Southern Min

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Southern Min
Min Nan
閩南語 / 闽南语 Bân-lâm-gú
Koa-a books, Min Nan written in Chinese characters
Native to China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, United States (New York City), Japan and other areas of Southern Min and Hoklo settlement
Region Southern Fujian province; the Chaozhou-Shantou (Chaoshan) area and Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong province; extreme south of Zhejiang province; much of Hainan province (if Hainanese or Qiong Wen is included); and most of Taiwan.
Native speakers
47 million  (2007)[1]
Official status
Official language in
None (Legislative bills have been proposed for Taiwanese Hokkien to be one of the 'national languages' in Taiwan); one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the ROC [1]
Regulated by None (The Republic of China Ministry of Education and some NGOs are influential in Taiwan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nan
Glottolog minn1241[2]
Distribution of Southern Min.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Southern Min
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese 閩南語

Southern Min, or Min Nan (simplified Chinese: 闽南语; traditional Chinese: 閩南語; pinyin: Mǐnnán Yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bân-lâm-gí/Bân-lâm-gú; literally: "Southern Fujian language"), is a sub-group of Min Chinese spoken in certain parts of China including southern Fujian, eastern Guangdong, Hainan, and southern Zhejiang, and in Taiwan. The Min Nan dialects are also spoken by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora.

In common parlance, Southern Min usually refers to Hokkien. Amoy and Taiwanese Hokkien are both combinations of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The Southern Min dialect group also includes Teochew, though Teochew has limited mutual intelligibility with Hokkien. Southern Min is not mutually intelligible with Eastern Min, Cantonese, or Standard Chinese.



Southern Min should be seen as a group of languages [3] which originated from Quanzhou-Zhangzhou region in ancient times [4] and not as a single language. This concept is similar to Western and Northern Germanic languages.

Migration to different parts of China and abroad had resulted in changes to the original roots. All these related languages have limited intelligibility with each other ie. they are phonologically different but share many cognates and grammar structure with each other due to their common roots.

Southern Min proto-language[edit]

There are actually two proto-dialects which are ancient Quanzhou and ancient Zhangzhou dialects which were formed during separate migration waves from North China.

Geographic distribution[edit]


Southern Min languages are spoken in the southern part of Fujian, three southeastern counties of Zhejiang, the Zhoushan archipelago off Ningbo in Zhejiang, and Chaoshan, Guangdong. The variant spoken in Leizhou, Guangdong as well as Hainan is Hainanese.


A form of Southern Min akin to that spoken in southern Fujian is Taiwanese Hokkien, where it has the native name of Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē. Southern Min is a first language for the Hoklo people, the main ethnicity of Taiwan. The correspondence between language and ethnicity is not absolute, as some Hoklo have very limited proficiency in Southern Min while some non-Hoklo speak Southern Min fluently.

Southeast Asia[edit]

There are many Southern Min speakers also among Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Many ethnic Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Burma, Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) and present day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly British Malaya and the Straits Settlements). In general, Southern Min from southern Fujian is known as Hokkien, Hokkienese, Fukien or Fookien in Southeast Asia and is very much like Taiwanese Hokkien. Many Southeast Asian ethnic Chinese also originated in the Chaoshan region of Guangdong and speak Teochew dialect, the variant of Southern Min from that region. Philippine Hokkien is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the Chinese Filipino community in the Philippines, among whom it is also known as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē "Our people’s language". Southern Min speakers form the majority of Chinese in Singapore, with the largest group being Hoklos and the second largest Teochew people.


Language boundaries[edit]

The classification of the Southern Min languages is inherently difficult, since some of the linguistic area can be considered a dialect continuum. In the past, all linguists consider Southern Min as a single language instead of a language family from a common root in the distant past.

This has resulted in languages such as Hainanese to be excluded by some linguists as a dialect of Southern Min and other linguists to include Hainanese as a 'dialect' even though there are huge differences with traditional Hokkien.

There are other minor Southern Min varieties such as Longyan, Zhangping, Zhongshan which are not grouped yet ie. whether they constitute different languages or dialects of existing branches.

Branches and influences[edit]


In Chinese linguistics, this branch is called Quan-Zhang which is a combination of Quanzhou-Zhangzhou region. In overseas communities, this language is called Hokkien; however, in Taiwan, it's confusingly called 'Minnan' instead of the proper name Quan-Zhang or Hokkien. Xiamen speech and Taiwanese Hokkien are both hybrid of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech, the grammar is basically the same.


Teochew speech is significantly different from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech in both pronunciation and vocabulary. Chao-Shan, including Swatow (both of which are variants of Teochew speech), has very low intelligibility with Amoy speech,[5] and Amoy and Teochew are not mutually intelligible with Mandarin. However, many Amoy and Teochew speakers speak Mandarin as a second or third language.


Their ancestors migrated from Quanzhou-Zhangzhou region into Hainan island and Leizhou peninsular. The two main dialects are Hainanese Min and Leizhou Min. This language was influenced by the Hlai languages.


Putian was part of Quanzhou division before the Song dynasty when it was carved out into its own division. They speak Puxian Min or Hing Hua. After separation from Quanzhou, this language was influenced by the Fuzhou dialect.


Their ancestors migrated from Quanzhou-Zhangzhou region into Southern Zhejiang and Northern Ningde. They speak Zhenan Min. This language was influenced by the Wu Chinese Wenzhounese dialect. This variant is most akin to that spoken in Quanzhou.


Datian is a separate branch in Language Atlas of China [6] but not in others.

Family tree[edit]

Listed below are the main branches of largely mutually unintelligible Southern Min languages, each with its own dialects which are largely mutually intelligible.



Main articles: Hokkien dialect and Teochew dialect

Southern Min has one of the most diverse phonologies of Chinese varieties, with more consonants than Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels, on the other hand, are more-or-less similar to those of Mandarin. In general, Southern Min dialects have five to six tones, and tone sandhi is extensive. There are minor variations within Hokkien, but the Teochew system differs significantly.

Southern Min's nasal finals consist m, n, ŋ, ~.

Writing systems[edit]

See also: Written Hokkien

Southern Min dialects lack a standardized written language. Southern Min speakers are taught how to read Mandarin in school. As a result, there has not been an urgent need to develop a writing system. In recent years, an increasing number of Southern Min speakers have become interested in developing a standard writing system (either by using Chinese Characters, or using Romanized script).[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Related languages[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Min Nan Chinese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Ethnologue: Min Nan
  6. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]