by Shalua Rui PhD
Wutai has a rich cultural history that defines its people. The most important thing to differentiate about those who are from the island country is that most will not say they are “Wutain” or “Wutainese”. These terms refer to regional food or styles, not the people. People from Wutai will define themselves as “Wutai”. This is not a mistranslation by the person speaking. The majority of people from Wutai consider themselves a piece of Wutai, they were born from its ground and so they carry the nation wherever they go. It is a sense of national pride that prompts most to say “I am Wutai”.
When one discusses the languages of Wutai, one must remember that the “official” language is Wutainese. All national schools teach in the language and all street signs and public documents are printed in Wutainese. This language is also called Highland dialect. Though it has come to mean a “classier” or more regal version of the language, originally Highland was meant to only convey the location of the speaker. If a non-native student is learning to speak they will usually learn Wutainese.
Most people of Wutai also understand the Lowland language, called Wutain. To an outside listener, there is no discernible difference between the two languages. Wutain is a faster and more literal language that does not tend to gender as often as Wutainese. It is, therefore easy to understand by a native Wutainese speaker, though difficult to learn. It's fairly common for people to speak back and forth without concerning themselves with translation due to this. This dialect was originally spoken mostly by market district workers, fishers, and other laborers.
Less commonly spoken is a hybrid dialect that is spoken primarily by the Soli population of Wutai. There have been few studies on the language due mostly to the economic situation of the Solis and the nomadic nature of their people. Most of the Soli population are day laborers who rarely have permanent residence. The language that they speak is called Soliese and is a difficult language to comprehend to outsiders and other people from Wutai alike. Most of the language is not written down and different communities tend to have offshoot dialects. Due to their language barrier and the extreme differences in their appearance, the Soli population of Wutai still experience a great deal of prejudice and persecution.
There have developed different naming conventions between the languages. More common in Wutainese are names that end with –eng or –ing while. Wutain names tend to end in –udo, or –uda, favoring vowel endings to a harder stop of Wutainese. Soliese names borrow from both but tend to favor ending with –sh or –th. It's important to note that many people will name their children with names that are not of their culture because they like the 'exotic' nature or the sound and thus name alone cannot be a good judge of a person's background.
It is worth it to take the time to caution visitors to Wutai on the use of slang as it relates to people. While most know the word 'wute' to be a derogatory term against all the people of Wutai, many phrases that some people would use daily are also not ones that local populations would take kindly to an outsider using. Foremost of these words is 'gypsy'. Taken from 'tsuma-jibushi', to 'mark with a fingernail or 'scratch' it was shortened first to 'jibsee' and then to 'gypsy' as a slur against the Soli population.
Early researchers mistakenly called the Soli people of Wutai 'gypsy' in studies and the name has stuck in people's minds. While television depicts romantic, over-sexualized characters along with the word 'gypsy' it is far from a cute or funny word to the people. Instead it's used as an excuse to further exclude and rebuff the Soli population and instead, most prefer to be called Soli.