Economic Botany

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 325–340 | Cite as

Indigenous Botanical Nomenclature Used by the Yi People in Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China

  • Jing Wang
  • Barnabas C. SeylerEmail author
  • Tamara Ticktin
  • Yonggang Zeng
  • Zhipu Ezhu
Original Article


With increasing outside cultural influences and economic development among the Yi people of Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan, China, we sought to document traditional Yi language plant names and classification methods. Over 15 consecutive years (2003–2017), we used ethnobotanical surveys and interviews to investigate local knowledge of common plants in Liangshan. We collected Yi names of 322 plant taxa from 109 families and analyzed the Liangshan Yi’s indigenous botanical nomenclature. Many Yi language plant names include a suffix bbo, meaning “plant,” or syr meaning “tree.” Plants foundational to Yi culture, such as buckwheat, hemp, and bamboo, have monosyllabic names on which other plant names, compound words, and place names are built. The Liangshan Yi have a binomial nomenclature system used especially for crops, with “folk generics” based on plant life form or economic use, and “folk species/varieties” based on plant characteristics or habitat. Liangshan Yi generally name introduced plants by borrowing names from Mandarin Chinese in two ways: (1) borrowed sound (transliteration) or (2) borrowed sound combined with Yi morphemes (loan blends). With increased introduction of non-native plants into Liangshan, and greater market interactions between Han and Yi communities in Liangshan, traditional Yi plant naming methods are at risk of gradually being replaced by Han Chinese methods. Standardized education in Mandarin Chinese, increased Han migration to Liangshan, and changing lifestyles also contribute to decrease in knowledge and usage of Liangshan Yi plant names.

Key Words

Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture Yi people indigenous botanical nomenclature ethnobotany 

摘要:随着四川凉山彝族地区的经济发展和外来文化对其影响日益增多, 我们对一些植物的传统彝语名称和分类方法进行研究。连续15年(2003–2017),我们采用民族植物学的调查和访谈方法收集凉山地区常见植物的彝语名称,共收集到109科322种植物的彝语名称并分析凉山彝族对常见植物种类的命名方法。许多植物的彝语名称带后缀“bbo”表示“植物”,而“syr”表示“树”。凉山彝族文化中的重要植物,荞麦、燕麦、小麦、大麻、松和竹,以单音节命名,也出现在其他植物名、复合词和地名中。 凉山彝族命名植物种类和“双名法”相似,特别是农作物,植物名称的前缀或后缀是植物的生活型或经济用途,相当于“民间属”的分类,而“民间种或品种”则包含了植物的特征或生境信息。凉山彝族多采用汉语借词的方法对引入植物进行命名,分为音借(音译)和音借加彝语词根两种(混合借词)。随着越来越多的非乡土植物被引入凉山,凉山彝族对植物的传统命名方法在很大程度上被汉族使用的命名方法所取代。随着现今中国基础教育中标准普通话的普及、越来越多汉族迁入凉山和凉山彝族传统生活方式的改变已经导致凉山彝族对常见植物彝语名知识的掌握和使用程度下降。



We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Professor Aguo Qubi, College of Yi Studies, Southwest Minzu University, for reviewing and revising the spelling of all Yi language plant names in this article. We are grateful to all the field assistants and interviewees who provided information in the ethnobotany surveys in Liangshan.

Funding Information

Financial support was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (#31600253) and the China Scholarship Council.

Supplementary material

12231_2019_9461_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (46 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 46 kb)

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Architecture and Civil EngineeringChengdu UniversityChengduChina
  2. 2.Department of BotanyUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  3. 3.Department of EnvironmentSichuan UniversityChengduChina

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