Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hokkien dialect

Hokkien is a dialect of Min Nan spoken in southern Fujian, Taiwan, and by many overseas Chinese throughout South-east Asia. It is related to and , with which it shares only minimal intelligibility.

Hokkien includes a variety of dialects of which and the Tainan variant of Taiwanese are considered standards, being in the middle of dialectic divides and thus enjoying the highest intelligibility amongst the varying dialects.

Geographic distribution

Hokkien originated in the Southern regions of Fujian province, an important centre for trade and migration, and has since been spread beyond China, being one of the most common Chinese languages overseas.

A form of Hokkien akin to that spoken in southern Fujian is also spoken in Taiwan, where it has the native name of T?i-o?n-oē or . The ethnic group for which Hokkien is considered a native language is known as the or , the main ethnicity of Taiwan. The correspondence between language and ethnicity is generally true though not absolute, as some Hoklo have very limited proficiency in Hokkien while some non-Hoklos speak it fluently.

There are many Hokkien speakers also amongst overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Many ethnic emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Indonesia and present day Malaysia and Singapore . Many of the Hokkien dialects of this region are highly similar to Taiwanese and Amoy. Hokkien is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the in the Philippines, among whom it is also known as Lan-nang or Lán-l?ng-oē . Hokkien speakers form the largest group of Chinese in Singapore with the and combined with speakers of other Southern Min languages form the majority of the island’s population.


Southern Fujian is home to three main Hokkien dialects. They are known by the geographic locations to which they correspond :


As Amoy is the principal city of southern Fujian, its dialect is considered the most important, or even accent. The Amoy dialect is a hybrid of the Chinchew and Changchew dialects. Amoy and the Amoy dialect have played an influential role in history, especially in the relations of nations with China, and was one of the most frequently learned of all Chinese languages/dialects by ers during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

The variants spoken in Taiwan are similar to the three Fujian variants, and are collectively known as Taiwanese. Taiwanese is used by a majority of the population and bears much importance from a socio-political perspective, forming the second major pole of the language. The variants of Hokkien in Southeast Asia also originate from these variants.


Hokkien has one of the most diverse phonologies amongst Chinese languages, with more consonants than standard Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels, on the other hand, are more or less similar to that of Standard Mandarin.


In general, Hokkien variants have seven to eight s, and tone sandhi is extensive. There are minor variations between the and tone systems. Taiwanese tones follow the schemes of Amoy and Changchew, depending on the area of Taiwan. See also for more examples.



is a hybrid of and speech. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of these two dialects. Taiwanese in northern Taiwan tends to be based on Chinchew speech, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Changchew speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Chinchew and Changchew speech. The grammar is basically the same. Additionally, Taiwanese includes several dozen loanwords from .

Mutual intelligibility

*Spoken: speech, Xiamen speech, speech and Taiwanese are mutually intelligible.

Teochew and Amoy Hokkien speech are 84.3% phonetically similar and 33.8% lexically similar, whereas Mandarin and Amoy Min Nan are 62% phonetically similar and 15.1% lexically similar. In comparison, German and English are 60% lexically similar. In other words, Chao-Shan, including Swatow , has very low intelligibility with Hokkien, and Hokkien is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin.

Scripts and orthographies

Like most ethnic , whether from mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, or other parts of Southeast Asia, Hokkien speakers write their language with Chinese characters. However, unlike some other Mandarin or Cantonese, Hokkien does not yet have a standardised character set and thus there can be some variation in the characters used to express certain words. Currently, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China is formulating and releasing a standard character set to overcome these difficulties.


Hokkien is sometimes transcribed into the Latin alphabet using one of several . Of these the most popular is Pe?h-ōe-jī . POJ was developed first by Presbyterian missionaries in China and later by the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan; use of the orthography has been actively promoted since the late 19th century. The use of a mixed orthography of Han characters and romanization is also seen, though remains uncommon. Other Latin-based orthographies also exist.

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