Hangzhounese is classified as a dialect of Wu Chinese, although some western linguists claim Hangzhou is a Mandarin Chinese dialect.
Richard Vanness Simmons, a professor of Chinese at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, claims that the Hangzhou dialect, rather than being Wu as it was classified by Yuen Ren Chao, is a Mandarin dialect closely related to Jianghuai Mandarin. Hangzhou dialect is still classified under Wu. Chao had developed a "Common Wu Syllabry" for the Wu dialects. Simmons claimed that had Chao compared Hangzhou dialect to the Wu syllabary and Jianghuai Mandarin, he would have found more similarities to Jianghuai. Jianghuai Mandarin shares an "old literary layer" as a stratum with southern dialects like Minnan, Hakka, Gan, and Hangzhou dialects, which it does not share with Northern Mandarin. Sino Vietnamese also shares some of these characteristics. The stratum in Minnan specifically consist of Zeng group and Geng group's "n" and "t" finals when an "i" initial is present.
John H. McWhorter claimed that the Hangzhou was categorized as a Wu dialect because seven tones are present in Hangzhou, which is significantly more than the typical number of tones found in northern Mandarin dialects, which is four.
The Hangzhou tonal system is similar to that of the Suzhou dialect, in that some words with shàng tone in Middle Chinese have merged with the yīn qù tone. Since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant, these constitute just three phonemic tones: pin, shang, and qu.(Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)
The most important event to impact on Hangzhou's dialect was its establishment as Lin'an, the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. When the Northern Song Dynasty was conquered by the Jin Dynasty in 1127, large numbers of northern refugees fled to what is now Hangzhou, speaking predominantly Mandarin of the Henan variety. Within 30 years, contemporary accounts record that immigrants outnumbered natives in Hangzhou. This resulted in Mandarin influences in the pronunciation, lexicon and grammar of the Hangzhou dialect.
Further influence by Mandarin occurred after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The local Manchu garrisons were dissolved, adding significant numbers of Beijing dialect Mandarin speakers to the population.
Because of the frequent commerce and intercourse between Hangzhou and Shaoxing, the Hangzhou dialect is also influenced by the Shaoxing dialect.
^David Prager Branner (2006). David Prager Branner, ed. The Chinese rime tables: linguistic philosophy and historical-comparative phonology. Volume 271 of Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science: Current issues in linguistic theory (illustrated ed.). John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 206. ISBN90-272-4785-4. Retrieved 23 September 2011. Had Chao developed a syllabary for the Jiang-Huai Mandarin dialects with a diagnostic power and representativeness comparable to that of his Wu Syllabary, and had he placed Hangzhou in that context, he most surely would have discoveredCS1 maint: Extra text (link)
^Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Inc. Internet Database Service (2007). Linguistics and language behavior abstracts: LLBA., Volume 41, Issue 4. Sociological Abstracts, Inc. p. 1541. Retrieved 23 September 2011. We point out that in fact this stratum is an old literary layer in Minnan dialects. We find it also exists in Hakka-gan dialects, the Hangzhou dialect. South East Mandarins, & Jianghuai Mandarins extensively. In Sino-annamite. there are (the University of Michigan)
^University of California, Berkeley. Project on Linguistic Analysis (2007). Journal of Chinese linguistics, Volume 35. Project on Linguistic Analysis. p. 97. Retrieved 23 September 2011. We find it also exists in Hakka-gan dialects, Hangzhou dialect, South East Mandarins, Jianghuai Mandarins extensively. In Sino-annamite, there are some similarities to Minnan dialects. Basing on our new findings, we believe that in Song
^John H. McWhorter (2007). Language interrupted: signs of non-native acquisition in standard language grammars (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN0-19-530980-4. Retrieved 23 September 2011. For example, many Mandarin dialects have more than four tones. Hangzhou has no fewer than seven, such that it was previously classified as a Wu dialect ( Simmons 1992; Baxter 2000, 106–8). In the Jiang-Huai region five-tone dialects are not uncommon, with six-tone ones reported on the Northern/Central boundary (Norman 1988, 194). These represent a retention of one of the original four tones of Middle Chinese (the rù tone), as distinguished from the more common Mandarin trait of having lost this tone while collapsing the two-way register distinction between the three others into a four-tone contrast not contingent upon registerCS1 maint: Extra text (link)