Sunday, 3 May 2009

Walking with Mao

On October 1st 1951, Naxi scholar and general historian extraordinaire Fang Guoyu went to Beijing, as part of a delegation of ethnic minorities, to attend the second anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Fang was a representative of the Naxi minority, and on the eve of the anniversary, he presented Chairman Mao with a silk banner (锦旗), upon which the following sentence was written in the Dongba script:
ŋə˧˩ gɯ˧ zi˧ be˧ ŋʏ˧˩ gu˧˩ dʐi˧ bə˧

Let's break it down (apologies for the formatting here; but Blogspot is useless at this and I don't feel like messing around with the HTML):

ŋə˧˩ gɯ˧ "We"
The character for 'I', resembling a person pointing at themselves. The character for crack/split (resembling a crack in a piece of wood), which here is a loan character representing the Naxi plural marker.

zi˧ be˧ "Always"
The character for grass and the character for 'to do'; both loan characters that together mean 'always' in Naxi.

ŋʏ˧˩ gu˧˩ "behind you"
The character for silver, loan character for 'you', and the character for 'carry on the back', the meaning of which is extended to 'behind'.

dʐ˧ bə˧ "want to walk"
The character for 'to walk', followed by the character for 'sole of the foot', which here is a loan character for 'want to go'.

So the whole sentence should be:
"We will always walk with you" or, if you mix it round a bit, "You'll never walk alone".

Here you can see the reliance on phonetic loan characters; and of course that the verb is at the end of the sentence - like Tibetan, Naxi sentences follow the basic SOV structure.

In his dictionary, Fang says that of all the times he used the Donbga script, this occasion was the most profound.


  1. Love your blog Duncan. I've just added it to my blog


  2. Thanks Peter, I have actually been following your excellent blog on-and-off for a while too; I have added it to my list - something i should have done from day one!!

  3. Could this be translated as "We'll always follow you?"