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Min nan

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Min nan

Southern Min
Min Nan
閩南語 / 闽南语 Bân-lâm-gú
Native to China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, United States (New York City), Japan and other areas of Southern Min and Hoklo settlement
Region Southern Fujian province; the Chaozhou-Shantou (Chaoshan) area and Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong province; extreme south of Zhejiang province; much of Hainan province(if Hainanese or Qiong Wen is included); and most of Taiwan.
Native speakers Template:Sigfig million  (2007)Template:Infobox language/ref
Language family
Hainanese Chinese
Official status
Official language in None (Legislative bills have been proposed for Regulated by None (The Republic of China Ministry of Education and some NGOs are influential in Taiwan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nan
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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Distribution of Southern Min.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.


Southern Min, or Min Nan (simplified Chinese: 闽南语; traditional Chinese: 閩南語; pinyin: Mǐnnán Yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bân-lâm-gí/Bân-lâm-gú; literally "Southern Fujian language"), are a family of Chinese languages or varieties spoken in parts of China such as southern Fujian, eastern Guangdong, Hainan, and southern Zhejiang, and in Taiwan. The languages are also spoken by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora.

In common parlance, Southern Min usually refers to Hokkien, in particular the Amoy and Taiwanese. Amoy and Taiwanese are both combinations of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The Southern Min family also includes Teochew. Teochew has limited mutual intelligibility with the Amoy.

Hainanese and Puxian Min both originated from Minnan. However, both these dialects are generally not considered to be mutually intelligible with any other Southern Min variants phonologically although the grammar and most vocabulary is very similar as they come from the same roots as Minnan.

Southern Min forms part of the Min language group, alongside several other divisions. The Min languages/dialects are part of the Chinese language group, itself a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Southern Min is not mutually intelligible with Eastern Min, Cantonese, or Mandarin. As with other varieties of Chinese, there is a political dispute as to whether the Southern Min language should be called a language or a dialect.

Geographic distribution

Southern Min is spoken in the southern part of Fujian province, three southeastern counties of Zhejiang province, the Zhoushan archipelago off Ningbo in Zhejiang, and the eastern part of Guangdong province (Chaoshan region). The Qiong Wen variant spoken in the Leizhou peninsula of Guangdong province, as well as Hainan province, which is not mutually intelligible with standard Minnan or Teochew, is classified in some schemes as part of Southern Min and in other schemes as separate.

A form of Southern Min akin to that spoken in southern Fujian is also spoken in Taiwan, where it has the native name of Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē. The (sub)ethnic group for which Southern Min is considered a native language is known as the Holo (Hō-ló) or Hoklo, 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 Southern Min while some non-Hoklos speak Southern Min fluently.

There are many Southern Min speakers also among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Many ethnic Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) and present day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly Malaya and the British Straits Settlements). In general, Southern Min from southern Fujian is known as Hokkien, Hokkienese, Fukien or Fookien in Southeast Asia, and is very much like Taiwanese. Many Southeast Asian ethnic Chinese also originated in the Chaoshan region of Guangdong province and speak Teochew, the variant of Southern Min from that region. Southern Min is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the community of ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, among whom it is also known as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē ("Our people’s language"). Southern Min speakers form the majority of Chinese in Singapore with the largest being Hoklos and the second largest being the Teochews.


The variants of Southern Min spoken in Zhejiang province are most akin to that spoken in Quanzhou. 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 is quite important from a socio-political and cultural perspective, forming the second most important, if not the more influential pole of the language due to the popularity of Taiwanese Hokkien media. Those Southern Min variants that are collectively known as "Hokkien" in Southeast Asia also originate from these variants. The variants of Southern Min in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong province are collectively known as Teochew or Chaozhou. Teochew is of great importance in the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sumatra and West Kalimantan. The Philippines variant is mostly from the Quanzhou area as most of their forefathers are from the aforementioned area.

The Southern Min language variant spoken around Shanwei and Haifeng differs markedly from Teochew and may represent a later migration from Zhangzhou. Linguistically, it lies between Teochew and Amoy. In southwestern Fujian, the local variants in Longyan and Zhangping form a separate division of Min Nan on their own. Among ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Penang, Malaysia and Medan, Indonesia, a distinct form of Zhangzhou (Changchew) Hokkien has developed. In Penang, it is called Penang Hokkien while across the Malacca Strait in Medan, an almost identical variant is known as Medan Hokkien.

Cultural and political role

The Min Nan (or "Hokkien") language can trace its roots through the Tang Dynasty. Min Nan (Hokkien) people call themselves "Tang people," (唐人, tn̂g lâng) which is synonymous to "Chinese people". Because of the widespread influence of the Tang culture during the great Tang dynasty, we find today still many Min Nan pronunciations of words shared by the Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese language.

English Chinese characters Mandarin Hokkien Korean Vietnamese Japanese
Book Chheh Chaek Tập/Sách Saku/Satsu/Shaku
Bridge Qiáo Kiô Kyo Cầu/Kiều Kyō
Dangerous 危險 Wēixiǎn Guî-hiám Wiheom Nguy hiểm Kiken
Flag Ki Ki Cờ/Kỳ Ki
Insurance 保險 Bǎoxiǎn Pó-hiám Boheom Bảo hiểm Hoken
News 新聞 Xīnwén Sinboon Shinmun Tân Văn Shinbun
Student 學生 Xuéshēng Hak-sing Haksaeng Học sinh Gakusei
University 大學 Daxué Tua ok (Tai-hak) Tae hak  Đại học Daigaku


Main articles: Hokkien dialect and Teochew dialect

The Southern Min language has one of the most diverse phonologies of Chinese variants, with more consonants than Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels, on the other hand, are more or less similar to those of Mandarin. In general, Southern Min dialects have five to six tones, and tone sandhi is extensive. There are minor variations within Hokkien, but the Teochew system differs significantly.

Southern Min's nasal finals consist m and -ŋ, it previously had an n final in ancient times.[2]


Xiamen speech is a hybrid of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. Taiwanese in northern Taiwan tends to be based on Quanzhou speech, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The grammar is basically the same. Additionally, Taiwanese includes several dozen loanwords from Japanese. In contrast, Teochew speech is significantly different from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech in both pronunciation and vocabulary.

Vowel shifts

The following table provides words that illustrate some of the more commonly seen vowel shifts. Characters with same vowel are shown in parentheses.

English Chinese character Accent Pe̍h-ōe-jī IPA Teochew Peng'Im
two Quanzhou, Taipei li˧ jĭ (zi˧˥)[3]
Xiamen, Zhangzhou, Tainan dzi˧
sick (生) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei pīⁿ pĩ˧ pēⁿ (pẽ˩)
Zhangzhou, Tainan pēⁿ pẽ˧
egg (遠) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taiwan nn̄g nŋ˧ nn̆g (nŋ˧˥)
Zhangzhou nūi nui˧
chopsticks (豬) Quanzhou tīr tɯ˧ tēu (tɤ˩)
Xiamen tu˧
Zhangzhou, Taiwan ti˧
shoes (街)
Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei ue˧˥ ôi (tɤ˩)
Zhangzhou, Tainan ê e˧˥
leather (未) Quanzhou phêr pʰə˨˩ phuê (pʰue˩)
Xiamen, Taipei phê pʰe˨˩
Zhangzhou, Tainan phôe pʰue˧
chicken (細) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei koe kue koi
Zhangzhou, Tainan ke ke
hair (兩) Quanzhou, Taiwan, Xiamen mng mo
Zhangzhou mo
return Quanzhou huan huaⁿ huêng
Xiamen hai hâiⁿ
Zhangzhou, Taiwan hing hîŋ
Speech (花) Quanzhou, Taiwan ue ue
Zhangzhou ua ua

Mutual intelligibility

Spoken mutual intelligibility

Chao-Shan, including Swatow (both of which are variants of Teochew speech), has very low intelligibility with Amoy speech,[4] and Amoy and Teochew are not mutually intelligible with Mandarin. However, many Amoy and Teochew speakers speak Mandarin as a second or third language.

Written mutual intelligibility

Southern Min dialects lack a standardized written language. Southern Min speakers are taught how to read Mandarin in school. As a result, there has not been an urgent need to develop a writing system. In recent years, an increasing number of Southern Min language speakers have become interested in developing a standard writing system (either by using Chinese Characters, or using Romanized script).

See also

Related languages


Further reading

  • "Southern Min Grammar" (3 articles), Part V, Sinitic Grammar, Hilary Chappell (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford 2001. ISBN 0-19-829977-X.

External links

  • 當代泉州音字彙, a dictionary of Quanzhou speech
  • 台語-華語線頂辭典, Taiwanese-Mandarin on-line dictionary (Min-nan)(Chinese)
  • 台語線頂字典, Taiwanese Hokkien Han Character online dictionary.
  • 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典, Taiwanese Hokkien Commonly-used Words Dictionary by Ministry of Education, Republic of China (Taiwan).
  • 臺灣本土語言互譯及語音合成系統, Taiwanese-Hakka-Mandarin on-line conversion
  • Voyager - Spacecraft - Golden Record - Greetings From Earth - Amoy The voyager clip says: Thài-khong pêng-iú, lín-hó. Lín chia̍h-pá—bē? Ū-êng, to̍h lâi gún chia chē—ô·! 太空朋友,恁好。恁食飽未?有閒著來阮遮坐哦!
  • 台語詞典 Taiwanese-English-Mandarin Dictionary
  • How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language by Victor H. Mair University of Pennsylvania
  • wikt:Appendix:Sino-Tibetan Swadesh lists
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