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Hokkien (from 福建話, Hok-kiàn-oē) also Quanzhang (Quanzhou-Zhangzhou / Chinchew–Changchew; BP: Zuánziū–Ziāngziū) is a group of Southern Min dialects spoken throughout Southeastern China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and by other overseas Chinese. Hokkien originated in southern Fujian, the Min-speaking province. It is closely related to Teochew, though there is limited mutual intelligibility, and is somewhat more distantly related to Hainanese and Leizhou dialect. Besides Hokkien, there are also other Min and Hakka dialects in Fujian province, most of which are not mutually intelligible with Hokkien.

Hokkien historically served as the lingua franca amongst overseas Chinese communities of all dialects and subgroups in Southeast Asia, and remains today as the most spoken variety of Chinese in the region, including in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and some parts of Indochina.Template:Sfnp


The term Hokkien (Template:IPA) is etymologically derived from the Southern Min pronunciation for Fujian (福建), the province from which the language hails. In Southeast Asia and the English press, "Hokkien" is used in common parlance to refer to the Southern Min dialects of southern Fujian, and does not include reference to dialects of other Sinitic branches also present in Fujian such as Eastern Min or Hakka. In Chinese linguistics, these dialects are known by their classification under the Quanzhang Division (Template:Zh) of Min Nan, which comes from the first characters of the two main Hokkien urban centers of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. The variety is also known by other terms such as the more general Min Nan (Template:Zh) or "Southern Min", "Holo" and "Hoklo" (Template:Zh). "Fujianese" and "Fukienese" are also used, although they are somewhat imprecise.

The term "Hokkien" is not usually used in Mainland China or Taiwan. Conversely "Hokkien" is the referred name in Southeast Asia in both English, Chinese or other languages.

Speakers of Hokkien, particularly those in Southeast Asia, typically refer to Hokkien as a dialect, rather than a language. People in Taiwan most often refer to Hokkien as the "Taiwanese language", with Minnan and Holo also being used and "福建話" (fújiàn huà) is not as common.Template:Citation needed

Geographic distribution[]

Hokkien originated in the southern area of Fujian province, an important center for trade and migration, and has since become one of the most common Chinese varieties overseas. The major pole of Hokkien varieties outside of Fujian is Taiwan, where, during the 200 years of Qing dynasty rule, thousands of immigrants from Fujian arrived yearly. The Taiwanese version mostly have origins with the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou variants, but since then, the Amoy dialect is becoming the modern prestige standard for the language.

There are many Hokkien speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia as well as in the United States (Hoklo Americans). Many ethnic Han Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) and present day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly Malaya and the British Straits Settlements). Many of the Hokkien dialects of this region are highly similar to Taiwanese and Amoynese. Hokkien is reportedly the native language of up to 80% of the Chinese people in the Philippines, among which is known locally as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē ("Our people’s language"). Hokkien speakers form the largest group of overseas Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.Template:Citation needed


Template:Location map+ Southern and part of western Fujian is home to four principal Hokkien dialects: Chinchew, Amoy, Chiangchew and Longyan, originating from the cities of Quanzhou, Xiamen, Zhangzhou and Longyan (respectively).

As Xiamen (Amoy) is the principalTemplate:Citation needed city of southern Fujian, Amoy is considered the most important, or even the prestige dialect, of Hokkien. It is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. It has played an influential role in history, especially in the relations of Western nations with China, and was one of the most frequently learned of all Chinese varieties by Westerners during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

Same as Amoy dialect, the varieties of Hokkien spoken in Taiwan are hybrids of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects, and are collectively known as Taiwanese Hokkien or just Taiwanese. Used by a majority of the population, it bears much importance from a socio-political perspective, forming the second (and perhaps today most significant) major pole of the language due to the popularity of Taiwanese-language media.

Southeast Asia[]

The varieties of Hokkien in Southeast Asia originate from these dialects.

The Singaporeans, Southern Malaysians and people in Indonesia's Riau and surrounding islands variant is from the Quanzhou area. They speak a distinct form of Quanzhou Hokkien called Southern Peninsular Malaysian Hokkien (SPMH).

Among ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Penang, and other states in Northern Malaysia and Medan, with other areas in North Sumatra, Indonesia, a distinct form of Zhangzhou Hokkien has developed. In Penang, it is called Penang Hokkien while across the Malacca Strait in Medan, an almost identical variant is known as Medan Hokkien.

The Philippines variant is mostly from Quanzhou or Amoy (Xiamen), as most of their ancestors are from the aforementioned area.


Template:Refimprove section Variants of Hokkien dialects can be traced to two sources of origin: Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Both Amoy and most Taiwanese are based on a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects, while the rest of the Hokkien dialects spoken in South East Asia are either derived from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, or based on a mixture of both dialects.


During the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, there was constant warfare occurring in the Central Plain of China. Northerners began to enter into Fujian region, causing the region to incorporate parts of northern Chinese dialects. However, the massive migration of northern Han Chinese into Fujian region mainly occurred after the Disaster of Yongjia. The Jìn court fled from the north to the south, causing large numbers of northern Han Chinese to move into Fujian region. They brought the Old Chinese spoken in Central Plain of China from prehistoric era to 3rd century into Fujian. This then gradually evolved into the Quanzhou dialect.


In 677 (during the reign of Emperor Gaozong), Chen Zheng, together with his son Chen Yuanguang, led a military expedition to suppress a rebellion of the She people. In 885, (during the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang), the two brothers Wang Chao and Wang Shenzhi, led a military expedition force to suppress the Huang Chao rebellion.[1] These two waves of migration from the north brought the language of northern Middle Chinese into the Fujian region. This then gradually evolved into the Zhangzhou dialect.


Amoy dialect is the main dialect spoken in the Chinese city of Xiamen and its surrounding regions of Tong'an and Xiang'an, both of which are now included in the greater Xiamen area. This dialect developed in the late Ming dynasty when Xiamen was increasingly taking over Quanzhou's position as the main port of trade in southeastern China. Quanzhou traders began travelling southwards to Xiamen to carry on their businesses while Zhangzhou peasants began traveling northwards to Xiamen in search of job opportunities. A need for a common language arose. The Quanzhou and Zhangzhou varieties are similar in many ways (as can be seen from the common place of Henan Luoyang where they originated), but due to differences in accents, communication can be a problem. Quanzhou businessmen considered their speech to be the prestige accent and considered Zhangzhou's to be a village dialect. Over the centuries, dialect leveling occurred and the two speeches mixed to produce the Amoy dialect.

Early sources[]

Several playscripts survive from the late 16th century, written in a mixture of Quanzhou and Chaozhou dialects. The most important is the Romance of the Litchi Mirror, with extant manuscripts dating from 1566 and 1581.[2][3]

In the early 17th century, Spanish missionaries in the Philippines produced materials documenting the Hokkien varieties spoken by the Chinese trading community who had settled there in the late 16th century:[2][4]

  • Diccionarium Sino-Hispanicum (1604), a Spanish-Hokkien dictionary, giving equivalent words, but not definitions.
  • Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua china (1607), a Hokkien translation of the Doctrina Christiana.[5][6]
  • Bocabulario de la lengua sangleya (c. 1617), a Spanish-Hokkien dictionary, with definitions.
  • Arte de la Lengua Chiõ Chiu (1620), a grammar written by a Spanish missionary in the Philippines.

These texts appear to record a Zhangzhou dialect, from the area of Haicheng (an old port that is now part of Longhai).[7]

Chinese scholars produced rhyme dictionaries describing Hokkien varieties at the beginning of the 19th century:[8]

  • Huìyīn Miàowù (彙音妙悟 "Understanding of the collected sounds") was written around 1800 by Huang Qian (黃謙), and describes the Quanzhou dialect. The oldest extant edition dates from 1831.
  • Huìjí yǎsútōng shíwǔyīn (彙集雅俗通十五音 "Compilation of the fifteen elegant and vulgar sounds") by Xie Xiulan (謝秀嵐) describes the Zhangzhou dialect. The oldest extant edition dates from 1818.

Walter Henry Medhurst based his 1832 dictionary on the latter work.


Hokkien has one of the most diverse phoneme inventories among Chinese varieties, with more consonants than Standard Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghainese. Vowels are more-or-less similar to that of Standard Mandarin. Hokkien varieties retain many pronunciations that are no longer found in other Chinese varieties. These include the retention of the Template:IPA initial, which is now Template:IPA (Pinyin 'zh') in Mandarin (e.g. 'bamboo' 竹 is tik, but zhú in Mandarin), having disappeared before the 6th century in other Chinese varieties.[9]


Southern Min has aspirated, unaspirated as well as voiced consonant initials. For example, the word khui (Template:Lang; "open") and kuiⁿ (Template:Lang; "close") have the same vowel but differ only by aspiration of the initial and nasality of the vowel. In addition, Southern Min has labial initial consonants such as m in m̄-sī (Template:Lang; "is not").

Another example is cha-po͘-kiáⁿ (Template:Linktext; "boy") and cha-bó͘-kiáⁿ (Template:Linktext; "girl"), which differ in the second syllable in consonant voicing and in tone.


Unlike Mandarin, Hokkien retains all the final consonants corresponding to those of Middle Chinese. While Mandarin only preserves the n and ŋ finals, Southern Min also preserves the m, p, t and k finals and developed the ʔ (glottal stop).


Front Near-front Central Near-back Back
File:Blank vowel trapezoid.svg
Template:IPA link (Template:IPA link)
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link (Template:IPA link)
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link
Template:IPA link

The following table illustrates some of the more commonly seen vowel shifts. Characters with the same vowel are shown in parentheses.

English Chinese character Accent Pe̍h-ōe-jī IPA Teochew Peng'Im
two Quanzhou, Taipei Template:IPA jĭ (Template:IPA)[10]
Xiamen, Zhangzhou, Tainan Template:IPA
sick (生) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei pīⁿ Template:IPA pēⁿ (Template:IPA)
Zhangzhou, Tainan pēⁿ Template:IPA
egg (遠) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taiwan nn̄g Template:IPA nn̆g (Template:IPA)
Zhangzhou nūi Template:IPA
chopsticks (豬) Quanzhou tīr Template:IPA tēu (Template:IPA)
Xiamen Template:IPA
Zhangzhou, Taiwan Template:IPA
shoes (街)
Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei Template:IPA ôi (Template:IPA)
Zhangzhou, Tainan ê Template:IPA
leather (未) Quanzhou phêr Template:IPA phuê (Template:IPA)
Xiamen, Taipei phê Template:IPA
Zhangzhou, Tainan phôe Template:IPA
chicken (細) Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei koe Template:IPA koi
Zhangzhou, Tainan ke Template:IPA
hair (兩) Quanzhou, Taiwan, Xiamen mn̂g Template:IPA mo
Zhangzhou mo͘ Template:IPA
return Quanzhou hoan Template:IPA huêng
Xiamen hâiⁿ Template:IPA
Zhangzhou, Taiwan hêng Template:IPA
Speech (花) Quanzhou, Taiwan oe Template:IPA
Zhangzhou oa Template:IPA


In general, Hokkien dialects have 5 to 7 phonemic tones. According to the traditional Chinese system, however, there are 7 to 9 tones if the two additional entering tones (see the discussion on Chinese tone). Tone sandhi is extensive.[11] There are minor variations between the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou tone systems. Taiwanese tones follow the patterns of Amoy or Quanzhou, depending on the area of Taiwan. Many dialects have an additional phonemic tone ("tone 9" according to the traditional reckoning), used only in special or foreign loan words.[12]

陰平 陽平 陰上 陽上 陰去 陽去 陰入 陽入
Tone Number 1 5 2 6 3 7 4 8
調值 Xiamen, Fujian 44 24 53 - 21 22 32 4
東 taŋ1 銅 taŋ5 董 taŋ2 - 凍 taŋ3 動 taŋ7 觸 tak4 逐 tak8
Taipei, Taiwan 44 24 53 - 11 33 32 4
Tainan, Taiwan 44 23 41 - 21 33 32 44
Zhangzhou, Fujian 34 13 53 - 21 22 32 121
Quanzhou, Fujian 33 24 55 22 41 5 24
Penang, Malaysia[13] 33 23 445 - 21 3 4


The Amoy dialect (Xiamen) is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of these two dialects. Taiwanese in northern and coastal Taiwan tends to be based on the Quanzhou variety, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in central Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. The grammar is generally the same. Additionally, extensive contact with the Japanese language has left a legacy of Japanese loanwords in Taiwanese Hokkien. On the other hand, the variants spoken in Singapore and Malaysia have a substantial number of loanwords from Malay and to a lesser extent, from English and other Chinese varieties, such as the closely related Teochew and some Cantonese.

Penang Hokkien and Medan Hokkien are based on Zhangzhou dialect, whereas Southern Peninsular Malaysian Hokkien is based on Quanzhou dialect. Most

Mutual intelligibility[]

The Quanzhou dialect, Xiamen dialect, Zhangzhou dialect, Taiwanese, Penang Hokkien and Singaporean Hokkien are mutually intelligible.

The Min Nan varieties of Teochew and Amoy are 84% phonetically similarTemplate:Citation needed, and 34% lexically similar,Template:Citation needed whereas Mandarin and Amoy Min Nan are 62% phonetically similarTemplate:Citation needed and 15% lexically similar.Template:Citation needed In comparison, German and English are 60% lexically similar.[14]

Hainanese, which is sometimes considered Southern Min, has almost no mutual intelligibility with any form of Hokkien.Template:Citation needed


Hokkien is an analytic language; in a sentence, the arrangement of words is important to its meaning.[15] A basic sentence follows the subject–verb–object pattern (i.e. a subject is followed by a verb then by an object), though this order is often violated because Hokkien dialects are topic-prominent. Unlike synthetic languages, seldom do words indicate time, gender and plural by inflection. Instead, these concepts are expressed through adverbs, aspect markers, and grammatical particles, or are deduced from the context. Different particles are added to a sentence to further specify its status or intonation.

A verb itself indicates no grammatical tense. The time can be explicitly shown with time-indicating adverbs. Certain exceptions exist, however, according to the pragmatic interpretation of a verb's meaning. Additionally, an optional aspect particle can be appended to a verb to indicate the state of an action. Appending interrogative or exclamative particles to a sentence turns a statement into a question or shows the attitudes of the speaker.

Hokkien dialects preserve certain grammatical reflexes and patterns reminiscent of the broad stage of Archaic Chinese. This includes the serialization of verb phrases (direct linkage of verbs and verb phrases) and the infrequency of nominalization, both similar to Archaic Chinese grammar.[16]

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
You-go-buy-have watch-no (Gloss)
"Did you go to buy a watch?"

Choice of grammatical function words also varies significantly among the Hokkien dialects. For instance, 乞 khit (denoting the causative, passive or dative) is retained in Jinjiang (also unique to the Jinjiang dialect is 度 thoo) and in Jieyang, but not in Longxi and Xiamen, whose dialects use 互 (hoo) instead.[17]


Hokkien dialects differ in their preferred choice of pronouns. For instance, while the second person pronoun (你) is standard in Taiwanese Hokkien, the Teochew loanword (汝) is more common among Hokkien-speaking communities in Southeast Asia. The plural personal pronouns tend to be nasalized forms of the singular ones. Personal pronouns found in the Hokkien dialects are listed below:

Person Singular Plural
First person
1, 3gún, góan

2, 3 or 俺
lán or án

Second person


lín lâng
Third person

i lâng
1 Inclusive
2 Exclusive
3 儂 (-lâng) is typically suffixed in Southeast Asian Hokkien dialects

Possessive pronouns are marked by the particle ê (的), or its literary version chi (之). Plural pronouns are typically unmarked (the nasalized final serves as the possessive indicator):[18]

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"My husband's surname is Tan."

Reflexive pronouns are made by appending the pronouns ka-kī, ka-tī (家己) or chū-kí (自己).

Hokkien dialects use a variety of differing demonstrative pronouns, which are as follows:

  • this - che (這, 即), chit-ê (這個, 即個)
  • that - he (許, 彼), hit-ê (彼個)
  • here - chia (者), hia/hiâ (遮, 遐), chit-tau 這兜)
  • there - hia (許, 遐), hit-tau (彼兜)

The interrogative pronouns are:

  • what - siáⁿ-mih (啥物), sīm-mi̍h (甚麼)
  • when - tī-sî (底時), kī-sî (幾時), tang-sî (當時), sīm-mi̍h-sî-chūn (甚麼時陣)
  • where - to-lo̍h (倒落), tó-uī (佗位, 叨位)
  • who - siáⁿ-lâng (啥人) or siáⁿ (啥)
  • why - án-chóaⁿ (按怎), khah (盍)
  • how - án-chóaⁿ (按怎) lû-hô (如何) chóaⁿ-iūⁿ (怎樣)

Copula ("to be")[]

States and qualities are generally expressed using stative verbs that do not require the verb "to be":

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"I am hungry." (lit. I-stomach-hungry)

With noun complements, the verb (是) serves as the verb "to be".

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn festival."

To indicate location, the words (佇) tiàm (踮), teh/leh (咧), which are collectively known as the locatives or sometimes coverbs in Chinese linguistics, are used to express "(to be) at":

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"I am here waiting for you."
Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"He's sleeping at home now."


Hokkien dialects have a variety of negation particles that are prefixed or affixed to the verbs they modify. There are five primary negation particles in Hokkien dialects:

  1. (毋, 呣, 唔)
  2. bē, bōe (袂, 未)
  3. mài (莫, 勿)
  4. (無)
  5. put (不) - literary

Other negative particles include:

  1. biàu (嫑) - a contraction of bô iàu (無要), as in biàu-kín (嫑緊) Template:Citation needed
  2. bàng (甭)
  3. bián (免)
  4. thài (汰)

The particles (毋, 呣, 唔) is general and can negate almost any verb:

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"He cannot read." (lit. he-not-know-word)

The particle mài (莫, 勿), a concatenation of m-ài (毋愛) is used to negate imperative commands:

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p!
"Don't speak!"

The particle (無) indicates the past tense:

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"He did not eat."

The verb 'to have', ū (有) is replaced by (無) when negated (not 無有):

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"He does not have any money."

The particle put (不) is used infrequently, mostly found in literary compounds and phrases:

Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p Template:Ruby-zh-p
"He is truly unfilial."


The majority of Hokkien vocabulary is monosyllabic.[19]Template:Better source Many Hokkien words have cognates in other Chinese varieties. That said, there are also many indigenous words that are unique to Hokkien and are potentially not of Sino-Tibetan origin, while others are shared by all the Min dialects (e.g. 'congee' is 糜 , bôe, , not 粥 zhōu, as in other dialects).

As compared to Standard Chinese (Mandarin), Hokkien dialects prefer to use the monosyllabic form of words, without suffixes. For instance, the Mandarin noun suffix 子 (zi) is not found in Hokkien words, while another noun suffix, 仔 (á) is used in many nouns. Examples are below:

  • 'duck' - 鸭 ah or 鴨仔 ah-á (SC: 鸭子 yāzi)
  • 'color' - 色 sek (SC: 顏色 yán sè)

In other bisyllabic morphemes, the syllables are inverted, as compared to Standard Chinese. Examples include the following:

  • 'guest' - 人客 lâng-kheh (SC: 客人 kèrén)

In other cases, the same word can have different meanings in Hokkien and standard written Chinese. Similarly, depending on the region Hokkien is spoken in, loanwords from local languages (Malay, Tagalog, Burmese, among others), as well as other Chinese dialects (such as Southern Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Teochew), are commonly integrated into the vocabulary of Hokkien dialects.

Literary and colloquial readings[]

The existence of literary and colloquial readings is a prominent feature of some Hokkien dialects and indeed in many Sinitic varieties in the south. The bulk of literary readings (Template:Lang, bûn-tha̍k), based on pronunciations of the vernacular during the Tang Dynasty, are mainly used in formal phrases and written language (e.g. philosophical concepts, surnames, and some place names), while the colloquial (or vernacular) ones (Template:Lang, pe̍h-tha̍k) are basically used in spoken language and vulgar phrases. Literary readings are more similar to the pronunciations of the Tang standard of Middle Chinese than their colloquial equivalents.

However, some dialects of Hokkien, such as Penang Hokkien as well as Philippine Hokkien overwhelmingly favor colloquial readings. For example, in both Penang Hokkien and Philippine Hokkien, the characters for 'university,' 大學, are pronounced tōa-o̍h (colloquial readings for both characters), instead of the literary reading tāi-ha̍k, which is common in Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese dialects.

The pronounced divergence between literary and colloquial pronunciations found in Hokkien dialects is attributed to the presence of several strata in the Min lexicon. The earliest, colloquial stratum is traced to the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE); the second colloquial one comes from the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 589 CE); the third stratum of pronunciations (typically literary ones) comes from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) and is based on the prestige dialect of Chang'an (modern day Xi'an), its capital.[20]

Some commonly seen sound correspondences (colloquial → literary) are as follows:

  • p- ([p-], [pʰ-]) → h ([h-])
  • ch-, chh- ([ts-], [tsʰ-], [tɕ-], [tɕʰ-]) → s ([s-], [ɕ-])
  • k-, kh- ([k-], [kʰ-]) → ch ([tɕ-], [tɕʰ-])
  • -ⁿ ([-ã], [-uã]) → n ([-an])
  • -h ([-ʔ]) → t ([-t])
  • i ([-i]) → e ([-e])
  • e ([-e]) → a ([-a])
  • ia ([-ia]) → i ([-i])

This table displays some widely used characters in Hokkien that have both literary and colloquial readings:[21][22]


This feature extends to Chinese numerals, which have both literary and colloquial readings.[22] Literary readings are typically used when the numerals are read out loud (e.g. phone numbers), while colloquial readings are used for counting items.

Numeral Reading Numeral Reading
Literary Colloquial Literary Colloquial
it chi̍t lio̍k la̍k
jī, lī chhit
sam saⁿ pat peh, poeh
sù, sìr kiú káu
ngó si̍p cha̍p

Semantic differences between Hokkien and Mandarin[]

Quite a few words from the variety of Old Chinese spoken in the state of Wu (where the ancestral language of Min and Wu dialect families originated and which was likely influenced by the Chinese spoken in the state of Chu which itself was not founded by Chinese speakers),Template:Citation needed and later words from Middle Chinese as well, have retained the original meanings in Hokkien, while many of their counterparts in Mandarin Chinese have either fallen out of daily use, have been substituted with other words (some of which are borrowed from other languages while others are new developments), or have developed newer meanings. The same may be said of Hokkien as well, since some lexical meaning evolved in step with Mandarin while others are wholly innovative developments.

This table shows some Hokkien dialect words from Classical Chinese, as contrasted to the written Chinese standard, Mandarin:

Meaning Hokkien Mandarin
Hanji POJ Hanzi Pinyin
eye Template:Lang ba̍k-chiu Template:Lang yǎnjīng
chopstick Template:Lang tī, tū Template:Lang kuàizi
to chase Template:Lang jiok, lip Template:Lang zhuī
wet Template:Lang jūn, lūn Template:Lang shī
black Template:Lang Template:Lang hēi
book Template:Lang chheh Template:Lang shū

For other words, the classical Chinese meanings of certain words, which are retained in Hokkien dialects, have evolved or deviated significantly in other Chinese dialects. The following table shows some words that are both used in both Hokkien dialects and Mandarin Chinese, while the meanings in Mandarin Chinese have been modified:

Word Hokkien Mandarin
POJ Meaning
(and Classical Chinese)
Pinyin Meaning
Template:Lang cháu to flee zǒu to walk
Template:Lang sè, sòe tiny, small, young thin, slender
Template:Lang tiáⁿ pot dǐng tripod
Template:Lang chia̍h to eat shí food
Template:Lang kôan tall, high xuán to hang, to suspend
Template:Lang chhuì mouth huì beak

Words from Minyue[]

Some commonly used words, shared by allTemplate:Citation neededTemplate:Dubious Min Chinese dialects, came from the ancient Minyue languages. Jerry Norman suggested that these languages were Austroasiatic. Some terms are thought be cognates with words in Tai Kadai and Austronesian languages. They include the following examples, compared to the Fuzhou dialect, a Min Dong language:

Word Hokkien POJ Foochow Romanized Meaning
Template:Lang kha Template:IPA Template:IPA foot and leg
Template:Lang kiáⁿ Template:IPA giāng Template:IPA son, child, whelp, a small amount
Template:Lang khùn Template:IPA káung Template:IPA to sleep
Template:Lang phiaⁿ Template:IPA piăng Template:IPA back, dorsum
Template:Lang chhù Template:IPA chuó, chió Template:IPA home, house
Template:Lang thâi Template:IPA tài Template:IPA to kill, to slaughter
(Template:Lang) bah, mah meat
Template:Lang suí beautiful


Loanwords are not unusual among Hokkien dialects, as speakers readily adopted indigenous terms of the languages they came in contact with. As a result, there is a plethora of loanwords that are not mutually comprehensible among Hokkien dialects.

Taiwanese Hokkien, as a result of linguistic contact with Japanese[23] and Formosan languages, contains many loanwords from these languages. Many words have also been formed as calques from Mandarin, and speakers will often directly use Mandarin vocabulary through codeswitching. Among these include the following examples:

  • 'toilet' - piān-só͘ (Template:Linktext) from Japanese Template:Nihongo4
    Other Hokkien variants: 屎礐 (sái-ha̍k), 廁所 (chhek-só͘)
  • 'car' - chū-tōng-chhia (Template:Linktext) from Japanese Template:Nihongo4
    Other Hokkien variants: 風車 (hong-chhia), 汽車 (khì-chhia)
  • 'to admire' - kám-sim (Template:Linktext) from Japanese Template:Nihongo4
    Other Hokkien variants: 感動 (kám-tōng)
  • 'fruit' - chúi-ké / chúi-kóe / chúi-kér (水果) from Mandarin (Template:Zh)
    Other Hokkien variants: 果子 (ké-chí / kóe-chí / kér-chí)

Singaporean Hokkien, Penang Hokkien and other Malaysian Hokkien dialects tend to draw loanwords from Malay, English as well as other Chinese dialects, primarily Teochew. Examples include:

  • 'but' - tapi, from Malay
    Other Hokkien variants: 但是 (tān-sī
  • 'doctor' - 老君 lu-gun, from Malay dukun
    Other Hokkien variants: 醫生(i-sing)
  • 'stone/rock' - batu, from Malay batu
    Other Hokkien variants: 石头(tsio-tau)
  • 'market' - 巴剎 pa-sat, from Malay pasar from Persian bazaar (بازار)[24]
    Other Hokkien variants: 市場 (chhī-tiûⁿ)
  • 'they' - 伊儂 i lâng from Teochew (i1 nang5)
    Other Hokkien variants: 𪜶 (in)
  • 'together' - 做瓠 chò-bú from Teochew 做瓠 (jo3 bu5)
    Other Hokkien variants: 做夥 (chò-hóe), 同齊 (tâng-chê) or 鬥陣 (tàu-tīn)
  • 茶箍 (Sap-bûn) from Malay sabun from Arabic ṣābūn (صابون).[24][25][26]

Philippine Hokkien dialects, as a result of centuries-old contact with both Philippine language and Spanish also incorporate words from these languages. Examples include:

  • 'cup' - ba-su, from Spanish vaso and Tagalog baso
    Other Hokkien variants: 杯子 (poe-á)
  • 'office' - o-pi-sin, from Spanish oficina and Tagalog opisina
    Other Hokkien variants: 辦公室 (pān-kong-sek)
  • 'soap' - sa-bun, from Spanish jabon and Tagalog sabon
    Other Hokkien variants:
  • 'but' - ka-so, from Tagalog kaso
    Other Hokkien variants: 但是 (tan-si)

Standard Hokkien[]

Hokkien originated from Quanzhou.[27]Template:Better source After the Opium War in 1842, Xiamen (Amoy) became one of the major treaty ports to be opened for trade with the outside world. From mid-19th century onwards, Xiamen slowly developed to become the political and economical center of the Hokkien-speaking region in China. This caused Amoy dialect to gradually replace the position of dialect variants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. From mid-19th century until the end of World War II, Template:Citation needed western diplomats usually learned Amoy as the preferred dialect if they were to communicate with the Hokkien-speaking populace in China or South-East Asia. In the 1940s and 1950s, TaiwanTemplate:Who also held Amoy Hokkien as its standard and tended to incline towards Amoy dialect.

However, from the 1980s onwards, the development of Hokkien pop music and media industry in Taiwan caused the Hokkien cultural hub to shift from Xiamen to Taiwan.Template:Citation needed The flourishing Hokkien entertainment and media industry from Taiwan in the 1990s and early 21st century led Taiwan to emerge as the new significant cultural hub for Hokkien.

In the 1990s, marked by the liberalization of language development and mother tongue movement in Taiwan, Taiwanese Hokkien had undergone a fast pace in its development. In 1993, Taiwan became the first region in the world to implement the teaching of Taiwanese Hokkien in Taiwanese schools. In 2001, the local Taiwanese language program was further extended to all schools in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Hokkien became one of the compulsory local Taiwanese languages to be learned in schools.[28] The mother tongue movement in Taiwan even influenced Xiamen (Amoy) to the point that in 2010, Xiamen also began to implement the teaching of Hokkien dialect in its schools.[29] In 2007, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan also completed the standardization of Chinese characters used for writing Hokkien and developed Tai-lo as the standard Hokkien pronunciation and romanization guide. A number of universities in Taiwan also offer Taiwanese degree courses for training Hokkien-fluent talents to work for the Hokkien media industry and education. Taiwan also has its own Hokkien literary and cultural circles whereby Hokkien poets and writers compose poetry or literature in Hokkien.

Thus by the 21st century, Taiwan has truly emerged as one of the most significant Hokkien cultural hubs of the world. The historical changes and development in Taiwan had led Taiwanese Hokkien to become the more influential pole of the Hokkien dialect after mid-20th century. Today, Taiwanese prestige dialect (Taiyu Youshiqiang/Tongxinqiang 台語優勢腔/通行腔), which is based on Tainan variant and heard on Taiwanese Hokkien media.

Writing systems[]

Template:Main article Template:Further information

Chinese script[]

Hokkien dialects are typically written using Chinese characters (漢字, Hàn-jī). However, the written script was and remains adapted to the literary form, which is based on classical Chinese, not the vernacular and spoken form. Furthermore, the character inventory used for Mandarin (standard written Chinese) does not correspond to Hokkien words, and there are a large number of informal characters (替字, thè-jī or thòe-jī; 'substitute characters') which are unique to Hokkien (as is the case with Cantonese). For instance, about 20 to 25% of Taiwanese morphemes lack an appropriate or standard Chinese character.[21]

While most Hokkien morphemes have standard designated characters, they are not always etymological or phono-semantic. Similar-sounding, similar-meaning or rare characters are commonly borrowed or substituted to represent a particular morpheme. Examples include "beautiful" (美 is the literary form), whose vernacular morpheme suí is represented by characters like 媠 (an obsolete character), 婎 (a vernacular reading of this character) and even 水 (transliteration of the sound suí), or "tall" (高 ko is the literary form), whose morpheme kôan is 懸.[30] Common grammatical particles are not exempt; the negation particle (not) is variously represented by 毋, 呣 or 唔, among others. In other cases, characters are invented to represent a particular morpheme (a common example is the character 𪜶 in, which represents the personal pronoun "they"). In addition, some characters have multiple and unrelated pronunciations, adapted to represent Hokkien words. For example, the Hokkien word bah ("meat") has been reduced to the character 肉, which has etymologically unrelated colloquial and literary readings (he̍k and jio̍k, respectively).Template:Sfnp[31] Another case is the word 'to eat,' chia̍h, which is often transcribed in Taiwanese newspapers and media as 呷 (a Mandarin transliteration, xiā, to approximate the Hokkien term), even though its recommended character in dictionaries is 食.[32]

Moreover, unlike Cantonese, Hokkien does not have a universally accepted standardized character set. Thus, there is some variation in the characters used to express certain words and characters can be ambiguous in meaning. In 2007, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China formulated and released a standard character set to overcome these difficulties.[33] These standard Chinese characters for writing Taiwanese Hokkien are now taught in schools in Taiwan.

Latin script[]

Hokkien, especially Taiwanese Hokkien, is sometimes written in the Latin script using one of several alphabets. Of these the most popular is POJ, developed first by Presbyterian missionaries in China and later by the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Use of this script and orthography has been actively promoted since the late 19th century. The use of a mixed script of Han characters and Latin letters is also seen, though remains uncommon. Other Latin-based alphabets also exist.

Min Nan texts, all Hokkien, can be dated back to the 16th century. One example is the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua china, presumably written after 1587 by the Spanish Dominicans in the Philippines. Another is a Ming Dynasty script of a play called Tale of the Lychee Mirror (1566), supposedly the earliest Southern Min colloquial text, although it is written in Teochew dialect.

Taiwan has developed a Latin alphabet for Taiwanese Hokkien, derived from POJ, known as Tai-lo. Since 2006, it has been officially promoted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education and taught in Taiwanese schools. Xiamen University has also developed an alphabet based on Pinyin called Bbánlám pìngyīm.


File:亻因 (in).png

The character for the third person pronoun (they) in some Hokkien dialects, 𪜶 (in), is now supported by the Unicode Standard at U+2A736.

Hokkien is registered as "Southern Min" per RFC 3066 as zh-min-nan.[34]

When writing Hokkien in Chinese characters, some writers create 'new' characters when they consider it impossible to use directly or borrow existing ones; this corresponds to similar practices in character usage in Cantonese, Vietnamese chữ nôm, Korean hanja and Japanese kanji. Some of these are not encoded in Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), thus creating problems in computer processing.

All Latin characters required by Pe̍h-ōe-jī can be represented using Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), using precomposed or combining (diacritics) characters. Prior to June 2004, the vowel akin to but more open than o, written with a dot above right, was not encoded. The usual workaround was to use the (stand-alone; spacing) character Interpunct (U+00B7, ·) or less commonly the combining character dot above (U+0307). As these are far from ideal, since 1997 proposals have been submitted to the ISO/IEC working group in charge of ISO/IEC 10646—namely, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2—to encode a new combining character dot above right. This is now officially assigned to U+0358 (see documents N1593, N2507, N2628, N2699, and N2713). Font support is expected to follow.

Cultural and political role[]

Hokkien (or Min Nan) can trace its roots through the Tang Dynasty and also even further to the people of the Baiyue, the indigenous non-Han people of modern-day southern China.[35] Min Nan (Hokkien) people call themselves "Tang people," (Template:Zh) 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 Min Nan pronunciations of words shared by the Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese languages.

In 2002, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a party with about 10% of the Legislative Yuan seats at the time, suggested making Taiwanese a second official language.[36] This proposal encountered strong opposition not only from Mainlander groups but also from Hakka and Taiwanese aboriginal groups who felt that it would slight their home languages, as well as others including Hoklo who objected to the proposal on logistical grounds and on the grounds that it would increase ethnic tensions. Because of these objections, support for this measure was lukewarm among moderate Taiwan independence supporters, and the proposal did not pass.

English Chinese characters Mandarin Chinese Taiwanese Hokkien[37] Korean Vietnamese Japanese
Book Chheh Chaek Tập/Sách Saku/Satsu/Shaku
Bridge Qiáo Kiô Kyo Cầu/Kiều Kyō
Dangerous 危險 Wēixiǎn Guî-hiám Wiheom Nguy hiểm Kiken
Flag Ki Cờ/Kỳ Ki
Insurance 保險 Bǎoxiǎn Pó-hiám Boheom Bảo hiểm Hoken
News 新聞 Xīnwén Sin-bûn Shinmun Tân Văn Shinbun
Student 學生 Xuéshēng Ha̍k-seng Haksaeng Học sinh Gakusei
University 大學 Dàxué Tāi-ha̍k (Tōa-o̍h) Daehak Đại học Daigaku

Nobody knows what Hokkien is in Fujian province[]

Khir Johari:

In all my China travels, Fujian has a special place in my heart. It is after all, the ancestral home of so many Chinese Singaporeans, and the fabric of Fujian (or Hokkien) is interwoven into Nusantara’s heritage. Having explored southern and western Fujian on the Tan Kah Kee family legacy trip in 2013, this time round, I set off to explore northern and eastern Fujian, to complete my picture of the province.

“Do you speak Hokkien?” You can ask that, but no one in Fujian (or Hokkien) province will be able to answer you. Instead, you will get puzzled looks, for there is no such thing as a “Hokkien” dialect in Hokkien province. If you are in the capital of Fujian, Fuzhou, they speak the Fuzhou dialect (variously referred to also as “Hockchew” or the Min-dong dialect). So almost no one in the capital of Fujian speaks Hokkien.

If you are in Putien, they speak Hinghua. If you are in Wuyishan, the renown scenic mountain area, they speak the Min-bei dialect. And if you are in Xiamen (Amoy) or vicinity, where so many Singaporeans of Hokkien descent come from, no one there will understand what you mean either if you ask them if they speak Hokkien. They will inform you they speak the Min-nan dialect, and what on earth is Hokkien? In fact, they will answer you that in flawless Hokkien!

You would probably have detected the repetition of the word “Min” above. And indeed, “Min” is the defining term in Fujian’s geography and history. The Min River bisects the province, separating its western and southern half, from its northern and eastern half. The river also acts as the compass of Fujian’s linguistic geography.

To the north of the Min River, one speaks Min-bei hua, or the dialect north of the river Min. Along the eastern reaches of the river, such as at the Fujian capital, Fuzhou, one speaks Min-dong hua, or the dialect to the East of the river Min. South of the river Min, one speaks Min-nan hua, or the dialect to the south of the River Min.

Interestingly, in most of the lands of Min-xi (West of the River Min), one does not speak a dialect that is a member of the Min group of dialects. Rather the lingo of Min-xi is a separate Chinese dialect group, Hakka.

In an early court document, Fujian is referred to as the “Land of the seven Mins”.

Just as not all dialects in Fujian are part of the Min group of dialects, so the Min dialects themselves have spread beyond Fujian. Thus, Teochew in Guangdong province is a Min dialect, and so is Hainanese. In fact, not only are these Min dialects, they are actually Min-nan sub dialects i.e. Teochew and Hainanese are derivatives of “Hokkien” (although some Teochews I know won’t be too pleased to hear this! 😉 Lim Chey Cheng, Susan Sim, Lee Yong Lek ). So in many ways, "Hokkien” is closer to Hainanese, two provinces away, than it is to the Fuzhou dialect, 3 hours distant by road!

The Chinese character for Min is itself revealing. This ideogram 閩 shows a door with a worm inside. And indeed that probably summed up the northern Han Chinese view of this subtropical land, a poor country infested with vermin and disease.

Prior to northern Han Chinese colonization, the Min lands were inhabited by a people whom the Chinese called the Bai Yue (or the hundred Yue tribes), peoples who might have spoken different languages similar to the Austroasiatic languages spoken in Vietnam, the Tai Kradai languages spoken in Thailand and Laos, and the Austronesian languages spoken in Taiwan and Nusantara.

So whither Hokkien? Well, since most of the people who came to Malaya from Fujian/Hokkien province came from the Min-nan lands of Xiamen, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, their language for simplicity was called Hokkien.

The minority who came from other part of Fujian are referred to by their specific local dialects in Malaya. Thus, isn’t it ironical that the people who live in the capital of Hokkien don’t speak “Hokkien”? And it is the folks in the southern reaches of the province who speak a dialect whose name suggests the entire province?

This type of naming is actually not unique to “Hokkien” in Malaya. Thus, we call the dialect spoken in the western half of Guangdong province “Cantonese”, or the Guangdong language. But Guangdong itself has three distinct dialect groups. There is the Guangzhou dialect in the west (“Cantonese”), the Hakka dialect in the Northeast, and the Teochew dialect in the southeast. But from the Malayan perspective, the dialect of the western half of the province speaks for the entire province.

Where you sit is where you stand. Or should I say that where you sit is what you say you speak. This was brought home during my trip last year to Chengdu in Sichuan province. There was a dialect group the Sichuanese kept referring to as “Cantonese” ( 廣东话 ), or sometimes as “Old Cantonese”, or “Folk Cantonese”. Upon investigation, it turns not to be the “Cantonese” of Malaya, but Hakka!

The reason is simple. Most of the people who migrated from Guangdong province to Sichuan were Hakka. So Hakka became “Cantonese” in Sichuan. Most of the people who migrated from Guangdong province to Malaya are from western Guangdong province. So their dialect became “Cantonese” in Malaya. Where you sit is what you say you speak.

Back to “Hokkien”. So please don’t ask anyone whether they speak Hokkien when you are in Xiamen. Ask if they speak Min-nan dialect. And in Taiwan, ask if they speak “Taiwanese”!

  • Image of Fujian province by sub-dialect groups below taken from

See also[]





  1. Template:Cite book
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  7. Template:Cite journal
  8. Template:Cite book
  9. Template:Cite book
  10. for Teochew Peng'Im on the word 'two', ri6 can also be written as dzi6.
  11. Template:Cite web
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  14. Template:Cite web
  15. Template:Cite journal
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  19. Template:Cite journal
  20. Template:Cite journal
  21. 21.0 21.1 Template:Cite web
  22. 22.0 22.1 Template:Cite web
  23. Template:Cite web
  24. 24.0 24.1 Template:Cite book
  26. Template:Cite book
  28. Template:Cite web
  29. 有感于厦门学校“闽南语教学进课堂”_博客臧_新浪博客
  30. Template:Cite web
  31. Template:Cite dictionary
  32. Template:Cite journal
  33. Template:Cite web
  34. Template:Cite web
  35. Template:Citation
  36. Template:Cite news
  37. Template:Cite web

Further reading[]

  • Template:Cite book
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  • Template:Cite book An analysis and facsimile of the Arte de la Lengua Chio-chiu (1620), the oldest extant grammar of Hokkien.

External links[]

  • Template:Cite book A playscript from the late 16th century.
  • Template:Cite book Hokkien translation of the Doctrina Christiana.
  • Template:Cite book A manual for learning Hokkien written by a Spanish missionary in the Philippines.
  • Template:Cite book The oldest known rhyme dictionary of a Zhangzhou dialect.
  • Template:Cite book
  • Template:Cite book
  • 當代泉州音字彙, a dictionary of Quanzhou speech
  • Voyager - Spacecraft - Golden Record - Greetings From Earth - Amoy, includes translation and sound clip
    (The voyager clip says: Template:Lang 太空朋友,恁好。恁食飽未?有閒著來阮遮坐哦!)