World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Oujiang Chinese

Article Id: WHEBN0021525595
Reproduction Date:

Title: Oujiang Chinese  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: General Chinese
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Oujiang Chinese

Native to Wenzhou Prefecture, Zhejiang, China
Region Southeastern China, and in Wenzhou immigrant populations in New York City; Paris; Milan and Prato, Italy
Ethnicity Wenzhounese (Han Chinese)
Native speakers 5 million est.  (date missing)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Wenzhounese (simplified Chinese: 温州话; traditional Chinese: 溫州話; pinyin: wēnzhōuhuà) or Oujiang (simplified Chinese: 瓯江话; traditional Chinese: 甌江話; pinyin: ōujiānghuà) is the speech of Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang Province, China. It is the most divergent division of Wu Chinese, and is sometimes considered a separate language. It features noticeable elements of Min, which borders it to the south. Oujiang is sometimes used as the broad umbrella term, reserving Wenzhou for Wenzhounese proper in sensu stricto.

Wenzhou is not mutually intelligible with other varieties of Wu neighboring it to the north and west, let alone with Min Dong to the south or with the official language of China, Mandarin.

Due to its long history and the geographical features of the region on which it is located, Wenzhou Chinese is so eccentric in its phonology that it has the reputation of being the "least comprehensible dialect" for an average Mandarin speaker. It preserves some vocabulary from classical Chinese lost elsewhere, and has noticeable grammatical differences from Mandarin.

Wenzhounese is one of five Sinitic varities other than Standard Mandarin used for broadcasting by China Radio International, alongside Cantonese, Minnan, Teochew, and Hakka.


The linguistic mosaic that makes up China is especially diverse in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located. Wenzhou is further divided into many dialects. When people refer to the standard Wenzhou dialect, they usually mean the language spoken by the people living in more developed areas of Wenzhou, i.e. Lucheng, Ouhai, Longwan, Yongjia, Ruian, and Yueqing, though they may be referring to Oujiang as a whole. Over five million people speak dialects of Oujiang/Wenzhou that are mutually intelligible, but differences are marked, with sound systems changing almost comprehensively every ten kilometers, especially in rural areas. People from Taizhou, who speak the Wu dialect which borders Wenzhou to the north, cannot comprehend Wenzhou.

Reputation for Eccentricity

Due to its high degree of eccentricity, the language is reputed to have been used during the Second Sino-Japanese War during wartime communication. Due to its unique grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, the language is basically impossible for any non-local to understand.

There is a common variation of the "fearless" rhymed saying in China that reflect this comprehension difficulty: "Fear not the Heavens, fear not the Earth, but fear the Wenzhou man speaking Wenzhounese." (天不怕,地不怕,就怕溫州人説溫州話)

Geographic distribution

Wenzhounese is spoken primarily in Wenzhou and the surrounding southern portion of Zhejiang Province of China. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in scattered pockets of Fujian Province in Southeastern China. Overseas, it is spoken in increasingly larger communities in Flushing Chinatown and Brooklyn Chinatown, New York City, USA;[1][2][3] historically, there has also been a Wenzhounese-speaking community in Paris, France and Rome, Italy.


Oujiang (Dong'ou) 甌江 (東甌)

  • Wenzhou dialect 溫州話
  • Ruian dialect 瑞安話
  • Wencheng dialect 文成話

The most important difference between eastern Oujiang dialects such as Wencheng and Wenzhou proper are tonal differences (Wencheng has no falling tones) and the retention of /f/ before /o/:

Wenzhou hoŋ ɕadei
Wencheng foŋ ɕɔdi

The tones of all other Oujiang dialects are similar to Wenzhounese. (Wenzhounese puu transcribes the lengthened entering tone.)

Phonetics and phonology


Consonants of Wenzhou dialect
  bilabial labio-dental alveolar alveolo-palatal palatal velar glottal
nasal voiced      
voiceless ʔm   ʔn ʔȵ   ʔŋ  
plosives voiced        
voiceless unaspirated        
voiceless aspirated        
fricatives voiced        
affricates voiced          
voiceless unaspirated          
voiceless aspirated          
lateral approximants            


Vowels are a ɛ e i ø y ɜ ɨ o u. Diphthongs are ai au ei øy ɤu/ou iɛ uɔ/yɔ. The only coda is eng, in aŋ eŋ oŋ and syllabic ŋ̩.


Citation tones

Wenzhou has three phonemic tones. While it has eight phonetic tones, most of these are predictable: The yin–yang tone split dating from Middle Chinese still corresponds to the voicing of the initial consonant in Wenzhou, and the shang tones are abrupt and end in glottal stop (this has been used as evidence for a similar situation independently posited for Old Chinese).[4] The ru tones, however, are unusual in being distinct despite having lost their final stops; in addition, the vowel has lengthened, and the tone has become more complex (dipping) than the other tones (though some speakers may simplify them to low falling or rising tones).[5]

Tone chart of Wenzhou dialect[6]
Tone number Tone name Tone contour
1 yin ping (陰平) ˧ 3
2 yang ping (陽平) ʱ˧˩ 31
3 yin shang (陰上) ˧˥ʔ 35
4 yang shang (陽上) ʱ˨˦ʔ 24
5 yin qu (陰去) ˦˨ 42
6 yang qu (陽去) ʱ˩ 1
7 yin ru (陰入) ˧˨˧ː 323
8 yang ru (陽入) ʱ˨˩˨ː 212

The shang and ru tones are barely distinguishable apart from the voicing of the initial consonant, and so are phonetically closer to two tones than four. Chen (2000) summarizes the tones as M & ML (ping), MH (shang), HM & L (qu), and dipping (MLM, ru); not only are the ping and qu pairs obviously distinct phonetically, but they behave as four different tones in the ways they undergo tone sandhi.

As in Shanghainese, in Wenzhounese only some of the syllables of a phonological word carry tone. In Wenzhounese there may be three such syllables, with the tone of any subsequent (post-tonic) syllables determined by the last of these. In addition, there may be pre-tonic syllables (clitics), which take a low tone. However, in Wenzhounese only one tonic word may exist in a prosodic unit; all other words are reduced to low tone.

Tone sandhi

Up to three tonic syllables may occur together, but the number of resulting tones is reduced by tone sandhi. Of the six phonetic tones, there are only fourteen lexical patterns created by two tonic syllables. With one exception, the shang and qu tones reduce to HM (yin qu) before any other tone, and again with one exception, ru tone does not interact with a following tone. Shang and ru tone change a preceding non-ru tone to HM, and are themselves never affected.

2nd syllable
-M -ML -HM -L -MH -(M)LM

(Sandhi that are exceptions to the generalizations above are in bold.)

With a compound word of three syllables, the patterns above apply to the last two. The antepenultimate tonic syllable takes only two possible tones, by dissimilation: low if the following syllable (in sandhi form) starts high (HM), high otherwise. So, for example, the unusually long compound noun "daily necessities" (lit., 'firewood-rice-oil-salt-sauce-vinegar-tea') has the underlying tones


Per sandhi, the last two syllables become L.L. The antepenult then dissimilates to H, and all pre-tonic syllables become L, for:


At a phrasal level, these tones may separate, with a HM tone, for example, shifting to the beginning of a phrase. In the lexicalized phrase "radio receiver" ('wireless telephone tube'), the underlying tones are


Per sandhi, the last two become HM.ML. There is no dissimilation, explained by this being grammatically a lexicalized phrase rather than a compound. The HM shifts forward, with intermediate syllables becoming M (the tone the HM leaves off at):


Although checked (MLM) syllables rarely change in compound words, they do change in phrases. For example, "tall steel case" is underlyingly M.MLM.HM. The middle syllable shifts to HM, and sandhi operates on this *HM.HM sequence to produce HM.ML. The HM then shifts back, yielding /HM.M.ML/.

Such behaviour has been used to support arguments that contour tones in languages like Chinese are single units, and that they are independent of vowels or other segments.[7]



Wenzhou has a tonic deictic morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the classifier changes its tone to ru (dipping), and a voiced initial consonant is devoiced. For example, from /pa˧/ 'group' there is /pa˧˨˧/ 'this group', and from /le˧˩/ 'some (people)' there is /l̥e˧˨˧/ 'these (people)'.[7]


Like other Chinese dialects, Wenzhou dialect has mainly SVO language structure, but in some situations it's meanly SOV or OSV. SOV is commonly used with verb+suffix, the common suffixes are 过去起落来牢得还.

ex. 书(给)渠还, (个)瓶水pai去


鲎hau阴去(彩虹),亦称“挂鲎” 洗面(洗脸) 饺剪(剪刀) 鸡卵(鸡蛋) 桠o阴去(“强与人物也,衣驾切”)(强迫人家吃)如:桠你吃。 金瓜(南瓜) 娒mai阴平(小孩子)(普通话为mei2)



There are a lot of sub-branches of Oujiang group of dialects, some are not very intelligible like Wenzhou city dialect with some Wencheng dialect, but there is no trouble understanding neighbouring dialect or very few, I'll take as example 2 dialects spoken in Li'ao village of Ouhai District, Wenzhou, one dialect is spoken in 白门 (where the local people have 姜 as their surname), the other one is 王宅 (where local people have normally 王 or 黄 as their surname), they are nearly 100% except for few vocabulary, as the word RUBBISH is different in these 2 dialects, in one, the 白门 dialect it is ʔlutsuu, in the other is ʔladʒee (from mandarin 垃圾).


wenzhou ʔjɐi liɛ2 sa1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰɐi tɕɐɯ2 zɐi
ruian ʔja la2 sɔ1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰa tɕɐɯ2 za

(The long vowels transcribe the lengthened ru tone.)

Literature in Wenzhounese

"THE FOUR GOSPELS AND ACTS, IN WENCHOW." was published in 1894 under the title of "Chaò-chî Yi-sû Chī-tuh Sang Iah Sing Shī: Sz̀ fuh-iang tà sź-du ae-djüe fa üe-tsiu t'û", with the entire book in Wenzhou dialect.[8]

  • (Harvard University)

See also


  • Qián,nǎiróng (1992). Dāngdài Wúyǔ yánjiū. (Contemporary Wu linguistics studies). Shànghǎi: shànghǎi jiāoyù chūbǎnshè. (錢乃榮. 1992. 當代吳語研究. 上海敎育出版社) ISBN 7-5320-2355-9

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.