This was originally posted on my former blog, Lijiang Times, in May 2009 (has it really been so long?)
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, upon which the following sentence was written in the Dongba script:
ŋə21 gɯ33 zi33 be33 ŋʏ21 gu21 dʐi33 bə33
(click here for pronunciation, read by Naxi scholar Li Jingsheng)
Let’s break it down:
ŋə21 gɯ33 “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.
zi33 be33 “Always”
The character for grass and the character for ‘to do’; both loan characters that together mean ‘always’ in Naxi.
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, “we will always follow you”.
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.