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Min Chinese

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Title: Min Chinese  
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Subject: Varieties of Chinese, Historical Chinese phonology, Chinese language, Names of China, Central Min
Collection: Chinese Languages in Singapore, Languages of the Philippines, Min Chinese
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Min Chinese

Mainland China: Fujian, Guangdong (around Chaozhou-Swatou, Leizhou peninsula and part of Zhongshan), Hainan, Zhejiang (Shengsi, Putuo and Wenzhou), Jiangsu (Liyang and Jiangyin), Taiwan, United States (New York City)
Linguistic classification: Sino-Tibetan
Proto-language: proto-Min
ISO 639-6: mclr
Glottolog: minn1248
Min Chinese
Bân gú / Mìng ngṳ̄ ('Min') written in
Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese 閩語
Simplified Chinese 闽语
Hokkien POJ Bân gú
A map of the primary varieties of Min.

Min or Miin[1] (simplified Chinese: 闽语; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Mǐn yǔ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bân gú; BUC: Mìng ngṳ̄) is a broad group of Chinese varieties spoken by over 70 million people in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian as well as by migrants from this province in Guangdong (around Chaozhou-Swatou, or Chaoshan area, Leizhou peninsula and Part of Zhongshan), Hainan, three counties in southern Zhejiang, Zhoushan archipelago off Ningbo, some towns in Liyang, Jiangyin City in Jiangsu province, and Taiwan. The name is derived from the Min River in Fujian.

There are many Min speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia as well as in New York City in the United States. The most widely spoken variety of Min outside Fujian is Hokkien (which includes Taiwanese and Amoy).


  • History 1
  • Subgrouping 2
  • Writing system 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5


The Min homeland of Fujian was opened to Chinese settlement by the defeat of the Minyue state by the armies of Emperor Wu of Han in 110 BC.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Linguists estimate that the oldest layers of Min dialects diverged from the rest of Chinese around the time of the Han dynasty.[4][5] However, significant waves of migration from the North China Plain occurred:[6]

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.[7][8]
  2. The earliest Chinese layer, brought to Fujian by settlers from Zhejiang to the north during the Han dynasty.[9]
  3. A layer from the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, which is largely consistent with the phonology of the Qieyun dictionary.[10]
  4. A literary layer based on the koiné of Chang'an, the capital of the Tang dynasty.[11]


Min is usually described as one of seven or ten groups of varieties of Chinese but has greater dialectal diversity than any of the other groups. The varieties used in neighbouring counties, and in the mountains of western Fujian even in adjacent villages, are often mutually unintelligible.[12]

Early classifications, such as those of Li Fang-Kuei in 1937 and Yuan Jiahua in 1960, divided Min into Northern and Southern subgroups.[13][14] However, in a 1963 report on a survey of Fujian, Pan Maoding and colleagues argued that the primary split was between inland and coastal groups. A key discriminator between the two groups is the evolution of the voiced and unvoiced lateral consonants reconstructed in the ancestral form of Min. In coastal varieties these merged as /l/, whereas in inland varieties the voiceless lateral became a voiceless fricative /s/ or /ʃ/.[14][15]

Although coastal varieties can be derived from a proto-language with four series of stops or affricates at each point of articulation (e.g. /t/, /tʰ/, /d/, and /dʱ/), inland varieties contain traces of two further series, which Norman termed "softened stops" due to their reflexes in some varieties.[16][17][18] Coastal varieties also feature some uniquely Min vocabulary, including pronouns and negatives, where inland varieties use forms cognate with vocabulary in Hakka and Yue.[19]

Pan and colleagues divided the coastal varieties into three groups:[20]

Pan and colleagues divided the inland varieties into two groups:[20]

The Language Atlas of China (1987) includes three additional groups besides the five identified by Pan et al.:[23]

  • Shaojiang Min, spoken in the northwestern Fujian counties of Shaowu and Jiangle, were classified as Hakka by Pan and his associates.[14] However, Jerry Norman suggested that they were inland varieties of Min that had been subject to heavy Gan or Hakka influence.[24]
  • Leizhou Min, spoken on the Leizhou Peninsula in southern Guangdong, had previously been included in Southern Min.
  • Hainanese, spoken on the island of Hainan, had also previously been included in Southern Min.

Writing system

When using Chinese characters to write a non-Mandarin form, standard practice is to use characters that correspond etymologically to the words being represented, and to invent new characters for words with no evident ancient Chinese etymology or in some cases for alternative pronunciations of existing characters, especially when the meaning is significantly different. Written Cantonese has carried this process out to the farthest extent of any non-Mandarin variety, to the extent that pure Cantonese vernacular can be unambiguously written using Chinese characters. Contrary to popular belief, a vernacular written in this fashion is not in general comprehensible to a Mandarin speaker, due to significant changes in grammar and vocabulary and the necessary use of large number of non-Mandarin characters.

A similar process has never taken place for any of the Min varieties and there is no standard system for writing Min, although some specialized characters have been created. Given that Min combines the Chinese of several different periods and contains some non-Chinese vocabulary, one may have trouble finding the appropriate Chinese characters for some Min vocabulary. In the case of Taiwanese, there are also indigenous words borrowed from the Taiwanese aborigines, as well as a substantial number of loan words from Japanese. The Min spoken in Singapore and Malaysia has borrowed heavily from Malay and, to a lesser extent, from English and other languages. The result is that cases of Min written purely in Chinese characters does not represent actual Min speech, but contains a heavy mixture of Mandarin forms.

Attempts to faithfully represent Min speech necessarily rely on romanization, i.e. representation using Latin characters. Some Min speakers use the Church Romanization (Chinese: 教會羅馬字; pinyin: Jiaohui Luomazi). For Southern Min the romanization is called Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) and for Min Dong called Bàng-uâ-cê (BUC). Both systems were created by foreign missionaries in the 19th century (see Min Nan and Min Dong WorldHeritage). There are some uncommon publications in mixed writing, using mostly Chinese characters but using the Latin alphabet to represent words that cannot easily be represented by Chinese characters.




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