Southern Min

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Southern Min Chinese
閩南語 / 闽南语
EthnicityHoklo people
Teochew people
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 Qiongwen is included) and most of Taiwan as well as Malaysia, Singapore , Thailand and Sumatra
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
ISO 639-3nan
  Southern Min in mainland China and Taiwan

Subgroups of Southern Min in mainland China and Taiwan
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese闽南语
Traditional Chinese閩南語
Literal meaning"Language of Southern Min [Fujian]"

Southern Min (simplified Chinese: 闽南语; traditional Chinese: 閩南語; pinyin: Mǐnnányǔ; lit. 'Southern Fujian language'), Minnan (Mandarin pronunciation: [mìn.nǎn]) or Banlam (Min Nan Chinese pronunciation: [bàn.ɾám]), is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages that form a branch of Min Chinese spoken in Fujian (especially the Minnan region), most of Taiwan (many citizens are descendants of settlers from Fujian), Eastern Guangdong, Hainan, and Southern Zhejiang.[1] The Minnan dialects are also spoken by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora, most notably in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Southern Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Southern and Central Vietnam, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. It is the most populous branch of Min Chinese, spoken by an estimated 48 million people in c. 2017–2018.[2]

In common parlance and in the narrower sense, Southern Min refers to the Quanzhang or Hokkien-Taiwanese variety of Southern Min originating from southern Fujian in mainland China. This is spoken mainly in Fujian, Taiwan, as well as certain parts of Southeast Asia. The Quanzhang variety is often called simply "Minnan Proper". It is considered the mainstream Southern Min Chinese language.[citation needed]

In the wider scope, Southern Min also includes other Min Chinese varieties that are linguistically related to Minnan proper (Quanzhang). Most variants of Southern Min have significant differences from the Quanzhang variety, some having limited mutual intelligibility with it, others almost none. Teochew, Longyan, and Zhenan are said to have general mutual intelligibility with Minnan Proper, sharing similar phonology and vocabulary to a large extent.[3] On the other hand, variants such as Datian, Zhongshan, and Qiong-Lei have historical linguistic roots with Minnan Proper, but are significantly divergent from it in terms of phonology and vocabulary, and thus have almost no mutual intelligibility with the Quanzhang variety. Linguists tend to classify them as separate Min languages.

Southern Min is not mutually intelligible with other branches of Min Chinese nor with non-Min varieties of Chinese, such as Mandarin, and the principal varieties of Southern Min are not intelligible with each other.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Mainland China[edit]

Southern Min dialects are spoken in Fujian, three southeastern counties of Zhejiang, the Zhoushan archipelago off Ningbo in Zhejiang and the Chaoshan (Teo-swa) region in Guangdong. The variant spoken in Leizhou, Guangdong as well as Hainan is Hainanese and is not mutually intelligible with mainstream Southern Min or Teochew.[citation needed] Hainanese is classified in some schemes as part of Southern Min and in other schemes as separate.[example needed][citation needed] Puxian Min was originally based on the Quanzhou dialect, but over time became heavily influenced by Eastern Min, eventually losing intelligibility with Minnan.


The Southern Min dialects spoken in Taiwan, collectively known as Taiwanese, is a first language for most of 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.[4]

Southeast Asia[edit]

There are many Southern Min speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Many ethnic Chinese immigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian and brought the language to what is now present-day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly British Malaya, the Straits Settlements, and British Borneo), Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies), the Philippines (former Spanish East Indies and later, US Philippine Islands (P.I.)), Brunei (former part of British Borneo), Southern Thailand, Myanmar (British Burma), Cambodia (former French Cambodia of French Indochina), Southern Vietnam (former French Cochinchina of French Indochina) and Central Vietnam (former French Annam of French Indochina). In general, Southern Min from southern Fujian is known as Hokkien, Hokkienese, Fukien or Fookien in Southeast Asia and is mostly mutually intelligible with Hokkien spoken elsewhere. Many Southeast Asian ethnic Chinese also originated in the Chaoshan region of Guangdong and speak Teochew language, the variant of Southern Min from that region, particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Southern Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, etc. In the Philippines, Philippine Hokkien is reportedly the native or heritage language of up to 98.7% of the Chinese Filipino community in the Philippines, among whom it itself is known in Hokkien Chinese: 咱人話 / 咱儂話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lán-nâng-ōe / Lán-lâng-ōe / Nán-nâng-ōe; lit. 'our people's language'.

Southern Min speakers form the majority of Chinese in Singapore, with Hokkien being the largest group and the second largest being Teochew. Despite the similarities, the two groups are rarely seen as part of the same "Minnan" Chinese subgroups.


The variants of Southern Min spoken in Zhejiang province are most akin to that spoken in Quanzhou. The variants spoken in Taiwan are similar to the three Fujian variants and are collectively known as Taiwanese.

Those Southern Min variants that are collectively known as "Hokkien" in Southeast Asia also originate from these variants. The variants of Southern Min in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong province are collectively known as Teo-Swa or Chaoshan. Chaoshan Min is of great importance in the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sumatra, and West Kalimantan. The Philippines variant is mostly from the Quanzhou area as most of their forefathers are from the aforementioned area.

The Southern Min language variant spoken around Shanwei and Haifeng differs markedly from Teochew and may represent a later migration from Zhangzhou. Linguistically, it lies between Teochew and Amoy. In southwestern Fujian, the local variants in Longyan and Zhangping form a separate division of Minnan on their own. Among ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Penang, Malaysia and Medan, Indonesia, a distinct form based on the Zhangzhou dialect has developed. In Penang, it is called Penang Hokkien while across the Malacca Strait in Medan, an almost identical variant[citation needed] is known as Medan Hokkien.


There are two or three divisions of Southern Min, depending on the criteria for Leizhou and Hainanese inclusion :

More recently, Kwok (2018: 157)[5] has classified the Southern Min dialects the Central and Southern branches grouped together, as well as a separate divergent Northern branch.

Southern Min

Quanzhang (Hokkien)[edit]

The group of mutually intelligible Quanzhang (泉漳片) dialects, spoken around the areas of Xiamen, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in southern Fujian, collectively called Minnan Proper (閩南語/閩南話) or Hokkien-Taiwanese, is the mainstream form of Southern Min. It is also the widely spoken non-official regional language in Taiwan. There are two types of standard Minnan. They are classified as Traditional Standard Minnan and Modern Standard Minnan. Traditional Standard Minnan is based on the Quanzhou dialect. It is the dialect used in Liyuan Opera (梨園戲) and Nanying music (南音). The modern standard forms of Minnan Proper are based on Amoy dialect, spoken in the city of Xiamen, and Taiwanese dialect, spoken around the city of Tainan in Taiwan. Both modern standard forms of Minnan are a combination of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. Nowadays, Modern Standard Minnan is the dialect of Minnan that is popular in Minnan dialect television programming, radio programming and Minnan songs. Most Minnan language books and Minnan dictionaries are mostly based on the pronunciation of the Modern Standard Minnan. Taiwanese in northern Taiwan tends to be based on Quanzhou dialect, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou dialect. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The grammar is basically the same. Additionally, in Taiwanese Minnan, extensive contact with the Japanese language has left a legacy of Japanese loanwords. This language is also spoken in Singapore (as Singaporean Hokkien), Malaysia (as Penang Hokkien and Southern Peninsular Malaysian Hokkien), and Indonesia (as Medan Hokkien and Riau Hokkien), all of which have English (Singaporean / Malaysian / Indonesian) and Malay (Malaysian or Indonesian) loanwords, whereas it is also spoken in the Philippines (as Philippine Hokkien), which instead has Spanish, Tagalog (Filipino), and English (Philippine) loanwords.

Chaoshan (Teo-Swa)[edit]

Teo-Swa or Chaoshan speech (潮汕片) is a closely related variant of Minnan that includes the Teochew and Swatow dialects. It has limited mutual intelligibility with Quanzhang speech, though they share some cognates with each other. Chaoshan Min is significantly different from Quanzhang in both pronunciation and vocabulary. It had its origins from the Proto-Putian dialect (閩南語古莆田話), a sub-dialect of Proto-Minnan, which is closely related to the Quanzhou dialect. As the Proto-Putian dialect speaking Chinese emigrants from Putian prefecture settled in the Chaoshan region, it later received influence from the Zhangzhou dialect. It follows the same grammar pattern as Minnan Proper. It is marginally understood by Minnan Proper speakers.[6]


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, and the Teochew system differs somewhat more.

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

Writing systems[edit]

Both Hokkien and Chaoshan (Teochew and Shantou dialects) have romanized writing systems and also respective Chinese characters. In mainland China, it is known as 閩南文 (Bân-lâm-bûn), while in Taiwan, it is known as 台文 (Tâi-bûn). The Han Chinese Characters are known in mainland China and Taiwan as 漢字 (Hàn-jī / Hàn-lī). In Malaysia and Singapore, the Chinese characters are sometimes known as 唐儂字 / 唐人字 (Tn̂g-lâng-jī / Tn̂g-lâng-lī). In the Philippines, the Chinese characters are known as 咱儂字 / 咱人字 (Lán-nâng-dī) or 漢文字 (Hàm-bûn-dī).


The Min homeland of Fujian was opened to Han Chinese settlement by the defeat of the Minyue state by the armies of Emperor Wu of Han in 110 BC.[7] The area features rugged mountainous terrain, with short rivers that flow into the South China Sea. Most subsequent migration from north to south China passed through the valleys of the Xiang and Gan rivers to the west, so that Min varieties have experienced less northern influence than other southern groups.[8] As a result, whereas most varieties of Chinese can be treated as derived from Middle Chinese, the language described by rhyme dictionaries such as the Qieyun (601 AD), Min varieties contain traces of older distinctions.[9] Linguists estimate that the oldest layers of Min dialects diverged from the rest of Chinese around the time of the Han dynasty.[10][11] However, significant waves of migration from the North China Plain occurred.[12] These include:

Jerry Norman identifies four main layers in the vocabulary of modern Min varieties:

  1. A non-Chinese substratum from the original languages of Minyue, which Norman and Mei Tsu-lin believe were Austroasiatic.[13][14]
  2. The earliest Chinese layer, brought to Fujian by settlers from Zhejiang to the north during the Han dynasty.[15]
  3. A layer from the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, which is largely consistent with the phonology of the Qieyun dictionary.[16]
  4. A literary layer based on the koiné of Chang'an, the capital of the Tang dynasty.[17]

Comparisons with Sino-Xenic character pronunciations[edit]

Minnan (or Hokkien) can trace its origins through the Tang Dynasty, and it also has roots from earlier periods. Minnan (Hokkien) people call themselves "Tang people", (唐人, pronounced as "唐儂" Tn̂g-lâng) which is synonymous to "Chinese people". Because of the widespread influence of the Tang culture during the great Tang dynasty, there are today still many Minnan pronunciations of words shared by the Sino-xenic pronunciations of Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese languages.

English Han characters Mandarin Chinese Minnan[18] Teochew Cantonese Korean Vietnamese Japanese
Book Chhek/Chheh cêh4 caak3 Chaek () Sách Saku/Satsu/Shaku
Bridge qiáo Kiâu/Kiô giê5/gio5 kiu4 Gyo () Kiều Kyō
Dangerous 危險 wēixiǎn/wéixiǎn Guî-hiám guîn5/nguín5 hiem2 ngai4 him2 Wiheom (위험) Nguy hiểm Kiken
Embassy 大使館 Dàshǐguǎn Tāi-sài-koán dai6 sái2 guêng2 daai6 si3 gun2 Daesagwan (대사관) Đại Sứ Quán Taishikan
Flag kî5 kei4 Gi () Ki
Insurance 保險 Bǎoxiǎn Pó-hiám Bó2-hiém bou2 him2 Boheom (보험) Bảo hiểm Hoken
News 新聞 Xīnwén Sin-bûn sing1 bhung6 san1 man4 Shinmun (신문) Tân văn Shinbun
Student 學生 Xuéshēng Ha̍k-seng Hak8 sêng1 hok6 saang1 Haksaeng (학생) Học sinh Gakusei
University 大學 Dàxué Tāi-ha̍k/Tōa-o̍h dai6 hag8/dua7 oh8 daai6 hok6 Daehak (대학) Đại học Daigaku

See also[edit]

Related languages[edit]


  1. ^ Cai Zhu, Huang Guo (1 October 2015). Chinese language. Xiamen: Fujian Education Publishing House. ISBN 978-7533469511.
  2. ^ Southern Min at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020) closed access
  3. ^ Lee, Tong Soon (2009). Chinese Street Opera in Singapore. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252032462.
  4. ^ "The politics of language names in Taiwan". Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  5. ^ Kwok, Bit-Chee (2018). Southern Min: comparative phonology and subgrouping. Routledge studies in East Asian linguistics. Vol. 2. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-94365-0.
  6. ^ Minnan/ Southern Min at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  7. ^ Norman (1991), pp. 328.
  8. ^ Norman (1988), pp. 210, 228.
  9. ^ Norman (1988), pp. 228–229.
  10. ^ Ting (1983), pp. 9–10.
  11. ^ Baxter & Sagart (2014), pp. 33, 79.
  12. ^ Yan (2006), p. 120.
  13. ^ Norman & Mei (1976).
  14. ^ Norman (1991), pp. 331–332.
  15. ^ Norman (1991), pp. 334–336.
  16. ^ Norman (1991), p. 336.
  17. ^ Norman (1991), p. 337.
  18. ^ Iûⁿ, Ún-giân. "Tâi-bûn/Hôa-bûn Sòaⁿ-téng Sû-tián" 台文/華文線頂辭典 [Taiwanese/Chinese Online Dictionary]. Retrieved 1 October 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]