Dai Lue has had its own alphabet and its own literature for the past seven hundred years. Dai is an officially recognized nationality in China and its development is supported by government policy. In the 1950s the old Dai Lue alphabet was reformed and simplified with the support of Chinese linguists. This New Dai Lue script has been taught to children in the schools since then, and is the script that is used in this dictionary. This script is seen in newspapers and road signs in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.

The New Dai Lue script is used only in China. Dai Lue people in Myanmar and Laos are often aware of the "new letters" but have had little exposure to them. About a quarter of the Dai Lue people in China can read Dai Lue (many more can read Chinese). In other countries ability to read Dai Lue is usually limited those who learned it as monks or novices in the monasteries.

The Dai Lue orthography emerged in the 1300s at the same time as the similar orthographies of Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese. Although these scripts look different from each other today, all can trace their roots to the Devanagari script that was used in India, and was brought to Southeast Asia with the spread of Buddhism.

The alphabetical order in Dai Lue is complex. The order is determined first by the initial consonant, then by the final consonant, then by the vowel, and finally by the tone mark.


Initial consonants

There are 44 initial consonants in Dai Lue. Using an ingenious method for writing tone, there are two letters for each sound: a high class letter and a low class letter. The initial consonants are listed below in alphabetical order, with their pronunciation and their class. The pronunciation of the letters is shown in the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the middle of the alphabet there are two special letters, ᧞ and ᧟, which represent syllables rather than individual sounds. For each letter below there is a sample word. Click on it to see the dictionary entry.

Consonant Pronunciation Class Sample word meaning
ʔ high  ᦶᦀᧁᧈ travel
ʔ low  ᦁᦳᧇ decorative box
k high  ᦂᦱᧉ seedling
x high  ᦃᦙᦱ forgive
ŋ high  ᦷᦄᧈ hold with thumb on top
k low  ᦅᦱᧉ sell, trade
x low  ᦆᦴ teacher
ŋ low  ᦇᦱ tusk, sesame
c high  ᦺᦈ heart
s high  ᦉᦗ all kinds
j high  ᦊᦱ medicine
c low  ᦋᦴᧈ every
s low  ᦌᦰᦌᦱᧁᧉ small sounds
j low  ᦷᦍᧅ raise
t high  ᦷᦎᧅ fall
high  ᦏᦲᧈ closely spaced
n high  ᦐᦽᧈ classifier for round things
t low  ᦵᦑᦞᦡᦱ god
low  ᦒᧄ dharma
n low  ᦓᦱ rice paddy
p high  ᦔᦴᧈ grandfather
high  ᦕᦲ spirit, ghost
m high  ᦖᦱᧅ fruit
p low  ᦗᦲᧈᦓᦸᧂᧉ siblings
low  ᦘᦱᧉ knife
m low  ᦵᦙᦲᧂ inhabited place
f high  ᦚᧁᧉ guard
w high  ᦛᦲ comb
l high  ᦶᦜᧂᧉ pretend
f low  ᦺᦝ fire
w low  ᦞᧆᦉᦱ Buddhist Lent
l low  ᦟᦱᧉ tea
læʔ  ᧞ᦋᧄ surely
læw  ᧟ then
h high  ᦶᦠᧁ finial
d high  ᦵᦡᦲᧃ moon, month
b high  ᦢᦱᧈ shoulder
h low  ᦣᦳ I don't know
d low  ᦶᦤᧃᦵᦑᧂᧈ definitely
b low  ᦥᦱᦟᦂᦱ deputy
kw high  ᦦᦱᧃᧉ court of law
xw high  ᦧᦻᦣᦴᧉ realise
kw low ᦶᦨ trumpet
xw low ᦶᦩᧃᧉ even more