sometimes used as vowels for the Naxi language, but are consonants when writing Lisu.
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.
ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE] is used to indicate nasalisation.
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 the following is still in use; the rest are now rarely seen in China.u ,;
Lisu uses european digits.
The thousands and decimal separators are the same as those used in English.
Lisu text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Lisu orthography described here.
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.
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.
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.
Lisu uses a mixture of ASCII and native punctuation.
? [U+003F QUESTION MARK]
! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [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.
Lisu commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]
) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]
The fullwidth characters 《 [U+300A LEFT DOUBLE ANGLE BRACKET] and 》 [U+300B RIGHT DOUBLE ANGLE BRACKET] are used to identify book titles.
Ellipsis is written using … [U+2026 HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS].
In Chinese texts this is always doubled, ie. ……
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
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Lisu uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
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.