Xiang Chinese

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“Xiang Language” written in Chinese characters
Native to China
Region Central and southwestern Hunan, and northern Guangxi, some parts of Sichuan and Shaanxi
Ethnicity Hunanese people (Han Chinese)
Native speakers
38 million  (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hsn
Glottolog xian1251[2]
Xiang Chinese
Traditional Chinese 湘語
Simplified Chinese 湘语
Commonly known as
Traditional Chinese 湖南話
Simplified Chinese 湖南话

Xiang (Hsiang, simplified Chinese: 湘语; traditional Chinese: 湘語) or Hunanese (Chinese: 湖南话), is a group of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of Chinese, spoken mainly in Hunan province but also in a few parts of Guangxi, Sichuan and Shaanxi. Scholars divided Hunanese into Five main dialects, which are Chang-Yi, Lou-Shao, Hengzhou, Chen-Xu and Yong-Quan.[3] Among those, Lou-shao, as known as Old Hunanese, still exhibit the three-way distinction of Middle Chinese obstruents, preserving the voiced stops, fricatives, and affricates. Xiang has also been heavily influenced by Gan and recently Mandarin, which adjoins three of the four sides of the Xiang speaking territory, and Gan in Jiangxi Province, from where a large population immigrated to Hunan during Ming Dynasty.[4]

Xiang speakers played an important role in Modern Chinese history, especially in those reformatory and revolutionary movements such as Self-Strengthening Movement, Hundred Days' Reform, Xinhai Revolution[5] and Chinese Communist Revolution.[6] Some examples of Xiang speakers are Mao Zedong, Zuo Zongtang, Huang Xing and Ma Ying-jeou.[7]


Norman (1988) claimed that Xiang belonged to the central group of Chinese.[8] Moser (1985) said that Xiang used to be part of a broad band of Chinese languages grouped with Wannan and Gan.[9] But Chinese linguists often suppose that Xiang is an independent Chinese dialect or dialect group. However, Xiang is now regarded as an independent branch of Chinese language. Inside Xiang, there are still many variants of Xiang that are very different from each other.


Ancient ages[edit]

During Qin and Han dynasty, most part of today's Eastern Hunan belonged to Changsha-Xian/Changsha-Guo. According to Yang Xiong's Fangyan, people in this region spoke Southern Chu language. Southern Chu language is considered the ancestor of Xiang language today.[10]

Middle ages and recent history[edit]

During the Tang dynasty, a large-scale emigration took place with people emigrating from the north to the south, bringing Middle Chinese into Hunan.[11] Today's Xiang still keeps some Middle Chinese words, such as 嬉 (to have fun), 薅 (to weed), 行 (to walk). Rusheng vowels (入声韵) started weakening in Hunan at this time.

The late Yuan Dynasty peasant uprising caused a great many casualties in Hunan. During the Ming Dynasty, a large-scale emigration from Jiangxi to Hunan took place. Gan, which was brought by settlers from Jiangxi, influenced Xiang language. The language in east Hunan differentiated into New Xiang during that period.

In the meantime, Quanzhou (全州) was included into Guangxi province after the administrative division adjustment of Ming Dynasty. Some features of Xiang language at that time was kept in this region.

Take the character "床" (bed) for an example to show the characteristics of different dialects of Xiang.

Urban Changsha Urban Xiangtan Urban Yiyang Meicheng, Anhua, Hunan Urban Loudi Chengguan, Xiangxiang, Hunan Pushi, Luxi, Hunan Guanyang, Guangxi Jingzhou, Sichuan Hanyin, Shaanxi
床 (bed) ʨyan ʦɔn lɔŋ zaŋ ʣɔŋ ʣaŋ ʣuaŋ ʣaŋ ʦuaŋ ʦaŋ


Dialect map of Hunan Province. New Xiang orange, Old Xiang yellow, Chen-Xu Xiang red. Xiangnan Tuhua dark green.
Note other dialects are shown in larger areas than in the next map. Hakka pink, Southwestern Mandarin light blue, medium blue, light green, and Waxiang dark blue

Xiang is spoken by over 36 million people in China, primarily in the most part of the Hunan province, and in the four counties of Quanzhou, Guanyang, Ziyuan, and Xing'an in northestern Guangxi province, and in several places of Guizhou and Guangdong provinces. It is abutted by Southwestern Mandarin-speaking areas to the north and west, as well as by Gàn in the eastern parts of Hunan and Jiangxi. Xiang is also in contact with the Qo-Xiong Miao and Tujia languages in West Hunan.



Dialects of Xiang Chinese
Name Characteristics Population
New Xiang Quanzhuo consonants (全浊声母) in middle Chinese become unaspirated unvoiced consonant. Most of the dialects of New Xiang has Rusheng tone (入声调). 17.8 million
Old Xiang Quanzhuo consonants still exist. Rusheng tone does not exist in most of the dialects. 11.5 million
Chen-Xu Xiang Some of the Quanzhuo consonants are voiced. 3.4 million
Hengzhou Xiang Sometimes Hengzhou dialects are considered a part of New Xiang. 4.3 million
Yong-Quan Xiang Quanzhuo consonants still exist. Sometimes Yong-Quan dialects are considered a variety of Old Xiang. 6.5 million.

Geographic distribution[edit]

According to Bao & Chen (2007), five main dialect groups of Xiang in Hunan Province have been identified. In Language Atlas of China (1987), Xiang was divided into three main dialect groups. The chart below is on the basis of Bao & Chen's point of view.

Dialects Subdialect Main Cities and Counties
New Xiang Chang-Tan Urban Changsha, Changsha County, Wangcheng, Ningxiang, Liuyang*, Urban Zhuzhou, Zhuzhou County, Urban Xiangtan, Xiangyin, Miluo, Nanxian, Anxiang*
Yi-Yuan Urban Yiyang, Yuanjiang, Taojiang, Anhua, Nanxian*
Yueyang Yueyang County, Urban Yueyang
Old Xiang Xiang-Shuang Xiangtan County, Shuangfeng, Shaoshan, Urban Loudi, Hengshan*
Lian-Mei Lianyuan, Lengshuijiang*, Anhua*, Ningxiang*
Xinhua Xinhua, Lengshuijiang
Shao-Wu Urban Shaoyang, Wugang, Shaodong, Shaoyang County, Xinshao, Longhui, Xinning, Chengbu, Dongkou*
Sui-Hui Suining, Huitong
Hengzhou Hengyang Urban Hengyang, Hengyang County, Hengnan
Mount Heng Hengshan, Hengdong, Nanyue
Chen-Xu - Chenxi, Xupu, Luxi, Jishou**, Baojing**, Huayuan**, Guzhang**, Yuanling*
Yong-Quan Dong-Qi Urban Yongzhou, Dong'an, Qiyang, Qidong
Dao-Jiang Jiangyong, Daoxian, Jianghua*, Xintian*
Quan-Zi Quanzhou County, Xing'an, Guanyang, Ziyuan
*Small part of this territory belongs to this Xiang sub-dialect.
**Included in Xiang only in Language Atlas of China.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Xiang Chinese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ 鲍, 鲍; 陈晖 (24 August 2005). "湘语的分区(稿)". 方言 (2005年第3期): 261. 
  4. ^ 徐, 明. "60%湖南人是从江西迁去的 专家:自古江西填湖广". 人民网. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Qi, Feng (October 2010). "辛亥革命,多亏了不怕死的湖南人". 文史博览 (2011年第10期). Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Ma, Na. "揭秘:建党时为啥湖南人特别多 都有哪些人?". 中国共产党新闻网. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Liu, Shuangshuang (20 July 2005). "湖南表兄称马英九祖籍湖南湘潭 祖坟保存完好". Xinhua Net. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Norman 1988, §8.1
  9. ^ Moser, Leo J. (1985). The Chinese mosaic: the peoples and provinces of China. Westview Press. p. 113. ISBN 0-86531-085-8. Historically speaking, the Wannan, Gan, and Xiang sublanguages appear to represent the remnants of a once much wider east-to-west linguistic belt that stretched along the lower Yangzi, linking western Hunan to the Wu-speaking zones by gradual stages. 
  10. ^ 袁家骅 (1983). 汉语方言槪要. p. 333. ISBN 9787801264749. 
  11. ^ 旧唐书 地理志. 中原多故,襄邓百姓,两京衣冠,尽投江湘,故荆南井邑,十倍其初,乃置荆南节度使。 


  • Bào, hòuxīng & Chén, huī. (2005). "Xiāngyǔ de fēnqū" (The divisions of Xiang languages). Fāngyán: 261–270. (鮑厚星, 陳暉. 2005. "湘語的分區".方言: 261-270)
  • Norman, Jerry. [1988] (2002). Chinese. Cambridge, England: CUP ISBN 0-521-29653-6
  • Wu, Yunji (2005). A synchronic and diachronic study of the grammar of the Chinese Xiang dialects. Trends in linguistics 162. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-018366-8. 
  • Yuán, Jiāhuá (1989). Hànyǔ fāngyán gàiyào [An introduction to Chinese dialects]. Beijing, China: Wénzì gǎigé chūbǎnshè. (袁家驊. 1989. 漢語方言概要. 北京:文字改革出版社.)

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