Min Chinese

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閩語 / 闽语
Ethnicity Minnan people, Teochew people, Fuzhou people, Putian people, Hainan people, etc
Mainland China: Fujian, Guangdong (around Chaozhou-Shantou and Leizhou peninsula), Hainan, Zhejiang (Shengsi, Putuo and Cangnan), Taiwan; overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and Northeastern United States
Linguistic classification Sino-Tibetan
Early forms
Proto-language Proto-Min
ISO 639-6 mclr
Linguasphere 79-AAA-h to 79-AAA-l
Glottolog minn1248
Idioma min.png
Distribution of Min languages
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 閩語
Simplified Chinese 闽语
Hokkien POJ Bân gú

Min (simplified Chinese :闽语; traditional Chinese : ; pinyin :Mǐn yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī :Bân gú; BUC: Mìng ngṳ̄) is a broad group of Sinitic languages spoken by about 30 million people in Fujian province as well as by the descendants of Min speaking colonists on Leizhou peninsula and Hainan, or assimilated natives of Chaoshan, parts of Zhongshan, three counties in southern Wenzhou, Zhoushan archipelago, and Taiwan. [1] The name is derived from the Min River in Fujian, which is also the abbreviated name of Fujian Province. Min varieties are not mutually intelligible with one another nor with any other variety of Chinese.


There are many Min speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. The most widely spoken variety of Min outside Fujian is Southern Min (Min Nan), also known as Hokkien-Taiwanese (which includes Taiwanese and Amoy).

Many Min languages have retained notable features of the Old Chinese language, and there is linguistic evidence that not all Min varieties are directly descended from Middle Chinese of the SuiTang dynasties. Min languages are believed to have a significant linguistic substrate from the languages of the inhabitants of the region prior to its sinicization.


The Min homeland of Fujian was opened to Han Chinese settlement by the defeat of the Minyue state by the armies of Emperor Wu of Han in 110 BC. [2] The area features rugged mountainous terrain, with short rivers that flow into the South China Sea. Most subsequent migration from north to south China passed through the valleys of the Xiang and Gan rivers to the west, so that Min varieties have experienced less northern influence than other southern groups. [3] As a result, whereas most varieties of Chinese can be treated as derived from Middle Chinese—the language described by rhyme dictionaries such as the Qieyun (601 AD)—Min varieties contain traces of older distinctions. [4] Linguists estimate that the oldest layers of Min dialects diverged from the rest of Chinese around the time of the Han dynasty. [5] [6] However, significant waves of migration from the North China Plain occurred: [7]

Jerry Norman identifies four main layers in the vocabulary of modern Min varieties:

  1. A non-Chinese substratum from the original languages of Minyue, which Norman and Mei Tsu-lin believe were Austroasiatic. [8] [9]
  2. The earliest Chinese layer, brought to Fujian by settlers from Zhejiang to the north during the Han dynasty. [10]
  3. A layer from the Northern and Southern dynasties period, which is largely consistent with the phonology of the Qieyun dictionary. [11]
  4. A literary layer based on the koiné of Chang'an, the capital of the Tang dynasty. [12]

Laurent Sagart (2008) disagrees with Norman and Mei Tsu-lin's analysis of an Austroasiatic substratum in Min. [13] The hypothesis proposed by Jerry Norman and Tsu-Lin Mei arguing for an Austroasiatic homeland along the middle Yangtze has been largely abandoned in most circles, and left unsupported by the majority of Austroasiatic specialists. [14]

Geographic location and subgrouping

Min dialect groups according to the Language Atlas of China:
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Hainan Min dialect map.svg
Min dialect groups according to the Language Atlas of China :

Min is usually described as one of seven or ten groups of varieties of Chinese but has greater dialectal diversity than any of the other groups. The varieties used in neighbouring counties, and in the mountains of western Fujian even in adjacent villages, are often mutually unintelligible. [15]

Early classifications, such as those of Li Fang-Kuei in 1937 and Yuan Jiahua in 1960, divided Min into Northern and Southern subgroups. [16] [17] However, in a 1963 report on a survey of Fujian, Pan Maoding and colleagues argued that the primary split was between inland and coastal groups. A key discriminator between the two groups is a group of words that have a lateral initial /l/ in coastal varieties, and a voiceless fricative /s/ or /ʃ/ in inland varieties, contrasting with another group having /l/ in both areas. Norman reconstructs these initials in Proto-Min as voiceless and voiced laterals that merged in coastal varieties. [17] [18]

Coastal Min

The coastal varieties have the vast majority of speakers, and have spread from their homeland in Fujian and eastern Guangdong to the islands of Taiwan and Hainan, to other coastal areas of southern China and to Southeast Asia. [19] Pan and colleagues divided them into three groups: [20]

The Language Atlas of China (1987) distinguished two further groups, which had previously been included in Southern Min: [24]

Coastal varieties feature some uniquely Min vocabulary, including pronouns and negatives. [26] All but the Hainan dialects have complex tone sandhi systems. [27]

Inland Min

Although they have far fewer speakers, the inland varieties show much greater variation than the coastal ones. [28] Pan and colleagues divided the inland varieties into two groups: [20]

The Language Atlas of China (1987) included a further group: [24]

Although coastal varieties can be derived from a proto-language with four series of stops or affricates at each point of articulation (e.g. /t/, /tʰ/, /d/, and /dʱ/), inland varieties contain traces of two further series, which Norman termed "softened stops" due to their reflexes in some varieties. [30] [31] [32] Inland varieties use pronouns and negatives cognate with those in Hakka and Yue. [26] Inland varieties have little or no tone sandhi. [27]


Most Min vocabulary corresponds directly to cognates in other Chinese varieties, but there is also a significant number of distinctively Min words that may be traced back to proto-Min. In some cases a semantic shift has occurred in Min or the rest of Chinese:

Norman and Mei Tsu-lin have suggested an Austroasiatic origin for some Min words:

However, Norman and Mei Tsu-lin's suggestion is rejected by Laurent Sagart (2008). [13] Moreover, the Austroasiatic predecessor of modern Vietnamese language has been proven to originate in the mountainous region in Central Laos and Vietnam, rather than in the region north of the Red River delta. [45] . In other cases, the origin of the Min word is obscure. Such words include *khauA 骹 "foot", [46] *-tsiɑmB 䭕 "insipid" [47] and *dzyŋC 𧚔 "to wear". [38]

Writing system

When using Chinese characters to write a non-Mandarin form, a common practice is to use characters that correspond etymologically to the words being represented, and for words with no evident etymology, to either invent new characters or borrow characters for their sound or meaning. [48] Written Cantonese has carried this process out to the farthest extent of any non-Mandarin variety, to the extent that pure Cantonese vernacular can be unambiguously written using Chinese characters. Contrary to popular belief, a vernacular written in this fashion is not in general comprehensible to a Mandarin speaker, due to significant changes in grammar and vocabulary and the necessary use of large number of non-Mandarin characters.

For most Min varieties, a similar process has not taken place. For Hokkien, competing systems exist. [48] Given that Min combines the Chinese of several different periods and contains some non-Chinese substrate vocabulary, an author literate in Mandarin (or even Classical Chinese) may have trouble finding the appropriate Chinese characters for some Min vocabulary. In the case of Taiwanese, there are also indigenous words borrowed from Formosan languages (particularly for place names), as well as a substantial number of loan words from Japanese. The Min spoken in Singapore and Malaysia has borrowed heavily from Malay and, to a lesser extent, from English and other languages. The result is that adapting Chinese characters to write Min requires a substantial effort to choose characters for a significant portion of the vocabulary.

Other approaches to writing Min rely on romanization or phonetic systems such as Taiwanese Phonetic Symbols. Some Min speakers use the Church Romanization (simplified Chinese :教会罗马字; traditional Chinese :教會羅馬字; pinyin :Jiàohuì Luómǎzì). For Hokkien the romanization is called Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) and for Fuzhou dialect called Foochow Romanized (Bàng-uâ-cê, BUC). Both systems were created by foreign missionaries in the 19th century (see Min Nan and Min Dong Wikipedia). There are some uncommon publications in mixed writing, using mostly Chinese characters but using the Latin alphabet to represent words that cannot easily be represented by Chinese characters.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Mandarin Chinese Major branch of Chinese spoken across most of northern and southwestern China

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Hakka Chinese Primary branch of Chinese originating in Southern China

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Yue Chinese Primary branch of Chinese spoken in southern China

Yue is a group of similar Sinitic languages spoken in Southern China, particularly in Liangguang.

Southern Min Language group (branch of the Min Chinese language)

Southern Min, Minnan or Banlam, is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages that form a branch of Min Chinese spoken in Fujian, most of Taiwan, Eastern Guangdong, Hainan and Southern Zhejiang. The Minnan dialects are also spoken by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora, most notably the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. It is the most populous branch of Min Chinese, spoken by an estimated 48 million people in ca. 2017–2018.

Varieties of Chinese Family of local language varieties

Chinese, also known as Sinitic, is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. Variation is particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast of mainland China. The varieties are typically classified into several groups: Mandarin, Wu, Min, Xiang, Gan, Hakka and Yue, though some varieties remain unclassified. These groups are neither clades nor individual languages defined by mutual intelligibility, but reflect common phonological developments from Middle Chinese.

Old Chinese Oldest attested stage of Chinese

Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 BC, in the late Shang dynasty. Bronze inscriptions became plentiful during the following Zhou dynasty. The latter part of the Zhou period saw a flowering of literature, including classical works such as the Analects, the Mencius, and the Zuo zhuan. These works served as models for Literary Chinese, which remained the written standard until the early twentieth century, thus preserving the vocabulary and grammar of late Old Chinese.

Baiyue Non-Chinese peoples in ancient southern China

The Baiyue, Hundred Yue, or simply Yue, were various ethnic groups who inhabited the regions of South China and Northern Vietnam during the 1st millennium BC and 1st millennium AD. They were known for their short hair, body tattoos, fine swords, and naval prowess.

Wu Chinese Primary branch of Chinese spoken in Eastern China

Wu is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages spoken primarily in Shanghai, Zhejiang Province, the southern half of Jiangsu Province and surrounding areas.

Eastern Min Branch of the Min group of Sinitic languages of China

Eastern Min or Min Dong, is a branch of the Min group of Sinitic languages of China. The prestige form and most-cited representative form is the Fuzhou dialect, the speech of the capital and largest city of Fujian.

The Sinitic languages, often synonymous with "Chinese languages", constitute the major branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is frequently proposed that there is a primary split between the Sinitic languages and the rest of the family, but this view is rejected by an increasing number of researchers. The Bai languages, whose classification is difficult, may be an offshoot of Old Chinese and thus Sinitic; otherwise Sinitic is defined only by the many varieties of Chinese, and usage of the term "Sinitic" may reflect the linguistic view that Chinese constitutes a family of distinct languages, rather than variants of a single language.

The Bai language is a language spoken in China, primarily in Yunnan Province, by the Bai people. The language has over a million speakers and is divided into three or four main dialects. Bai syllables are always open, with a rich set of vowels and eight tones. The tones are divided into two groups with modal and non-modal phonation. There is a small amount of traditional literature written with Chinese characters, Bowen (僰文), as well as a number of recent publications printed with a recently standardized system of romanisation using the Latin alphabet.

Hokkien Language spoken in East Asia

Hokkien or Minnan, known as Quanzhang or Tsuan-Tsiang (泉漳) in linguistics, is a Southern Min language originating from the Minnan region in the south-eastern part of Fujian Province in Southeastern China and spoken widely there. It is also spoken widely in Taiwan and by the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia and by other overseas Chinese all over the world.

Longyan dialect

Longyan dialect (龍巖話) or Longyan Minnan (龍巖閩南語), is a dialect of Hokkien spoken in the urban city area of Longyan in the province of Fujian while Hakka is spoken in rural villages of longyan by the peasantry. The Longyan Min people had settled in the region from southern part of Fujian Province as early as the Tang dynasty period (618–907). Although Longyan Min has some Hakka influence to a limited extent by the peasant Hakka Chinese language due to close distance of rural village Hakka peasants of the region, Longyan Min is a close dialect of the Minnan language and has more number of tones than Hakka. Longyan dialect has a high but limited intelligibility with Southern Min dialects such as Hokkien–Taiwanese. Today, Longyan Minnan is predominantly spoken in Longyan's urban district Xinluo District while Zhangzhou Minnan is spoken in Zhangping City. Hakka on the other hand is spoken in the non-urban rest of the rural areas of Longyan prefecture: Changting County, Yongding County, Shanghang County, Liancheng County and Wuping County.

Waxiang Chinese

Waxiang is a divergent variety of Chinese, spoken by the Waxiang people, an unrecognized ethnic minority group in the northwestern part of Hunan province, China. Waxiang is a distinct language, very different from its surrounding Southwestern Mandarin, Xiang and Qo Xiong languages.

Northern Min

Northern Min, is a group of mutually intelligible Min varieties spoken in Nanping prefecture of northwestern Fujian.

Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the phonology of Old Chinese from documentary evidence. Although the writing system does not describe sounds directly, shared phonetic components of the most ancient Chinese characters are believed to link words that were pronounced similarly at that time. The oldest surviving Chinese verse, in the Classic of Poetry (Shijing), shows which words rhymed in that period. Scholars have compared these bodies of contemporary evidence with the much later Middle Chinese reading pronunciations listed in the Qieyun rime dictionary published in 601 AD, though this falls short of a phonemic analysis. Supplementary evidence has been drawn from cognates in other Sino-Tibetan languages and in Min Chinese, which split off before the Middle Chinese period, Chinese transcriptions of foreign names, and early borrowings from and by neighbouring languages such as Hmong–Mien, Tai and Tocharian languages.

Jerry Norman (sinologist)

Jerry Lee Norman was an American sinologist and linguist known for his studies of Chinese dialects and historical phonology, particularly on the Min Chinese dialects, and also of the Manchu language. Norman had a large impact on Chinese linguistics, and was largely responsible for the identification of the importance of the Min Chinese dialects in linguistic research into Old Chinese.

Proto-Min is a comparative reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Min group of varieties of Chinese. Min varieties developed in the relative isolation of the Chinese province of Fujian and eastern Guangdong, and have since spread to Taiwan, southeast Asia and other parts of the world. They contain reflexes of distinctions not found in Middle Chinese or most other modern varieties, and thus provide additional data for the reconstruction of Old Chinese.



  1. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (2012). 中国语言地图集(第2版):汉语方言卷[Language Atlas of China (2nd edition): Chinese dialect volume]. Beijing: The Commercial Press. p. 110.
  2. Norman (1991), pp. 328.
  3. Norman (1988), pp. 210, 228.
  4. Norman (1988), pp. 228–229.
  5. Ting (1983), pp. 9–10.
  6. Baxter & Sagart (2014), pp. 33, 79.
  7. Yan (2006), p. 120.
  8. Norman & Mei (1976).
  9. Norman (1991), pp. 331–332.
  10. Norman (1991), pp. 334–336.
  11. Norman (1991), p. 336.
  12. Norman (1991), p. 337.
  13. 1 2 Sagart, Larent (2008). "The expansion of Setaria farmers in East Asia: a linguistic and archeological model". In Sanchez-Mazas, Alicia; Blench, Roger; Ross, Malcolm D.; Peiros, Ilia; Lin, Marie (eds.). Past human migrations in East Asia: matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics. Routledge. pp. 141–143. ISBN   978-0-415-39923-4. In conclusion, there is no convincing evidence, linguistic or other, of an early Austroasiatic presence on the south‑east China coast.
  14. Chamberlain, James R. (2016). "Kra-Dai and the Proto-History of South China and Vietnam", p. 30. In Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 104, 2016.
  15. Norman (1988), p. 188.
  16. Kurpaska (2010), p. 49.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Norman (1988), p. 233.
  18. Branner (2000), pp. 98–100.
  19. 1 2 Norman (1988), pp. 232–233.
  20. 1 2 Kurpaska (2010), p. 52.
  21. Li & Chen (1991).
  22. Zhang (1987).
  23. Simons & Fennig (2017), Chinese, Min Nan.
  24. 1 2 Kurpaska (2010), p. 71.
  25. Lien (2015), p. 169.
  26. 1 2 Norman (1988), pp. 233–234.
  27. 1 2 Norman (1988), p. 239.
  28. Norman (1988), pp. 234–235.
  29. Norman (1988), pp. 235, 241.
  30. Norman (1973).
  31. Norman (1988), pp. 228–230.
  32. Branner (2000), pp. 100–104.
  33. Norman (1988), p. 231.
  34. Norman (1981), p. 58.
  35. Norman (1988), pp. 231–232.
  36. Baxter & Sagart (2014), pp. 59–60.
  37. Norman (1981), p. 47.
  38. 1 2 Norman (1988), p. 232.
  39. 1 2 Baxter & Sagart (2014), p. 33.
  40. Norman (1981), p. 41.
  41. Norman (1988), pp. 18–19.
  42. Norman & Mei (1976), pp. 296–297.
  43. Norman (1981), p. 63.
  44. Norman & Mei (1976), pp. 297–298.
  45. Chamberlain, J.R. 1998, "The origin of Sek: implications for Tai and Vietnamese history", in The International Conference on Tai Studies, ed. S. Burusphat, Bangkok, Thailand, pp. 97-128. Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University.
  46. Norman (1981), p. 44.
  47. Norman (1981), p. 56.
  48. 1 2 Klöter, Henning (2005). Written Taiwanese. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN   978-3-447-05093-7.

Works cited

Further reading