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Hakka Chinese

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"Kejiahua" in Chinese characters
RegionSouth and southwestern China centered on Guangdong, the New Territories in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Chợ Lớn in Vietnam, and Bangka Belitung Islands and West Kalimantan in Indonesia
Native speakers
44 million (2022)[1]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-3hak
Linguasphere79-AAA-g > 79-AAA-ga (+ 79-AAA-gb transition to 79-AAA-h)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Simplified Chinese客家话
Traditional Chinese客家話
Hakkahag5 ga1 fa4
or hag5 ga1 va4
A Hakka speaker, recorded in Taiwan.

Hakka (Chinese: 客家话; pinyin: Kèjiāhuà; Pha̍k-fa-sṳ: Hak-kâ-va / Hak-kâ-fa, Chinese: 客家语; pinyin: Kèjiāyǔ; Pha̍k-fa-sṳ: Hak-kâ-ngî) forms a language group of varieties of Chinese, spoken natively by the Hakka people in parts of Southern China, Taiwan, some diaspora areas of Southeast Asia and in overseas Chinese communities around the world.

Due to its primary usage in isolated regions where communication is limited to the local area, Hakka has developed numerous varieties or dialects, spoken in different provinces, such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Fujian, Sichuan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guizhou, as well as in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Hakka is not mutually intelligible with Yue, Wu, Southern Min, Mandarin or other branches of Chinese, and itself contains a few mutually unintelligible varieties. It is most closely related to Gan and is sometimes classified as a variety of Gan, with a few northern Hakka varieties[which?] even being partially mutually intelligible with southern Gan. There is also a possibility that the similarities are just a result of shared areal features.[9]

Taiwan designates Hakka as one of its national languages, thus regarding the language as a subject for its study and preservation. Pronunciation differences exist between the Taiwanese Hakka dialects and mainland China's Hakka dialects; even in Taiwan, two major local varieties of Hakka exist.

The Meixian dialect (Moiyen) of northeast Guangdong in mainland China has been taken as the "standard" dialect by the government of mainland China. The Guangdong Provincial Education Department created an official romanization of Moiyen in 1960, one of four languages receiving this status in Guangdong.



The name of the Hakka people who are the predominant original native speakers of the variety literally means "guest families" or "guest people": Hak (Mandarin: ) means "guest", and ka (Mandarin: jiā) means "family". Among themselves, Hakka people variously called their language Hak-ka-fa (-va), Hak-fa (-va), Tu-gong-dung-fa (-va), literally "Native Guangdong language", and Ngai-fa (-va), "My/our language". In Tonggu County, Jiangxi province, people call their language Huai-yuan-fa.



Early history


It is commonly believed that Hakka people have their origins in several episodes of migration from northern China into southern China during periods of war and civil unrest[10] dating back as far as the end of Western Jin.[11] The forebears of the Hakka came from present-day Central Plains provinces of Henan and Shaanxi, and brought with them features of Chinese varieties spoken in those areas during that time. (Since then, the speech in those regions has evolved into dialects of modern Mandarin). The presence of many archaic features occur in modern Hakka, including final consonants -p -t -k, as are found in other modern southern Chinese varieties, but which have been lost in Mandarin.

Laurent Sagart (2002)[12] considers Hakka and southern Gan Chinese to be sister dialects that descended from a single common ancestral language (Proto-Southern Gan) spoken in central Jiangxi during the Song Dynasty. In Hakka and southern Gan, Sagart (2002) identifies a non-Chinese substratum that is possibly Hmong-Mien, an archaic layer, and a more recent Late Middle Chinese layer. Lexical connections between Hakka, Kra-Dai, and Hmong-Mien have also been suggested by Deng (1999).[13]

Due to the migration of its speakers, Hakka may have been influenced by other language areas through which the Hakka-speaking forebears migrated. For instance, common vocabulary is found in Hakka, Min, and the She (Hmong–Mien) languages.[citation needed] Today, most She people in Fujian and Zhejiang speak She, which is closely related to Hakka.

Linguistic development


A regular pattern of sound change can generally be detected in Hakka, as in most Chinese varieties, of the derivation of phonemes from earlier forms of Chinese. Some examples:

  • Characters such as 武 (war, martial arts) or 屋 (room, house), pronounced roughly mwio and uk (mjuX and ʔuwk in Baxter's transcription) in Early Middle Chinese, have an initial v phoneme in Hakka, being vu and vuk in Hakka respectively. Like in Mandarin, labiodentalisation in Hakka also changed mj- to a w-like sound before grave vowels, while Cantonese retained the original distinction (compare Mandarin 武 , 屋 , Cantonese 武 mou5, 屋 uk1).
  • Middle Chinese initial phonemes /ɲ/ (ny in Baxter's transcription) of the characters 人 (person, people) and 日 (sun, day), among others, merged with ng- /ŋ/ initials in Hakka (人 ngin, 日 ngit). For comparison, in Mandarin, /ɲ/ became r- /ɻ/ (人 rén, 日 ), while in Cantonese, it merged with initial y- /j/ (人 yan4, 日 yat6).
  • The initial consonant phoneme exhibited by the character 話 (word, speech; Mandarin huà) is pronounced f or v in Hakka (v does not properly exist as a distinct unit in many Chinese varieties).
  • The initial consonant of 學 hɔk usually corresponds with an h [h] approximant in Hakka and a voiceless alveo-palatal fricative (x [ɕ]) in Mandarin.




(Ngài gong Hak。Hak-ngî yû-san fàn-kín)
(I speak Hakka. Hakka-language-friendly environment.)

Hakka has as many regional dialects as there are counties with Hakka speakers as the majority. Some[which?] of these Hakka dialects are not mutually intelligible with each other. Meixian is surrounded by the counties of Pingyuan, Dabu, Jiaoling, Xingning, Wuhua, and Fengshun. Each county has its own special phonological points of interest. For instance, Xingning lacks the codas [-m] and [-p]. These have merged into [-n] and [-t], respectively. Further away from Meixian, the Hong Kong dialect lacks the [-u-] medial, so whereas the Meixian dialect pronounces the character 光 as [kwɔŋ˦], the Hong Kong Hakka dialect pronounces it as [kɔŋ˧], which is similar to the Hakka spoken in neighbouring Shenzhen.

Tones also vary across the dialects of Hakka. The majority of Hakka dialects have six tones. However, there are dialects which have lost all of their checked tones (rusheng), and the characters originally of this tone class are distributed across the non-ru tones. An example of such a dialect is Changting, which is situated in Western Fujian province. Moreover, there is evidence of the retention of an earlier Hakka tone system in the dialects of Haifeng and Lufeng, situated in coastal southeastern Guangdong province. They contain a yin-yang splitting in the qu tone, giving rise to seven tones in all (with yin-yang registers in ping and ru tones and a shang tone).

In Taiwan, there are two main dialects: Sixian and Hailu (alternatively known as Haifeng; Hailu refers to Haifeng County and Lufeng County). Most Hakka speakers in Taiwan can trace their ancestry to these two regions. Sixian speakers come from Jiaying Prefecture, mainly from the four counties of Chengxiang (now Meixian District), Zhengping (now Jiaoling), Xingning and Pingyuan. Most dialects of Taiwanese Hakka, except Sixian and Dabu, preserved postalveolar consonants ([tʃ], [tʃʰ], [ʃ] and [ʒ]), which are uncommon in other southern Chinese varieties.

Ethnologue reports the dialects of Hakka as being Yue-Tai (Meixian, Wuhua, Raoping, Taiwan Kejia: Meizhou above), Yuezhong (Central Guangdong), Huizhou, Yuebei (Northern Guangdong), Tingzhou (Min-Ke), Ning-Long (Longnan), Yugui, and Tonggu.



Like other southern Chinese varieties, Hakka retains many single syllable words from earlier stages of Chinese; thus, a large number of syllables are distinguished by tone and final consonant. This reduces the need for compound words. However, like other Chinese varieties, it does have words of more than one syllable.

Monosyllabic words
Character Pronunciation Gloss
[ŋin˩] 'person'
[ʋɔn˧˩] 'bowl'
[kɛu˧˩] 'dog'
[ŋiu˩] 'cow'
[ʋuk˩] 'house'
[tsɔi˥˧] 'mouth'
𠊎 [ŋai˩] 'I', 'me'[b]
[15] or 𠍲[16] [ki˩] 'he', 'she', 'it'[c]
Polysyllabic words
Character Pronunciation Gloss
日頭 [ŋit˩ tʰɛu˩] 'sun'
月光 [ŋiɛt˥ kʷɔŋ˦] 'moon'
屋下 [ʋuk˩ kʰa˦] 'home'
電話 [tʰiɛn˥ ʋa˥˧] 'telephone'
學堂 [hɔk˥ tʰɔŋ˩] 'school'
筷子 [kai zi˩] 'chopsticks'

Hakka, as well as numerous other Chinese varieties such as Min and Cantonese, prefers the verb [kɔŋ˧˩] when referring to 'saying', rather than the Mandarin ; shuō (Hakka pronunciation: [sɔt˩]).

Hakka uses [sit˥] , like Cantonese [sɪk˨] for the verb 'to eat' and [jɐm˧˥] (Hakka [jim˧˩]) for 'to drink', unlike Mandarin which prefers chī (Hakka [kʰiɛt˩]) as 'to eat' and ; (Hakka [hɔt˩]) as 'to drink' where the meanings in Hakka are different, 'to stutter' and 'to be thirsty' respectively.

Character Pronunciation Gloss
阿妹,若姆去投墟轉來唔曾? [a˦ mɔi˥, ɲja˦ mi˦ hi˥ tʰju˩ hi˦ tsɔn˧˩ lɔi˩ tsʰɛn˩] Has your mother returned from going to the market yet, child?
其老弟捉到隻蛘葉來搞。 [kja˦ lau˧˩ tʰai˦ tsuk˧ tau˧˩ tsak˩ jɔŋ˩ jap˥ lɔi˩ kau˧˩] His/her younger brother caught a butterfly to play with.
好冷阿,水桶个水敢凝冰阿。 [hau˧˩ laŋ˦ ɔ˦, sui˧˩ tʰuŋ˧ kai˥˧ sui˧˩ kam˦ kʰɛn˩ pɛn˦ ɔ˦] It's very cold, the water in the bucket has frozen over.

Writing systems

Hakka Chinese Hanzi

Chinese script


Hakka Chinese is typically written using Chinese characters (漢字, 漢字 Hon-sṳ).

Latin script


Various dialects of Hakka such as Taiwanese Hakka, is sometimes written in the Latin script or Pha̍k-fa-sṳ.

Dialects of Hakka have been written in a number of Latin orthographies, largely for religious purposes, since at least the mid-19th century. The popular The Little Prince has also been translated into Hakka (2000), specifically the Miaoli dialect of Taiwan (itself a variant of the Sixian dialect). This also was dual-script, albeit using the Tongyong Pinyin scheme.[citation needed]


Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and of Taiwanese Hakka descent, appears on "Lecturer Hakka Language Radio Broadcasting" to give a speech.

Hakka TV is a state-run, primarily Hakka-language television channel in Taiwan that started in 2003. In mainland China, Meizhou Televisions's Hakka Public Channel (梅州电视台客家公共频道) has broadcasts 24 hours a day in Hakka since 2006.[17][better source needed]

See also



  1. ^ National language in Taiwan;[5] also statutory status in Taiwan as one of the languages for public transport announcements[6] and for the naturalisation test.[7]
  2. ^ The Standard Chinese equivalent is pronounced [ŋɔ˧].
  3. ^ The Standard Chinese equivalents /// are pronounced [tʰa˧].


  1. ^ Hakka at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ You Wenliang 游文良. 2002. Shezu yuyan 畲族语言. Fuzhou: Fujian People's Press 福建人民出版社. ISBN 7-211-03885-3
  3. ^ Nakanishi 2010.
  4. ^ Coblin 2019, p. 438-440.
  5. ^ Fan, Cheng-hsiang; Kao, Evelyn (2018-12-25). "Draft National Language Development Act Clears Legislative Floor". Focus Taiwan News Channel. Central News Agency. Archived from the original on 2018-12-25.
  6. ^ "Dàzhòng yùnshū gōngjù bòyīn yǔyán píngděng bǎozhàng fǎ" 大眾運輸工具播音語言平等保障法 [Act on Broadcasting Language Equality Protection in Public Transport] (in Chinese) – via Wikisource.
  7. ^ Article 6 of the Standards for Identification of Basic Language Abilities and General Knowledge of the Rights and Duties of Naturalized Citizens Archived 2017-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Hakka Basic Act". Retrieved 22 May 2019 – via law.moj.gov.tw.
  9. ^ Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J., eds. (2003). The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1129-5.
  10. ^ "The Hakka People > Historical Background". edu.ocac.gov.tw. Archived from the original on 2019-09-09. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  11. ^ "[Insert title here]". edu.ocac.gov.tw (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2004-08-30. Retrieved 2014-10-12.
  12. ^ Sagart (2002).
  13. ^ Deng, Xiaohua 邓晓华 (1999). "Kèjiāhuà gēn Miáo-Yáo-Zhuàng-Dòngyǔ de Guānxì wèntí" 客家话跟苗瑶壮侗语的关系问题 (PDF). Mínzú yǔwén 民族语文 (in Chinese). 3: 42–49. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2021-07-03.
  14. ^ Zhan, Bohui 詹伯慧 (1993). "Guǎngdōng Shěng Ráopíng fāngyán jì yīn" 广东省饶平方言记音. Fāngyán 方言 (in Simplified Chinese) (2): 129–141.
  15. ^ Liu, Zhenfa 劉鎮發 (1997). Kèyǔ pīnyīn zìhuì 客語拼音字彙 [Hakka Pinyin Vocabulary] (in Chinese). Xianggang zhongwen daxue chubanshe. p. xxvi. ISBN 962-201-750-9.
  16. ^ 𠍲. Jiàoyùbù yìtǐzì zìdiǎn 教育部異體字字典 [Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants of the Ministry of Education] (in Chinese). Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  17. ^ "Méizhōu diànshìtái kāishè quán kèjiā huà píndào (24 xiǎoshí bō chū)" 梅州电视台开设全客家话频道(24小时播出) [Meizhou TV Station Opens an All-Hakka Dialect Channel (24 Hours Broadcast)]. Luófú shān pùbù de bókè 罗浮山瀑布的博客 (in Chinese). blog.sina.com.cn. 2011-07-21.

Further reading