How Do You Write Lisu?

Type Conference Paper - the Fourth FEL Conference. University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Bath, England: Foundation for Endangered Languages
Title How Do You Write Lisu?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2000
This paper will first introduce the Lisu, a TibetoBurman
group of approximately 800,000 people residing
mainly in Thailand, Myanmar and China, with a small
Lisu population in northwestern India.
Second the current systems for writing Lisu will be
described very briefly, the principal one being a Roman
based orthography with modifications in the orientations
of certain letters and some punctuation marks used for
tones. This orthography was introduced by James O.
Fraser about 1907 and finalized over the next decade. The
Lisu alphabet is comprised of 40 Roman characters, all
capitals: 30 consonants and 10 vowels. Fifteen of the
letters are inverted letters. Six basic and eight combination
tones are indicated using English punctuation marks, such
as ‘.’ ‘;’ ‘,’ (period, semicolon, comma) etc.
Third a development of the Fraser system (called
‘advanced’ at the moment by the Lisu) will be described.
The Lisu want to be able to do more with and in their own
language, but they are hindered by the input system. New
orthographies have been introduced using Burmese, Thai,
Hindi and Chinese Pinyin alphabets, each of which have
limitations. Many Lisu desire to be able to write the
language with the typical English alphabet. This would
enable the use of cursive writing, as well as the use of all
standard writing devices that use English including the
typewriter and computer keyboard. It would also provide a
motivation and facilitation for non-literate Lisu to learn to
read and write Lisu, since it uses the English alphabet that
the children are learning in schools.
Fourth, we present five stages in the gradual moving of
Lisu orthography from the present Fraser orthography to a
completely compatible English-like orthography. Care is
taken to preserve the literacy of current speakers, so that
they will have a high rate of transference in learning the
new English-like orthography. There is also a high degree
of transfer for those who read English.
The five stages that are currently being tested in a few
selected villages are:
0. Traditional Fraser Script (upper case only, inverted
letters, punctuation marks for vowels, no cursive
1. Removal of inverted letters, substitution of various
other letters for inverted ones. Upper case only. No
2. Use of both lower case and upper case letters.
3. Introduction of cursive writing.
4. Regularization of habits: Capitalization of proper
nouns, beginnings of sentences. Removal of spaces
between each syllable to allow spaces to mark words.
Punctuation decisions.
5. Decisions on tones: [a] preserve the traditional system
of periods, commas, etc., [b] use diacritics, or [c] use final
letters so that no special font should be used.
Lastly, reports on the current attempts to introduce this
advanced script are surveyed. Future actions will also be

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