Teochew Dialect
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Teochew Dialect
Native toChaozhou, Singapore, Malaysia
RegionEastern Guangdong (Chaozhou), Southern Fujian (Zhao'an)
EthnicityTeochew people
Language codes
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Teochew dialect
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Teochew (Chinese: ; pinyin: Cháozh?uhuà, Chinese: ; pinyin: Cháoshànhuà, Chinese: ; pinyin: Cháoy?,[1] Chaozhou dialect: Diê?ziu¹ uê?, Shantou dialect: Dio?ziu¹ uê?) is a dialect of Chaoshan Min, a Southern Min language, that is spoken by the Teochew people in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong and by their diaspora around the world. It is sometimes referred to as Chiuchow, its Cantonese rendering, due to the English romanisation by colonial officials and explorers. It is closely related to some dialects of Hokkien, as it shares some cognates and phonology with Hokkien, although the two are not largely mutually intelligible[].

Teochew preserves many Old Chinese pronunciations and vocabulary that have been lost in some of the other modern varieties of Chinese. As such, Teochew is described as one of the most conservative Chinese languages.[2]

Languages in contact

This refers to Chaozhou, the variant of Southern Min (Min Nan) spoken in China.


Teochew children are introduced to Standard Chinese as early as in kindergarten; however, Teochew language remains the primary medium of instruction. In the early years of primary education, Mandarin becomes the sole language of instruction, but students typically continue to speak to one another in Teochew. Mandarin is widely understood, however minimally, by most younger Teochew speakers, but the elderly usually do not speak Mandarin since teaching used to be done in the local vernacular.

Chaozhou accent in Mandarin

Native Teochew-speakers find the neutral tone in Mandarin the most difficult tone to master. Teochew has lost the alveolar nasal ending [-n] and so Teochew-speakers often replace it with the velar nasal [-?] when they speak Mandarin. The southern Min dialects all have no front rounded vowel and so a typical Teochew accent supplants the unrounded counterpart [i] for [y]. Teochew, like its ancient ancestor, lacks labio-dentals and so its speakers use [h] or [hu] instead of [f] when they speak Mandarin. Teochew has no retroflex consonants in its northern dialects and so [ts], [ts?], [s], and [z] replace [t?], [t], [?] and [?] in the Teochew accent in Mandarin.[original research?]


Since Chao'an, Raoping, and Jieyang border the Hakka-speaking region in the north, some people there speak Hakka but they can usually speak Teochew as well. Teochew people have historically had a great deal of contact with the Hakka people, but Hakka has had little, if any, influence on Teochew. Similarly, in Dabu and Fengshun, where the Teochew- and the Hakka-speaking regions meet, Teochew is also spoken, but Hakka remains the primary form of Chinese spoken there.


Because of the strong influence of Hong Kong soap operas, Guangdong provincial television programs and Cantonese pop songs, many young Chaoshan peoples can understand quite a lot of Cantonese even if they cannot speak it with much fluency.[]

Hmong-Mien languages

In the mountainous area of Fenghuang (), the She language, an endangered Hmong-Mien language, is spoken by the She people, who are an officially recognised non-Han ethnic minority. They predominantly speak Hakka (Shehua) and Teochew; only about 1,000 She still speak their eponymous language.

Phonetics and phonology


Teochew, like other Southern Min varieties, is one of the few modern Sinitic languages which have voiced obstruents (stops, fricatives and affricates); however, unlike Wu and Xiang Chinese, the Teochew voiced stops and fricatives did not evolve from Middle Chinese voiced obstruents, but from nasals. The voiced stops [b] and [?] and also [l] are voicelessly prenasalised [b], [], [], respectively. They are in complementary distribution with the tenuis stops [p t k], occurring before nasal vowels and nasal codas, whereas the tenuis stops occur before oral vowels and stop codas. The voiced affricate dz, initial in such words as ? (dzi?), ? (dzi), ? (dzia), ? (dziak?) loses its affricate property with some younger speakers abroad, and is relaxed to [z].

Southern Min dialects and varieties are typified by a lack of labiodentals, as illustrated below:

Teochew consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
(no frictions)
nasal m ?

b ?

n ?

l ?/?

? ?

g ?/?

plosive or lateral
Voiceless stops aspirated p? ? t? ? k? ?
plain p ? t ? k ? ?
Voiceless affricates aspirated ts? ?/?
plain ts ?/?/?
(af)fricative s ?/? h ?/?
(d)z ?/?


Syllables in Teochew contain an onset consonant, a medial glide, a nucleus, usually in the form of a vowel, but can also be occupied by a syllabic consonant like [?], and a final consonant. All the elements of the syllable except for the nucleus are optional, which means a vowel or a syllabic consonant alone can stand as a fully-fledged syllable.


All the consonants except for the glottal stop ? shown in the consonants chart above can act as the onset of a syllable; however, the onset position is not obligatorily occupied.


Teochew finals consist maximally of a medial, nucleus and coda. The medial can be i or u, the nucleus can be a monophthong or diphthong, and the coda can be a nasal or a stop. A syllable must consist minimally of a vowel nucleus or syllabic nasal.

Nucleus -a- -e?- -o?- -?- -i- -u- -ai- -au- -oi- -ou- -ui- -iu- ?-
Medial ?- i- u- ?- u- ?- i- ?- ?- ?- ?- u- ?- ?- ?- i- ?- ?-
Coda -? a ia ua e ue o io ? i u ai uai au ou iou ui iu
- ã ? ? ã? ?ã? ã? õ? õ?
-? a? ia? ua? e? ue? o? io? i? au? oi?
-m am iam uam im m?
-? a? ia? ua? e? o? io? i? u?
-p ap iap uap ip
-k ak iak uak ek ok iok ?k ik uk


Citation tones

Teochew, like other Chinese varieties, is a tonal language. It has a set of eight distinct sounds, but only six of them are considered unique tones. This discrepancy occurs because two of the eight sounds are reduced to stopped syllables, despite already sharing the same pitch as the six main tones. Additionally, depending on the position of a word in a phrase, the tones can change and adopt extensive tone sandhi.

Teochew tones
Tone name Pitch
Description Sandhi
1 yin level () ? (3) mid 1
2 yin rising () (52) falling 6
3 yin departing () (213) low rising 2 or 5
4 yin entering () (2) low checked 8
5 yang level () ? (5) high 7
6 yang rising () (35) high rising 7
7 yang departing () ? (1) low 7
8 yang entering () (4) high checked 4

As with sandhi in other Min Nan dialects, the checked tones interchange. The yang tones all become low. Sandhi is not accounted for in the description below.


The grammar of Teochew is similar to other Min languages, as well as some southern varieties of Chinese, especially with Hakka, Yue and Wu. The sequence 'subject-verb-object' is typical, like Standard Mandarin, although the 'subject-object-verb' form is also possible using particles.



Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns in Teochew, like in other Chinese varieties, do not show case marking, therefore ? [ua] means both I and me and [i?] means they and them. The southern Min dialects, like some northern dialects, have a distinction between an inclusive and exclusive we, meaning that when the addressee is being included, the inclusive pronoun ? [na?] would be used, otherwise ? [?]. No other southern Chinese variety has this distinction.

Personal Pronouns in Teochew
  Singular Plural
1st person ? ua I / me Inclusive ? na we / us
Exclusive ? ua (u / ) we / us
2nd person ? l you ? ni you (plural)
3rd person ? i? he/she/it/him/her i (i? na) they/them
Possessive pronouns

Teochew does not distinguish the possessive pronouns from the possessive adjectives. As a general rule, the possessive pronouns or adjectives are formed by adding the genitive or possessive marker ? [kai5] to their respective personal pronouns, as summarised below:

Possessive Pronouns in Teochew
  Singular Plural
1st person ua kai? my / mine Inclusive na kai? our / ours
Exclusive ua (u / ) kai? ours / ours
2nd person l kai? your / yours ni kai? your / yours (plural)
3rd person i? kai? his / his; her / hers; its / its i (i? na) kai? their / theirs
[pu ts si ua kai?]
The book is mine.

As ? [kai?] is the generic measure word, it may be replaced by other more appropriate classifiers:

[ua tiou? ku]
my skirt
Demonstrative pronouns

Teochew has the typical two-way distinction between the demonstratives, namely the proximals and the distals, as summarised in the following chart:

The Teochew Demonstratives
  Proximal Distal
General Singular [tsi kai?] this [h kai?] that
Plural [tsi ts?o] these [h ts?o] those
Spatial [tsi ko] here [h ko] there
[tsi lai] inside [h lai] inside
[tsi k?au?] outside [h k?au?] outside
Temporal / ? [tsi tsu / t] now; recently / ? [h tsu / t] then
Adverbial [tse s] like this [hia s] like that
Degree [ts?õ] this [h?õ] that
Type [tsia kai?] this kind [hia kai?] that kind
Interrogative pronouns
The Teochew Interrogative Pronouns
who / whom (?)? [ti tia?]
[ti na?]
what [mi? kai]
what (kind of) + noun ? + N [mi?]
which ? + NUM + CL + (N) [ti]
[ti kai]
where [ti ko]
when [tia? si]
how manner [tso ni]
state (?) [tsai s? ?õ]
[mi? s? ?õ]
[si mi? ?õ]
how many ? + CL + N [kui]
+ (CL) + (N) [dzie? tsoi]
how much [dzie? tsoi]
why [tso ni]


Teochew numeral system
Pronunciation Financial Normal Value Notes
li?5 ? ? 0 ? is an informal way to represent zero, but ? is more commonly used, especially in schools.
also ? [kang3]
tsek8 ? ? 1 also ? [tsek8] (original character)
also ? (obsolete)
also [ik4] as the last digit of a 2-or-more-digit number e.g. [dzi6 tsap8 ik4]
or days of a month e.g. [ik4 ho7]
or as an ordinal number e.g. [tõ?6 ik4]
also ?(T) or ?(S) [iou1] when used in phone numbers etc.
no6 ?(T) ? 2 also ? (obsolete)
also ?(T)
also [dzi6] as the last digit of a 2-or-more-digit number e.g. [sã1 tsap8 dzi6]
or days of a month e.g. [dzi6 ho7]
or as an ordinal number e.g. [tõ?6 dzi6].
sã1 ?(T) ? 3 also ? (obsolete)
also ? [sã1].
si3 ? ? 4  
?ou6 ? ? 5  
lak8 ? ? 6  
ts?ik4 ? ? 7  
poi?4 ? ? 8  
kau2 ? ? 9  
tsap8 ? ? 10 Although some people use ?, It is not acceptable because it can be written over into ?.

Note: (T): Traditional characters; (S): Simplified characters.

Ordinal numbers are formed by adding ? [tõ] in front of a cardinal number.


In Teochew passive construction, the agent phrase by somebody always has to be present, and is introduced by either ? [k?oi] (some speakers use [k] or [k?i] instead) or ? [pu], even though it is in fact a zero or indefinite agent as in:

[i? pu na t?ai? tiou?]
S/he was killed (by someone).

While in Mandarin one can have the agent introducer ?; bèi or ?; g?i alone without the agent itself, it is not grammatical to say

* ?
[kai? pue? pu k?a? tiou?]
The cup was broken.
cf. Mandarin ; b?izi g?i d? pòle)

Instead, we have to say:

[kai? pue? pu na k?a? tiou?]
The cup was broken.

Even though this ? [na] is unknown.

The agent phrase [pu na] always comes immediately after the subject, not at the end of the sentence or between the auxiliary and the past participle like in some European languages (e.g. German, Dutch)


Comparative construction with two or more nouns

Teochew uses the construction "X ADJ ? [kue] Y", which is believed to have evolved from the Old Chinese "X ADJ ? (yú) Y" structure[] to express the idea of comparison:

[i? ?ia kue l]
She is more beautiful than you.

Cantonese uses the same construction:

Keoi5 leng3 gwo3 nei5.
She is more beautiful than you.

However, due to modern influences from Mandarin, the Mandarin structure "X ? Y ADJ" has also gained popularity over the years. Therefore, the same sentence can be re-structured and becomes:

[i? pi l ?ia]
She is more beautiful than you.
cf. Mandarin ; t? b? n? piàoliang
Comparative construction with only one noun

The ?- or ?-construction must involve two or more nouns to be compared; an ill-formed sentence will be yielded when only one is being mentioned:

* (?)

Teochew is different from English, where the second noun being compared can be left out ("Tatyana is more beautiful (than Lisa)". In cases like this, the ?-construction must be used instead:

[i1 iou6 ?ia2]
She is more beautiful.

The same holds true for Mandarin and Cantonese in that another structure needs to be used when only one of the nouns being compared is mentioned. Teochew and Mandarin both use a pre-modifier (before the adjective) while Cantonese uses a post-modifier (after the adjective).

  • Mandarin
t? b?jiào piàoliang
  • Cantonese
keoi5 leng3 di1

There are two words which are intrinsically comparative in meaning, i.e. ? [?ã5] "better" and ? [su1] "worse". They can be used alone or in conjunction with the ?-structure:

[tsi2 n?ã2 ku?5 su1 kue3 h?2 n?ã2]
This skirt is not as good as that one.
[ua2 lai6 kai7 tia?6 nau2 ?ã5 i1 kai7 ho?2 tsoi7]
My computer (at home) is far better than his.

Note the use of the adverbial [ho?2 tsoi7] at the end of the sentence to express a higher degree.

Equal construction

In Teochew, the idea of equality is expressed with the word ? [p?5] or [p?5 ?õ7]:

[tsi2 pu?2 ts?1 ka?4 h?2 pu?2 p?5 ta?6]
This book is as heavy as that one.
[i1 no6 na?5 p?5 p?5 ?õ7]
They are the same. (They look the same./They're as good as each other./They're as bad as each other.)
Lit. The two people are the same same way.
Superlative construction

To express the superlative, Teochew uses the adverb ? [sia?5] or [sia?5 te?2]. is usually used with a complimentary connotation.

[tsi2 kõ?1 mue?8 sia?5 te?2 ho2 tsia?8]
This (restaurant) is (absolutely) the most delicious.
[i1 na?5 tui3 ua2 sia?5 ho2]
They treat me best.
Lit. The people treat me very well.


The vocabulary of Teochew shares a lot of similarities with Cantonese because of their continuous contact with each other.[ambiguous] Like Cantonese, Teochew has a great deal of monosyllabic words.[] However, ever since the standardisation of Modern Standard Chinese, Teochew has absorbed a lot of Putonghua vocabulary, which is predominantly polysyllabic. Also, Teochew varieties in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have also borrowed extensively from Malay.

Archaic vocabulary

Teochew and other Southern Min varieties, such as Hokkien, preserve a good deal of Old Chinese vocabulary, such as ? [mak] eye (Chinese: ; pinyin: y?nj?ng, Hokkien ba?k), ? [ta] dry (Chinese: ?; pinyin: g?n, Hokkien ta), and ? [k] hide (cf. Chinese: ?; pinyin: cáng; Hokkien kh?g).


Teochew was romanised by the Provincial Education Department of Guangdong in 1960 to aid linguistic studies and the publication of dictionaries, although Pe?h-?e-j? can also be used because Christian missionaries invented it for the transcription of varieties of Southern Min.


Initial consonants of Teochew, are represented in the Guangdong Romanization system as: B, BH, C, D, G, GH, H, K, L, M, N, NG, P, R, S, T, and Z.


  • B [p] - bag (? north)
  • Bh [b]- bhê (? horse)
  • C [ts?] - cên (? green), c?i (? mouth), ciên (? gun)
  • D [t] - diê (? tide)
  • G [k] - giê (? bridge)
  • GH [g] - gho (? goose)
  • H [h] - hung (? cloud)
  • K [k?] - ke (? to go)
  • L [l] - lag (? six)
  • M [m] - mêng (? bright)
  • N [n] - nang (? person)
  • NG [?] - ngou (? five)
  • P [p?] - peng (? peace)
  • R [(d)z] - riêg/ruah (? hot)
  • S [s] - sên (? to be born)
  • T [t?] - tin (? sky)
  • Z [ts] - ziu (? region/state)



Vowels and vowel combinations in the Teochew dialect include: A, E, Ê, I, O, U, AI, AO, IA, IAO, IO, IU, OI, OU, UA, UAI, UE, and UI.


  • A - ma (? mother)
  • E - de (? chopsticks)
  • Ê - sên (? to be born)
  • I - bhi (? smell/taste)
  • O - to (? peach)
  • U - ghu (? cow)

Many words in Teochew are nasalized. This is represented by the letter "n" in the Guangdong Pengim system.

Example (nasalized):

  • suan (? mountain)
  • cên (? green)


Ending consonants in Teochew include M and NG as well as the stops discussed below.


  • M - iam (? salt)
  • NG - bhuang (? ten thousand)

Teochew retains many consonant stops lost in Mandarin. These stops include a labial stop: "b"; velar stop: "g"; and glottal stop: "h".


  • B - zab (? ten)
  • G - hog (? happiness)
  • H - tih (? iron)

See also


  1. ^ ",". Sin Chew. 2021-01-09.
  2. ^ Yap, Foong Ha; Grunow-Hårsta, Karen; Wrona, Janick, eds. (2011). Nominalization in Asian Languages: Diachronic and typological perspectives. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 11. ISBN 978-9027206770.


  • Beijing da xue Zhongguo yu yan wen xue xi yu yan xue jiao yan shi. (2003). Han yu fang yin zi hui. (Chinese dialectal vocabulary) Beijing: Yu wen chu ban she (, 2003. . ?) ISBN 7-80184-034-8
  • Cai Junming. (1991). Putonghua dui zhao Chaozhou fang yan ci hui. (Chaozhou dialectal vocabulary, contrasted with Mandarin) Hong Kong: T. T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre (, 1991. . ?) ISBN 962-7330-02-7
  • Chappell, Hilary (ed.) (2001). Sinitic grammar : synchronic and diachronic perspectives. Oxford; New York: OUP ISBN 0-19-829977-X
  • Chen, Matthew Y. (2000). Tone Sandhi: patterns across Chinese dialects. Cambridge, England: CUP ISBN 0-521-65272-3
  • DeFrancis, John. (1984). The Chinese language: fact and fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press ISBN 0-8248-1068-6
  • Li, Xin Kui. (1994). Guangdong di fang yan. (Dialects of Guangdong) Guangzhou, China: Guangdong ren min chu ban she (, 1994. . ? ) ISBN 7-218-00960-3
  • Li, Yongming. (1959). Chaozhou fang yan. (Chaozhou dialect) Beijing: Zhonghua. (, 1959. ?. ?)
  • Lin, Lun Lun. (1997). Xin bian Chaozhou yin zi dian. (New Chaozhou pronunciation dictionary) Shantou, China: Shantou da xue chu ban she. (, 1997. ?. ) ISBN 7-81036-189-9
  • Norman, Jerry. [1988] (2002). Chinese. Cambridge, England: CUP ISBN 0-521-29653-6
  • Ramsey, S. Robert (1986). Languages of China. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-06694-9
  • Xu, Huiling (2007). Aspects of Chaoshan grammar: A synchronic description of the Jieyang dialect. Monograph Series Journal of Chinese Linguistics 22
  • Yap, FoongHa; Grunow-Hårsta, Karen; Wrona, Janick (ed.) (2011). "Nominalization in Asian Languages: Diachronic and typological perspectives". Hong Kong Polytechnic University /Oxford University : John Benjamins Publishing Company ISBN 978-9027206770

Further reading

External links

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