The Nuosu Book of Origins in Standard (Northern) Yi Romanization
As detailed in the preface to the print edition of The Nuosu Book of Origins: A Creation Epic from Southwest China, the text presented here is based on a version of The Book of Origins (Hnewo tepyy) recorded in traditional Yi graphs in a scroll of the sort used by bimox priests in the area of Xide County in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southern Sichuan. A local tradition-bearer, Jjivot Zopqu, learned how to copy the traditional Yi texts in 1973 from tradition-bearer Jjimgu Axrryr, who was associated with a formerly upper-class family. In 1986, Jjivot transliterated the Book of Origins scroll—now lost—that is the basis of the present English translation into the modern standardized script. Later, Jjivot’s nephew, Jjivot Yyzu, helped copy the final text.
The process involved first copying the traditional Yi graphs of the scroll, then transliterating them graph by graph into the Liangshan Standard Yi Syllabary. The traditional graphs represent sounds, as do the graphs in the standard syllabary, but they are not standardized. Thus, the version in standard graphs can be set in type and is accessible to readers trained in the modern script. In the process of translation into English and Chinese, beginning in 2007, many portions of the text were romanized. The majority of the text was transliterated into Northern Yi romanization in 2018 and is presented here in twenty-nine sections paralleling the English translation.
There are occasional differences between the Northern Yi romanization presented here and romanization in the English translation. A major reason for this is the appearance of nonstandard Yi graphs in the Jjivot manuscript. In some cases different graphs with similar pronunciations were used. In other cases the appearance of aberrant graphs may be due to scribal error or unknown conventions used in the past. Certain names, such as the “son of snow,” Shyly Wote (in parts 11 and 12), for instance, appear in several forms, some closer to local pronunciations. Because The Book of Origins appears in many written and countless oral forms in Yi, the translators decided to use common renderings of the names in standard Northern Yi (which is based on the Xide dialect). Another difference is the layout of the lines. While much of the content can be paralleled line by line with the English, some lines and passages are convoluted due to grammar or other reasons of prosody. Finally, a few passages are unclear in the original, and minor wording has been added in English to explicate or clarify. These slight alterations were decided upon jointly by Aku Wuwu, Jjivot Zopu, and Jjivot Yyzu. Finally, most of the Northern Yi words in the English translation lack final tone indicators, which are supplied throughout the romanized Northern Yi version presented here.
As mentioned in the book’s preface, Northern Yi is one of the major Yi dialect groupings within the Yi-Burmish branch of the Tibeto-Burman branch of Sino-Tibetan. The four speech tones of Northern Yi are attached to the end of monosyllable graphs. These markers, which indicate tone contours, are not part of the spelling of the word and are thus not pronounced:
t = high tone
x = mid-high tone
[no letter] = mid-level tone
p = low, falling tone
For instance, as noted in the preface, “the word bimo ꀘꂾ (Yi priest) is written bimox with the tone indicator x attached, indicating that the mo in bimo should be pronounced with the mid-high tone.” In the English version, the tone indicators are in bold type. However, in the present romanized version, readers are asked to discriminate the tone indicators for themselves.
Note: Ssienie Yocot, Lama Itzot, and Kaitlin Banfill were instrumental in helping the translators produce this version in Northern Yi romanization.
—Mark Bender and Aku Wuwu