Hangzhou dialect

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Hangzhou dialect
杭州話, ɦaŋ-tsei-ɦa
Native toPeople's Republic of China
RegionHangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Native speakers
(1.2 million cited 1987)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6hgou
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The Hangzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 杭州话; traditional Chinese: 杭州話; pinyin: Hángzhōuhuà, Rhangzei Rhwa) is spoken in the city of Hangzhou, China and its immediate suburbs, but excluding areas further away from Hangzhou such as Xiāoshān (蕭山) and Yúháng (余杭) (both originally county-level cities and now the districts within Hangzhou City). Its number of speakers has been estimated to be about 1.2 to 1.5 million. It is a dialect of Wu, one of the Chinese varieties.

The Hangzhou dialect is of immense interest to Chinese historical phonologists and dialectologists because phonologically, it exhibits extensive similarities with the other Wu dialects; however, grammatically and lexically, it shows many Mandarin tendencies.[2] Although the Hangzhou dialect has the basic characteristics of the Wu language, several waves of migration from the north, represented by the southward relocation of the ruling centre of Song dynasty, have caused the local language system to undergo great changes and gradually take on a special character in Jiangnan region.[3]

The Hangzhou dialect is classified as a "developing" language, with a rating of 5 on the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS), meaning it is still in vigorous use, but its written form are neither sustainable, nor widespread.[4]


The Hangzhou dialect is classified under Wu Chinese, although some western linguists claim Hangzhou is a Mandarin Chinese language.

Richard VanNess Simmons, a professor of Chinese at Rutgers University in New Jersey, United States, claims that the Hangzhou dialect, rather than being Wu as it was classified by Yuen Ren Chao, is a Mandarin variant closely related to Jianghuai Mandarin. The Hangzhou dialect is still classified under Wu. Chao had developed a "Common Wu Syllabary" for the Wu dialects. Simmons claimed that had Chao compared the Hangzhou dialect to the Wu syllabary and Jianghuai Mandarin, he would have found more similarities to Jianghuai.[5] Jianghuai Mandarin shares an "old literary layer" as a stratum with southern languages like Min Nan, Hakka, Gan and Hangzhou dialects, which it does not share with Northern Mandarin. Sino-Vietnamese also shares some of these characteristics. The stratum in Min Nan specifically consist of Zeng group and Geng group's "n" and "t" finals when an "i" initial is present.[6][7]

John H. McWhorter claimed that the Hangzhou dialect 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.[8]

Geographic distribution[edit]

It stretches from yuhang xiasha in the east to the Qiangtang River in the south. A growing number of Hangzhounese speakers is emerging overseas in New York City, United States.

The Hangzhou dialect is mainly spoken in the urban area in Hangzhou, including the urban area of Gongshu district, Shangcheng district, Xiacheng district, the urban area of Jianggan district, the urban area and seven villages of Xihu district, and part of Binjiang district.[9]


A speaker of Hangzhounese


Front Central Back
High i y ï ÿ u
ö o
Mid e
Low œ ô


Initial consonants
  Labial Dental/Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ  
Plosive tenuis p t   k ʔ
voiced b d   ɡ  
Affricate tenuis   ts    
aspirated   tsʰ tɕʰ    
voiced   dz    
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ   h
voiced v z     ɦ
Lateral   l      


Vowel nuclei
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close /i/ /y/ /u/
Close-mid /e/ /o/
Open-mid /ɛ/ /ə/ /ɔ/
Open /a/
Coda Open Nasal Glottal stop
Medial j w~ʮ j w~ʮ j w~ʮ
Nucleus i i         jɛʔ    
y y         ɥɛʔ    
u u                
e ei   wei            
o ou jo wo~ʮo joŋ   joʔ  
ɛ ɛ wɛ~ʮɛ            
ə       ən   wən~ʮən      
ɔ ɔ              
a a ja wa~ʮa ã wã~ʮã   waʔ~ʮaʔ
Syllabic continuants: [z̩] [z̩ʷ] [m̩] [ŋ̩] [l̩]


  • The Hangzhou dialect has a rare "apical glide" [ʮ] which is an allophone of /w/ after sibilant initials.
  • /j/ is pronounced [ɥ] before rounded vowels.
  • Contrast can be found to justify most of these vowels as distinct phonemes in Hangzhou dialect. /i, y/ and /ï, ÿ/, however, are in complementary distribution. /ï/ and /ÿ/ are only found following sibilants /ts, ts', dz, s/ and /z/, where /i/ and /y/ does not.

The Middle Chinese [-ŋ] rimes are retained, while [-n] and [-m] are either retained or have disappeared in the Hangzhou dialect. Middle Chinese [-p -t -k] rimes have become glottal stops, [-ʔ].

Phonological features


In HZD, bilabial fricatives [ɸ] and [β] are allophone of bilabial fricatives /f/ and /v/ after [u].[13]

Character IPA Gloss
[βu334] symbol
[ɸu213] pay

Vowels /y/ and /ʏ/ are contrastive, representing different characters with different meaning.[14]

Character IPA Gloss
[lʏ13] moving of liquid
[ly13] concerns

Glottalization of initial nasals and laterals

Some initial nasals and laterals are glottalized.[13]

Character IPA Gloss
[ʔlɪ53] thin line
[ʔni53] you
[ʔŋo13] I
[ʔnE53] grandmother

Syllable Patterns and Tones[edit]

In Hangzhou dialect (hereafter: HZD), phonetic symbol is divided into onsets and rhymes using onset-rhyme model. Onsets are simple and not mandatory, vowels can appear initially if [m], [n] and [əl] appear in the rhyme. HZD does not allow codas, but nasals are permitted at the end of the syllable, if they are part of the complex nucleus.[15]

The old Hangzhou dialect has 53 rhymes</ref>.

Rhymes in old HZD
ɿ ə ɑ ɛ ɔ o ø ei
u uo ui
ɥ əl ɥɑ ɥɛ ɥei
en ɑŋ ɑʔ əʔ
ɛ̃ in iɑŋ ioŋ iɑʔ iəʔ ioʔ
iɛ̃ un uɑŋ uɑʔ uoʔ
ɥõ ɥen ɥɑŋ ɥɑʔ ɥəʔ
yn yəʔ

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.)

Tone chart
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) ˧˨˧ (323) mid dipping
2 yang ping (陽平) ˨˩˨ (212) low dipping
3 shang (上) ˥˩ (51) falling
4 yin qu (陰去) ˧˦ (334) mid rising
5 yang qu (陽去) ˩˧ (113) low rising
6 yin ru (陰入) ˥ʔ (5) high checked
7 yang ru (陽入) ˩˨ʔ (12) low checked

In HZD, the tones will change not only because of the nearby tones, but also due to the phrase structures.[15]



gemore (箇卯) – now
deimore (头卯) – just now
yalidei (夜里头) – at night
rizong (日中) – at noon
relidei (日里头) – in the day
zaogedei (早间头) – in the morning
yadaobian (夜到边) – in the evening

Expression of person, categorized by generation

agong (阿公) – mother's father
abo (阿婆) – mother's mother
diadia (爷爷) – father's father
nene (奶奶) – father's mother
popo (婆婆) – grandfather's sister
xiaodiadia (小爷爷) – grandfather's sister's husband
aba (阿爸)/baba (爸爸) – papa
muma (姆妈)/mama (妈妈) – mom
bobo (伯伯) – father's brother
damuma (大姆妈) – wife of father's oldest brother
xiaoboubou (小伯伯) – father's younger brother
senniang (婶娘) – wife of father's little brother
ayi (阿姨) / gugu (姑姑) – father's sister
guvu (姑夫) – father's sister's husband
niangjiu (娘舅)/ajiu (阿舅)/jiujiu (舅舅) – mother's brother
jiumu (舅妈) – wife of mother's brother
zangren (丈人) – wife's father
zangmuniang (丈母娘) – wife's mother
yiniang (姨娘) – mother's sister
ganyi (干姨) – mother's sister's husband
agou (阿哥) – elder brother
adi (阿弟) – little brother
ajie (阿姐) – elder sister
amei (阿妹) – little sister
biaogou/biaodi (表哥/表弟) – male older/younger cousin who does not share surname
biaojie/biaomei (表姐/表妹) – female older/younger cousin who does not share surname
danggou/dangdi (堂哥/堂弟) – male older/younger cousin who shares the same surname
dangjie/dangmei (堂姐/堂妹) – female older/younger cousin who shares the same surname
xiaoya'er (小伢儿) – child


The most important event to have impacted Hangzhou's dialect was the city's 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 the 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.

In recent years, with the standardization of Mandarin, the vitality of the Hangzhou dialect is decreasing.[4] As Kandrysawtz concluded, the Hangzhou dialect is spoken in fewer places and by fewer people, especially the younger generation.[4] Some people also hold the attitude that the Hangzhou dialect is not appropriate in official occasions.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sinolect.org
  2. ^ Simmons (1995).
  3. ^ "杭州市文化广电旅游局 Hangzhou Dialect". wgly.hangzhou.gov.cn. Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  4. ^ a b c d Kandrysawtz, Kai (December 2017). The Vitality of the Hangzhou Dialect of Mandarin (PDF) (Report). Vol. 55. p. 3.
  5. ^ David Prager Branner (2006). David Prager Branner (ed.). The Chinese rime tables: linguistic philosophy and historical-comparative phonology. Vol. 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. ISBN 90-272-4785-4. 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 discovered
  6. ^ 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)
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ John H. McWhorter (2007). Language interrupted: signs of non-native acquisition in standard language grammars (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-19-530980-5. 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 register
  9. ^ Cao, Zhiyun (2006). "浙江省的汉语方言". 方言. 3: 255–263 – via ixueshu.
  10. ^ Simmons, Richard VanNess (12 June 1992). The Hangzhou Dialect (Thesis). p. 55.
  11. ^ Yue, Yang; Hu, Fang (2018), "Vowels and Diphthongs in Hangzhou Wu Chinese Dialect" (PDF), Proc. Interspeech: 207–211, doi:10.21437/Interspeech.2018-1225, S2CID 52187066
  12. ^ Simmons, Richard VanNess (1992). The Hangzhou dialect (Thesis).
  13. ^ a b You, Rujie (24 January 2011). "杭州話語音特點及其古官話成分". 中國語言學集刊第五卷第一期:129-144, 2011BULLETIN OF CHINESE LINGUISTICS5.1: 129-144, 201. 5 (1): 132. doi:10.1163/2405478X-90000076.
  14. ^ You, Rujie (24 January 2011). "杭州話語音特點及其古官話成分". 中國語言學集刊第五卷第一期:129-144, 2011BULLETIN OF CHINESE LINGUISTICS5.1: 129-144, 201. 5 (1): 134. doi:10.1163/2405478X-90000076.
  15. ^ a b Hao, Sheng. An Introduction to Hangzhou Dialect (PDF) (Report). p. 4.

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