Suzhou dialect

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蘇州閒話 / 苏州闲话
Sou-tseu ghé-ghô
Native toChina
RegionSuzhou and southeast Jiangsu province
Native speakers
approx. 5-7 million[citation needed]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6suji
Linguasphere79-AAA-dbb >
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Suzhou dialect
Traditional Chinese蘇州話
Simplified Chinese苏州话
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese蘇州閒話

The Suzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 苏州话; traditional Chinese: 蘇州話; pinyin: Sūzhōuhuà; Suzhounese: Sou-tseu ghé-ghô 蘇州閒話), also known as Suzhounese, is the variety of Chinese traditionally spoken in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, China. Suzhounese is a variety of Wu Chinese, and was traditionally considered the Wu Chinese prestige dialect. Suzhounese has a large vowel inventory and it is relatively conservative in initials by preserving voiced consonants from Middle Chinese.[citation needed]


Suzhou dialect is spoken within the city itself and the surrounding area, including migrants living in nearby Shanghai.

The Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in its satellite cities such as Kunshan, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, as well as those spoken in its former satellites Wuxi and Shanghai. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in other areas of the Wu cultural sphere such as Hangzhou and Ningbo. However, it is not mutually intelligible with Cantonese or Standard Chinese; but, as all public schools and most broadcast communication in Suzhou use Mandarin exclusively, nearly all speakers of the dialect are at least bilingual. Owing to migration within China, many residents of the city cannot speak the local dialect but can usually understand it after a few months or years in the area.[citation needed]


A "ballad–narrative" (說唱詞話) known as "The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao" (薛仁貴跨海征遼故事), which is about the Tang dynasty hero Xue Rengui[1] is believed to have been written in the Suzhou dialect.[2]

Plural pronouns[edit]

Second- and third-person pronouns are suffixed with 笃 [toʔ] for the plural. The first-person plural is a separate root, 伲 [ni].[3]


Some non-native speakers of Suzhou dialect speak Suzhou dialect in a "stylized variety" to tell tales.[4]



Initials of the Suzhou dialect
  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
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Lateral l

The Suzhou dialect has series of voiced, voiceless, and aspirated stops, and voiceless and voiced fricatives. Moreover, palatalized initials also occur.


Vowel nuclei of the Suzhou dialect
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close /i/ /y/ /ɵ/ /ʊ/
Near-close /ɪ/ /ʏ/
Mid /ɛ/ /ə/ /o/
Open /æ/ /a/ /ɑ/
Diphthong /øʏ, oʊ/
Finals of the Suzhou dialect[5]
Coda Open Nasal Glottal stop
Medial j w j w j w ɥ
Nucleus i i                  
y y                  
ɪ ɪ     ɪɲ            
ʏ ʏ     ʏɲ            
ɵ ɵ              
ʊ ʊ                  
ɛ ɛ                
ə       ən   wən əʔ jəʔ wəʔ ɥəʔ
o       joŋ   joʔ    
øʏ øʏ                  
æ æ                
a       ã jaʔ waʔ  
ɑ ɑ ɑ̃ jɑ̃ wɑ̃ ɑʔ jɑʔ    
Syllabic continuants: [z̩] [z̩ʷ] [β̩~v̩] [m̩] [ŋ̩] [l̩]

The Suzhou dialect has a rare contrast between "fricative vowels" [i, y] and ordinary vowels [ɪ, ʏ]. As with Shanghainese, the Middle Chinese entering tone characters, which ended in [p t k], now end in a glottal stop [ʔ] in the Suzhou dialect, while Middle Chinese nasal endings [m n ŋ] have now merged as generic nasal finals or dropped nasalization altogether.


Suzhou is considered to have seven tones. However, since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant, these constitute just three phonemic tones: ping, shang, and qu. (Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)

Tone chart of Suzhou dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) ˦ (44) high
2 yang ping (陽平) ˨˨˦ (224) level-rising
3 shang () ˥˨ (52) high falling
4 yin qu (陰去) ˦˩˨ (412) dipping
5 yang qu (陽去) ˨˧˩ (231) rising-falling
6 yin ru (陰入) ˦ʔ (4) high checked
7 yang ru (陽入) ˨˧ʔ (23) rising checked

In Suzhou, the Middle Chinese Shang tone has partially merged with the modern yin qu tone.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Idema, Wilt L. (2007). "Fighting in Korea: Two Early Narratives of the Story of Xue Rengui". In Breuker, Remco E. (ed.). Korea in the Middle: Korean Studies and Area Studies: Essays in Honour of Boudewijn Walraven (illustrated ed.). Leiden: CNWS Publications. p. 341. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3. A prosimetrical rendition, entitled Xue Rengui kuahai zheng Liao gushi 薛仁貴跨海征遼故事 (The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao), which shares its opening prose paragraph with the Xue Rengui zheng Liao shilüe, is preserved in a printing of 1471; it is one of the shuochang cihua 說唱詞話 (ballad-narratives
  2. ^ Idema, Wilt L. (2007). "Fighting in Korea: Two Early Narratives of the Story of Xue Rengui". In Breuker, Remco E. (ed.). Korea in the Middle: Korean Studies and Area Studies: Essays in Honour of Boudewijn Walraven (illustrated ed.). Leiden: CNWS Publications. p. 342. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3. for telling and singing) which were discovered in the suburbs of Shanghai in 1967. While these shuochang cihua had been printed in modern-day Beijing, their language suggests that they had been composed in the Wu Chinese area of Suzhou and surroundings,
  3. ^ Yue, Anne O. (2003). "Chinese Dialects: Grammar". In Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.). The Sino-Tibetan Languages (illustrated ed.). London: Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 0-7007-1129-5.
  4. ^ Clements, Clancy (2000). "Review of Creole and Dialect Continua". Language. 76 (1): 160. doi:10.1353/lan.2000.0054. JSTOR 417399. She also examines a stylized variety of Suzhou Wu as used to tell stories by native speakers of another dialect.
  5. ^ Ling, Feng (2009). A Phonetic Study of the Vowel System in Suzhou Chinese (PhD thesis). City University of Hong Kong.

External links[edit]