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Summary Details

Query:   Nushu Language
Author:  Gabriela Pérez Báez
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Sociolinguistics
Writing Systems

Summary:   As part of my work teaching a course entitled Language in its Social
Setting, I researched the topic of Nushu. I was introduced to the topic by
a BBC article published on the web on 9/23/04 reporting that ?la anciana
Yang Huanyi muri? a sus m?s de noventa a?os de edad, y con ella se llev?
el ?nico idioma en el mundo hablado solo por mujeres? (my translation:
Yang Huanyi, in her nineties, passed away, taking with her with only
language in the world spoken only by women).

A first pass at resources on the web showed that Nushu (or Nu Shu) is in
fact a writing system invented by a community of women in the Hunan
province of China at a time when literacy education was forbidden to them.
In researching the subject, a number of LinguistList readers contributed
sources of information. Below, I am including a list of resources
suggested by them, along with some other I was able to pinpoint. I hope
this is useful, although not much will be news to those who have looked
into the topic in the past.

Sites I consulted on the topic did not provide content of scholarly
quality, unfortunately. In particular, mass media articles were
particularly misleading in clarifying whether Nushu is a written or spoken
system of communication.

There are a dozen or so sites devoted to the topic, and the most useful is maintained by Prof. Orie Endo of
Bunkyo University in Japan.

Prof. Endo?s website has a list of references

Peter T. Daniels suggested a Yale Dissertation:
Chiang (?) We Too Know the Script.
A review of this dissertation was written by Wm. S. ?Y. Want in the
journal Written Language and Literacy

MJ Harman offered a thesis by a student:
1994 M.A. in Linguistics
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

In addition, I came across the following:
Lin-Lee Lee. 2002. Creating a female language: symbolic transformation
embedded in Nushu. Chinese communication studies : contexts and
comparisons. Ed. by Xing Lu, Wenshan Jia, and D. Ray Heisey. Westport,
CT : Ablex Pub.

Zhao, Liming. 1998. Nushu: Chinese Women's Characters. International
Journal of the Sociology of Language, 1998, 129, 127-137

Silber, Cathy Lyn. 1996. Nushu (Chinese Women's Script) Literacy and
Literature. Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and
Social Sciences, 1996, 56, 12, June, 4779-A

Shi, Dingxu (Review of: Xie, Zhimin). 1993. The Myth of Jiangyong Female
Writing. Language, 1993, 69, 1, Mar, 174-178

Mary Bucholtz mentioned the video called ''Nu Shu: A Hidden Language of
Women in China''. It can be ordered through Women Make Movies at

It appears that the Chinese government has taken an interest in Nushu. The
site Beijing This Month reports on a public exhibition that opened in late
April 2004 showing artifacts with the Nushu writing. The site also reports
on a dictionary of some 1,800 Nushu characters compiled by Zhou Shuoyi,
who studied the language while he worked for the Cultural Bureau in
Jiangyong County. This report can be consulted at

Gabriela P?rez B?ez
University at Buffalo

LL Issue: 15.2899
Date Posted: 14-Oct-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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