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"Xiang Language" written in Chinese characters
|Region||Central and southwestern Hunan, northern Guangxi, parts of Guizhou and Hubei provinces|
|Ethnicity||Hunanese people (Han Chinese)|
|38 million (2007)|
Xiang or Hsiang, also known as Hunanese, is a group of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of Chinese, spoken mainly in Hunan province but also in northern Guangxi and parts of neighboring Guizhou and Hebei provinces. Scholars divided Xiang into five subgroups, Chang-Yi, Lou-Shao, Hengzhou, Chen-Xu and Yong-Quan. Among those, Lou-shao, also known as Old Xiang, still exhibits the three-way distinction of Middle Chinese obstruents, preserving the voiced stops, fricatives, and affricates. Xiang has also been heavily influenced by 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 the Ming Dynasty.
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 and Chinese Communist Revolution. Some examples of Xiang speakers are Mao Zedong, Zuo Zongtang, Huang Xing and Ma Ying-jeou.
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, which is considered the ancestor of Xiang Chinese today.
Middle ages and recent history
During the Tang dynasty, a large-scale emigration took place with people emigrating from the north to the south, bringing Middle Chinese into Hunan. Today's Xiang still keeps some Middle Chinese words, such as 嬉 (to have fun), 薅 (to weed), 行 (to walk). Entering tone vowels 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. The speech in east Hunan differentiated into New Xiang during that period.
Since the classification of Yuan Jiahua (1960), Xiang has been considered one of seven major groups of varieties of Chinese. Jerry Norman classified Xiang, Gan and Wu, as central groups, intermediate between the Mandarin group to the north and the southern groups, Min, Hakka and Yue.
In Xiang dialects, the voiced initials of Middle Chinese yield unaspirated initials in all tone categories. A few varieties have retained voicing in all tones, but most have voiceless initials in some or all tone categories.
Pervasive influence from Mandarin dialects has made Xiang dialects difficult to classify. Xiang is traditionally divided into New Xiang, in which voicing has been lost completely, and Old Xiang varieties, which retain voiced initials in at least some tones. Changsha dialect is usually taken as representative of New Xiang, while Shuangfeng dialect represents Old Xiang. Norman describes the boundary between New Xiang and Southwestern Mandarin as one of the weakest in China, with considerable similarities between dialects near either side of the boundary, though more distant dialects are mutually unintelligible. Indeed, Zhou Zhenhe and You Rujie (unlike most authors) classified New Xiang as part of Southwestern Mandarin. Within New Xiang and Old Xiang, there are also many different sub-dialects.
The Language Atlas of China identified a third subgroup, Ji-Xu in some places of Western Hunan. Bao & Chen (2007) split out part of New Xiang as a new Hengzhou Xiang subgroup, and part of Old Xiang out as a Yong-Quan Xiang subgroup. They also reclassified parts of the Ji–Xu subgroup as Southwest Mandarin, renaming the remainder of the subgroup as Chen-Xu Xiang. Their five subgroups are:
- New Xiang
- (17.8 million speakers) voiced initials in Middle Chinese become unaspirated voicless consonant. Most of the dialects of New Xiang retain the entering tone as a separate category.
- Old Xiang
- (11.5 million speakers) Voiced initials still exist. The entering tone does not exist in most of the dialects.
- Chen-Xu Xiang
- (3.4 million speakers) Some of the voiced consonants are retained.
- Hengzhou Xiang
- (4.3 million speakers)
- Yong-Quan Xiang
- (6.5 million speakers) Voiced consonants still exist. Sometimes Yong-Quan dialects are considered a variety of Old Xiang.
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 northeastern 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 Gan in the eastern parts of Hunan and Jiangxi. Xiang is also in contact with the Qo-Xiong Miao and Tujia languages in West Hunan.
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