Monday, September 29, 2008

Teochew dialect

of ucfirst: at Wikimedia Incubator

The Chaozhou language, variably spelled Teochiu, Tiuchiu, Tiochiu, or Diojiu, but mostly commonly referred to in English as Teochew, is a dialect of the Southern Min , spoken in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong. It has low intelligibility with other Min Nan dialects, having fewer words in common than German has with English.


Chaozhou is a member of the Southern Min or Min Nan dialect group, which in turn constitutes one of the seven major dialect groups of the Sinitic language family. Like other varieties of , people have not yet agreed on whether Chaozhou should be treated as a language or a dialect. However, apart from the political perspective of this, from a purely linguistic point of view, Chaozhou should be a language in its own right since it is mutually unintelligible with other "dialect groups" of China. According to , Chaozhou has an overall 50.4% of mutual intelligibility with the Xiamen dialect, 44.3% with and 43.5% with .

Nevertheless, Chaozhou is mutually intelligible with some other Southern Min Languages, notably the dialects of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou probably because of their proximity. Even within the Chaozhou varieties, there is substantial variation in phonology between different regions of Chaoshan and between different Chaozhou communities overseas.

The Chaozhou languages, in terms of their closeness, can be roughly divided into 3 sub-groups:

1) Chaozhou sub-group, including Chaozhou , Shantou , Jieyang , Chenghai , Nanao and Raoping ,

2) Chaopu sub-group, including Chaoyang , Puning , Huilai , and

3) Luhai sub-group, including Shanwei , Lufeng and Haifeng

History and geography

Modern Chaozhou evolved from the more archaic Southern Min Language. Between the 9th and the 15th century, a group of Min people migrated south from Fujian to the coastal region of eastern Guangdong known as Chaoshan . This migration was most likely due in part to over-population in Fujian .

Due to geographical isolation from Fujian, Chaozhou evolved into a separate dialect.

As mentioned above, the Chaoshan region where Chaozhou is spoken includes the cities of Chaozhou, Shantou, which are jointly the source of the name, as well as Jieyang, Chaoyang, Puning, Chao'an, Raoping, Huilai, Chenghai, Nanao, Lufeng, Haifeng, Shanwei and Huidong. Parts of the -speaking region, like Jiexi, Dabu and Fengshun are also Chaozhou-speaking.

Chaoshan was one of the major sources of Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia during the 18th–20th centuries, forming one of the larger dialect groups among the Overseas Chinese. As a result, Chaozhou is now spoken in many regions outside of Chaoshan. In particular, the Chaozhou people settled in significant numbers in Thailand and Cambodia, where they form the largest Chinese dialect group. They constitute a significant minority in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia . Chaozhou speakers also live in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and Europe, a result of both direct emigration from Chaoshan to these nations and secondary emigration from Southeast Asia.

However, as the world globalises, the language is losing popularity among the native speakers. In Singapore, due to common culture, and influences from the media , Singaporean Chinese youths whose native language is Chaozhou are either converting to , Standard Mandarin or . Chaozhou remains the native language of many Chinese people in Singapore - Chaozhou people are the second largest Chinese group in Singapore, after the - although Mandarin is gradually Chaozhou as their mother tongue, especially among the younger generations.

Languages in contact


Chaozhou children are introduced to as early as in kindergarten; however, Chaozhou remains the primary medium of instruction. In the early years of primary education, Putonghua then becomes the sole language of instruction, although students typically continue to talk one another in Chaozhou. Putonghua is widely understood, however minimally, by most younger Chaozhou speakers, but the elderly usually do not speak Putonghua since, in their times, teaching was done in the local vernacular.

Chaozhou accent in Putonghua

Native Chaozhou speakers find the neutral tone in Putonghua hardest to master. Chaozhou has lost the alveolar nasal ending and so the people often replace the sound in Putonghua with the velar nasal . None of the southern Min dialects has a front rounded vowel, therefore a typical Chaozhou accent supplants the unrounded counterpart for . Chaozhou, like its ancient ancestor, lacks labio-dentals; people therefore substitute for when they speak Putonghua. Chaozhou does not have any of the retroflex consonants in the northern dialects, so they say , , , and instead of , , and .


Since Chao'an, Raoping and Jieyang border the Hakka-speaking region in the north, some people in these regions speak Hakka, though they can usually speak Chaozhou as well. Chaozhou people have historically had a great deal of contact with the Hakka people, but, interestingly, the Hakka language has had little, if any, influence on Chaozhou. Similarly, in Dabu and Fengshun, where the Chaozhou- and Hakka-speaking regions meet, Chaozhou is also spoken although Hakka remains the primary language there.


Because of influence from Hong Kong soap operas and the importance of Guangzhou in Guangdong province, many young Chaozhou people can understand quite a lot of Cantonese even if they cannot speak it.

Non-Chinese language

In the mountainous area of Fenghuang , a non- language, the She language, is spoken by a few hundred She people . It belongs to the Hmong-Mien language family.

Phonetics and Phonology


Chaozhou is one of the few Sinitic languages which have obstruents ; however, unlike the and languages, the Chaozhou voiced and did not evolve from the Middle Chinese voiced obstruents, instead, they were from the Middle Chinese s. Therefore, the voiced stops and are in fact as and respectively. The voiced alveolar affricate was originally a fricative sound in earlier Chaozhou and still is in some Chaoshan dialects. Southern Min languages are typified by a lack of labio-dentals, as illustrated below:

Oral Vowels

Nasalised Vowels


Syllables in Chaozhou contain an onset consonant, a medial glide, a nucleus, usually in the form of a vowel, but can also be occupied by a syllabic consonant like , and a final consonant. All the elements of the syllable except for the nucleus are optional, which means a vowel or a syllabic consonant alone can stand as a fully-fledged syllable.


All the consonants except for the glottal stop ? shown in the consonants chart above can act as the onset of a syllable; however, the onset position is not obligatorily occupied.



The nucleus is the only obligatory and therefore the most important element of a syllable. It can be occupied by a vowel, a nasalised vowel or a syllabic consonant in chaozhou.


The coda position is usually fulfilled by a stop or nasal consonant but is nevertheless optional.


Citation Tones

Chaozhou, like other Chinese languages, is a tonal language. It has six and extensive tone sandhi.

As with sandhi in other Min Nan dialects, the checked tones interchange. The ''yang'' tones all become low.



The grammar of Chaozhou is similar to southern Chinese dialects, especially with and Cantonese. The sequence 'subject verb object' is typical, like , although 'subject object verb' is also possible using particles.



Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns in Chaozhou, like in other Sinitic languages, do not show case marking, therefore 我 means both ''I'' and ''me'' and 伊人 means ''they'' and ''them''. The southern Min dialects, like some northern dialects, have the distinction between an inclusive and exclusive we, meaning that when the addressee is being included, the inclusive pronoun 俺 would be used, otherwise 阮 . None of the other southern dialects like Cantonese or Hakka has this distinction.

Possessive Pronouns

The Chaozhou language does not distinguish the possessive pronouns from the possessive adjectives. As a general rule, the possessive pronouns or adjectives are formed by adding the genitive or possessive marker 個/个 to their respective personal pronouns, as summarised below:


''The book is mine''.

However, there are instances in which 個/个 can be dropped, such as when followed by a , as in:


''my skirt''

Demonstrative Pronouns

Chaozhou has the typical two-way distinction between the demonstratives, namely the proximals and the distals, as summarised in the following chart:

Interrogative Pronouns


The cardinal number system works in pretty much the same way as the one.

Note: : Traditional characters; : Simplified characters.

Ordinal numbers are formed by adding 第 in front of a cardinal number.



The Noun Phrase



Modification of the NP

The Verb Phrase

Auxiliary Verbs





In Chaozhou passive construction, the phrase ''by somebody'' always has to be present, and is introduced by either 乞 * or 分 , even though it is in fact a zero or indefinite agent as in:


s/he was killed

*Some speakers use or instead.

Remember that while in Putonghua we can have the agent introducer 被 bèi or 給 gěi alone without the agent itself, it is not grammatical to say

''*'' 個杯敲掉

the cup was broken.

Instead, we have to say:


Even though this 人 is unknown.

Note also that the agent phrase 分人 always comes immediately after the subject, not at the end of the sentence or between the and the past participle like in some European languages


Sentence Final Particles






The comparative construction with two or more nouns

Chaozhou uses the construction "X ADJ 過 Y", which is believed to have evolved from the Ancient Chinese "X ADJ 于 Y" structure, to express the idea of comparison:


She is more beautiful than you.

Cantonese uses the same construction:

cf. 佢靚過你

However, due to influences from Mandarin Chinese, the Mandarin structure "X 比 Y ADJ" has also gained popularity over the years. Therefore, the same sentence can be re-structured and becomes:


cf. Mandarin 她比你漂亮

The comparative construction with only one noun

Note: the 過- or 比-construction must involve two or more nouns to be compared; an ill-formed sentence will be yielded when only one is being mentioned:

''*'' 伊雅過

This is different from English since the second noun being compared can be left out:

cf. Tatyana is more beautiful .

In this case, the 夭-construction has to be used instead:


She is more beautiful.

The same holds true for Mandarin and Cantonese in that another structure needs to be used when only one of the nouns being compared is mentioned. Note also that Chaozhou and Mandarin both use a pre-modifier while Cantonese uses a post-modifier .

cf. Mandarin 她比較漂亮 & Cantonese 佢靚

There are two words which are intrinsically comparative in meaning, i.e. 贏 "better" and 輸 "worse". They can be used alone or in conjunction with the 過-structure:


This skirt is not as good as that one.


My computer is ''far'' better than his.

Note the use of the adverbial 好多 at the end of the sentence to express a higher degree.

The equal construction

In Chaozhou, the idea of equality is expressed with the word 平 or 平樣 :


This book is as heavy as that one.


They are the same.

The superlative construction

To express the superlative, Chaozhou uses the adverb 上 or 上頂 . However, it should be noted that 上頂 is usually used with a complimentary connotation.


This is the most delicious.


They treat me best.


The vocabulary of Chaozhou shares a lot of similarities with Cantonese owing to their continuous contact with each other. Like Cantonese, Chaozhou has a great deal of words, which to a certain extent reflects the age of the Chaozhou language since monosyllabic words were prevalent in . However, ever since the standardisation of , Chaozhou has absorbed a lot of Putonghua vocabulary, which is predominantly polysyllabic. In addition, due to the migration to Southeast Asia, Chaozhou has also borrowed extensively from .

Archaic vocabulary

Chaozhou and other Min Nan dialects such as Taiwanese preserve a good deal of Ancient Chinese vocabulary. Examples include words such as ''eye'' , ''dry'' , and ''hide'' .


Script and orthographies

The majority of Chaozhou words can be written with the Chinese characters; however, a small amount of the native vocabulary does not have a standard character yet, partly because the Chaozhou vocabulary is usually more archaic and thus not commonly used in the modern standard Chinese language and partly because the studies on dialectal writing in China have not flourished like other areas in traditional Chinese philology, and of course there is also the possibility of some locally invented words which actually do not have a Chinese character.


The Chaozhou language has been romanised by the Guangdong provincial government to aid linguistic studies and the publication of dictionaries, although the Taiwanese Pe?h-oē-jī could also be used because the Christian missionaries invented it in a way that is also suitable for the transcription of other Min Nan dialects.

A modified version of the Guangdong romanization system called Peng'im is also used in an online Chaozhou community.


Initial consonants of Chaozhou, are represented in the system as: B, BH, C, D, G, GH, H, K, L, M, N, NG, P, R, S, T, and Z.

* B - bag
* Bh- bhê
* C - cên
* C - cǔi
* C - cêng
* D - dio
* G - gio
* GH- gho
* H - hung
* K - ke
* L - lag
* M - mêng
* N - nang
* NG - ngou
* P - peng
* R - riêg/ruah
* S - sên
* T - tin
* Z - ziu



Vowels and vowel combinations in the Chaozhou dialect include: A, E, ?, I, O, U, AI, AO, IA, IO, IU, OI, OU, UA, UAI, UE, and UI.

* A - ma
* E - de
* ? - sên
* I - bhi
* O - to
* U - ghu

Many words in Chaozhou are nasalized. This is represented by the letter "n" in the Guangdong Pengim system.

''Example '':
* suan
* cên


Ending consonants in Chaozhou include M and NG as well as the stops discussed below.

* M - iam
* NG - bhuang

Chaozhou retains many consonant stops lost in . These stops include a labial stop: "b"; velar stop: "g"; and glottal stop: "h".

* B - zab
* G - hog
* H - tih

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