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Last female-only language speaker dies
Updated: 2004-09-24 09:06

China's last woman proficient in the mysterious Nushu language, probably the world's only female-specific language, died at her Central China home earlier this week. She was in her 90s.

Yang Huanyi learned to read and write the language as a little girl. Chinese linguists say her death put an end to a 400-year-old tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings with female friends through a set of codes incomprehensible to men.

Yang was born in Jiangyong County in Hunan Province where many people believe the language originated.

She learned the language from seven sworn sisters in the county who were regarded as the most authoritative speakers and writers of the language. Yang became its only survivor by the end of the 1990s, after the seven had passed away.

Until her death Sept. 20, it remained a mystery as to how old Yang was. During an interview with Xinhua in 2002, she said she was 94. Authorities in her hometown, however, said she was 98 when she died.

The letters, poems and prose Yang wrote were collected and compiled by linguists in Qinghua University into a book published early this year.

Although some linguists are trying to learn the female language, experts say Yang was more authoritative and unaffected by mandarin Chinese, in which she was totally illiterate.

None of Yang's children and grandchildren inherited her proficiency in the unique language.

Nushu characters are structured by four kinds of strokes, including dots, horizontals, verticals and arcs.

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