Nanjing dialect

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nanjing dialect
Native toPeople's Republic of China
RegionNanjing, Jiangsu province
EthnicityNanjing People (Han Chinese)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

The Nanjing dialect, also known as Nankinese, or Nanjing Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Nanjing, China. It is part of the Jianghuai group of Chinese varieties.[1]


A number of features distinguish the Nanjing dialect from other Mandarin varieties. It maintains the glottal stop final and the entering tone, which Northern Mandarin or Southwestern Mandarin likely also had until recently. Like Northern Mandarin, it has preserved the retroflex initials of Middle Chinese. As with other Jianghuai Mandarin dialects, the Nanjing dialect has lost syllable-initial /n/, which have all become /l/. The opposite has occurred in Southwestern Mandarin, where /l/ has changed to /n/. Northern Mandarin, on the other hand, retains distinct /l/ and /n/ initials.

While Mandarin dialects typically feature two nasal finals (/n/ and /ŋ/), these have merged into one in Jianghuai Mandarin dialects.[2]


The earliest dialect of Nanjing was an ancient Wu dialect during the Eastern Jin. After the Wu Hu uprising, the Jin Emperor and many northern Chinese fled south, establishing the new capital Jiankang in what is modern day Nanjing. It was during this time that the ancient Wu of Nanjing was replaced by Jianghuai Mandarin. Further events occurred, such as Hou Jing's rebellions during the Liang dynasty, the Sui dynasty invasion of the Chen dynasty which resulted in Jiankang's destruction, Ming Taizu's relocation of southerners from below the Yangtze to his newly established capital Nanjing, and the establishment of Nanjing as the capital of the Taiping Kingdom during the Taiping rebellion which resulted in a significant decrease in the city's population. These events all played a role in forming the Nanjing dialect of today.[3]


Some linguists have studied the influence that Nanjing Jianghuai Mandarin had on the Mandarin-based koiné spoken by the Ming dynasty.[4] Although it was based on the Nanjing dialect, there were important differences and the koiné exhibited non-Jianghuai characteristics. Francisco Varo, a Dominican friar living in 17th century China pointed to Nanjing as one of several places Mandarin speech paralleled that of the elites.[4]

During the 19th century, dispute arose over whether the Nanjing dialect or Beijing dialect should be preferred by Western diplomats and translators, as the prestige of the Nanjing dialect seemed to be waning.[5] Even when it was clear that the Beijing dialect had gained prominence, many sinologists and missionaries maintained their preference for the Nanjing dialect. Leipzig-based professor Georg von der Gabelentz even argued that the Nanjing dialect was preferable for scientific texts because it had fewer homophones:[6]

Only in recent times has the northern dialect, pek-kuān-hoá, in the form [spoken] in the capital, kīng-hoá, begun to strive for general acceptance, and the struggle seems to be decided in its favor. It is preferred by the officials and studied by the European diplomats. Scholarship must not follow this practise. The Peking dialect is phonetically the poorest of all dialects and therefore has the most homophones. This is why it is most unsuitable for scientific purposes.

The originally Japanese book Mandarin Compass (官話指南) was modified with Nanjing dialect's tones and published with French commentary by Jiangnan-based French missionary Henri Boucher.[7] Calvin W. Mateer attempted to compromise between Northern and Southern Mandarin in his book A Course of Mandarin Lessons, published in 1892.[6]

Study of the Nanjing dialect[edit]

Important works written about the Nanjing dialect include Syllabar des Nankingdialektes oder der correkten Aussprache sammt Vocabular by Franz Kühnert, and Die Nanking Kuanhua by K. Hemeling.[8][9][10]

The English & Chinese vocabulary in the court dialect by Samuel Wells Williams was based on the Nanjing dialect, rather than the Beijing dialect. Williams also described the differences between Nanjing and Beijing Mandarin in the same book and noted the ways in which the Peking dialect differs from the Nanjing dialect, such as the palatalization of velars before front vowels. Williams also noted that the changes were consistent so that switching between pronunciations would not be difficult.[11]


In the 19th and early 20th centuries, romanization of Mandarin consisted of both Beijing and Nanjing pronunciations. The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal offered that romanizing for both Nanjing and Beijing dialects was beneficial. The journal explained that, for example, because 希 and 西 are pronounced the same in Beijing (pinyin: ) but differently in Nanjing (with the latter being si), the Standard System retains the two spellings. The system similarly retains contrasts in Beijing that are missing in Nanjing, such as that between 官 (pinyin: guān) and 光 (pinyin: guāng).[12]



  1. ^ Chappell (2002), p. 244.
  2. ^ Norman (1988), p. 193.
  3. ^ Kurpaska (2010), p. 161.
  4. ^ a b Ho (2003), p. 129.
  5. ^ Kaske (2008), pp. 67–68.
  6. ^ a b Kaske (2008), pp. 70–71.
  7. ^ Kaske (2008), pp. 71–72.
  8. ^ Ding, Yu & Li (2000), p. 74.
  9. ^ Coblin (2000b), p. 54.
  10. ^ Coblin (2000a), p. 271.
  11. ^ Williams (1844), pp. xxvi–xxvii.
  12. ^ The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (1905), pp. 144–145.


  • Chappell, Hilary (2002), "The universal syntax of semantic primes in Mandarin Chinese", in Goddard, Cliff; Wierzbicka, Anna (eds.), Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings, vol. 1, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 243–322, ISBN 90-272-3063-3.
  • Coblin, W. South (2000a), "A diachronic study of Míng Guānhuá phonology", Monumenta Serica, 48: 267–335, doi:10.1080/02549948.2000.11731346, JSTOR 40727264, S2CID 192485681.
  • ——— (2000b), "Late Apicalization in Nankingese", Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 28 (1): 52–66, JSTOR 23754004.
  • Ding, Bangxin; Yu, Aiqin; Li, Fanggui (2000), Yu yan bian hua yu Han yu fang yan: Li Fanggui xian sheng ji nian lun wen ji, Zhong yang yan jiu yuan yu yan xue yan jiu suo chou bei chu.
  • Hé, Dà'ān (2002), 第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 語言組. 南北是非 : 漢語方言的差異與變化 (Third International Conference on Sinology: North-South non-language groups: Differences and changes in Chinese Dialects), vol. 7 of 第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 語言組., 中央硏究院語言學硏究所, ISBN 957-671-936-4.
  • Ho, Dah-an (2003), "The characteristics of Mandarin dialects", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan languages, Routledge, pp. 126–130, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  • Kaske, Elisabeth (2008), The politics of language in Chinese education, 1895-1919, vol. 82 of Sinica Leidensia, BRILL, ISBN 978-90-04-16367-6.
  • Kurpaska, Maria (2010), Chinese Language(s): A Look Through the Prism of "The Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects", Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-021914-2.
  • Norman, Jerry (1988), Chinese, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-29653-3.
  • "Romanized Mandarin", The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 36 (3): 144–145, 1905.
  • Williams, Samuel Wells (1844), English & Chinese vocabulary in the Court Dialect, Office of the Chinese Repository.

Further reading[edit]