Wenzhounese / Auish
溫州話 / 温州话
Iu1 ciou1 hhuo2
Native toWenzhou, Zhejiang, China
RegionSoutheastern China, and in Wenzhou immigrant populations in New York City; Paris; Milan and Prato, Italy
EthnicityWenzhounese (Han Chinese)
Native speakers
(4.2 million cited 1987)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
ISO 639-6qjio (Oujiang)
wzhu (Wenzhou proper)
Linguasphere79-AAA-dh (incl.
79-AAA-dhd Wenzhou)
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Wenzhounese (simplified Chinese: 温州话; traditional Chinese: 溫州話; pinyin: wēnzhōuhuà), also known as Oujiang (simplified Chinese: 瓯江话; traditional Chinese: 甌江話; pinyin: ōujiānghuà), Tong Au (simplified Chinese: 东瓯片; traditional Chinese: 東甌片; pinyin: dōng'ōupiàn) or Auish (simplified Chinese: 瓯语; traditional Chinese: 甌語; pinyin: ōuyǔ), is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang, China. Nicknamed the "Devil's Language" for its complexity and difficulty, it is the most divergent division of Wu Chinese, with little to no mutual intelligibility with other Wu dialects or any other variety of Chinese. It features noticeable elements in common with Min Chinese, which is spoken to the south in Fujian. Oujiang is sometimes used as the broader term, and Wenzhou for Wenzhounese proper in a narrow sense.

Due to its long history and the isolation of the region in which it is spoken, Wenzhounese is so unusual in its phonology that it has the reputation of being the least comprehensible dialect for an average Mandarin speaker.[2][3] It preserves a large amount of vocabulary of classical Chinese lost elsewhere, earning itself the nickname "the living fossil", and has distinct grammatical differences from Mandarin.[4][5]

Wenzhounese speakers who have studied Korean and Japanese note that there are words that sound like Korean and/or Japanese but have different meanings.[6]

Wenzhounese is one of five varieties of Chinese other than Standard Mandarin used for broadcasting by China Radio International, alongside Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, and Hakka.



Wenzhounese is part of the Wu group of Chinese dialects, sharing many linguistic features with them.[7][8] These are spoken over the Zhejiang and south Jiangsu provinces.[9] Wenzhounese is seen as a typical representative of southern Wu.[10]

Geographic distribution

Wenzhounese is spoken primarily in Wenzhou and the surrounding southern portion of Zhejiang, China. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in scattered pockets of Fujian in southeastern China. Overseas, it is spoken in increasingly larger communities in the Flushing Chinatown and the Chinatowns in Brooklyn in New York City in the United States.[11][12][13] Wenzhounese is also spoken by some Overseas Chinese communities in Europe, in particular Italy, France, and Spain.[14] It is used more widely among the Chinese people in Italy than Mandarin,[15][16] which is home to about half of the Wenzhounese diaspora in Europe.[citation needed] Over 80% of the Chinese diaspora that are resident in the city of Prato, Tuscany, were born in Zhejiang Province.[17]


Oujiang (Dong'ou) 甌江 (東甌)

The most important difference between eastern Wenzhounese 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 ɕɔdei

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



Consonants of Wenzhou dialect[18]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ȵ ŋ
Plosive voiced b d ɡ
voiceless p t k
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Affricate voiced dz
voiceless ts
aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
Approximant j
Lateral Approximant l


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 yīn–yáng tone split dating from Middle Chinese still corresponds to the voicing of the initial consonant in Wenzhou, and the shǎng tones are abrupt and end in glottal stop (this has been used as evidence for a similar situation independently posited for Old Chinese).[19] The 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 than the other tones (though some speakers may simplify them to low falling or rising tones).[20]

Tone chart of Wenzhou dialect[21]
Tone number Tone name Tone contour
1 yīn píng (陰平) ˧ 3
2 yáng píng (陽平) ʱ˧˩ 31
3 yīn shǎng (陰上) ˧˥ʔ 35
4 yàng shǎng (陽上) ʱ˨˦ʔ 24
5 yīn qù (陰去) ˦˨ 42
6 yáng qù (陽去) ʱ˩ 1
7 yīn rù (陰入) ˧˨˧ː 323
8 yáng rù (陽入) ʱ˨˩˨ː 212

The shǎng and 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 (shǎng), HM & L (qu), and dipping (MLM, ); not only are the píng and pairs obviously distinct phonetically, but they behave as four different tones in the ways they undergo tone sandhi.[clarification needed]

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 shǎng and tones reduce to HM (yīn qù) before any other tone, and again with one exception, the tone does not interact with a following tone. The shǎng and tones change a preceding non- 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 can change in phrases: "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 they are independent of vowels or other segments.[22]



Wenzhou has a tonic deictic morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the classifier changes its tone to (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)'.[22]


Like other Chinese dialects, Wenzhou dialect has mainly SVO language structure, but in some situations it can be 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

Reputation for eccentricity

Wenzhounese is reputed to have been used during the Second Sino-Japanese War during wartime communication via code talkers and in the Sino-Vietnamese War for programming military code.[23][24] There is a common rhymed saying in China that reflects this comprehension difficulty: "Fear not the Heavens, fear not the Earth, but fear the Wenzhou man speaking Wenzhounese" (就怕温州人温州话).


There are several sub-branches of Oujiang dialects, and some are not mutually intelligible to the Wenzhou city dialect and the Wencheng dialect, but neighboring dialects are often mutually intelligible. For example, there are 2 dialects spoken in Li'ao Village in the Ouhai District of Wenzhou: one spoken in Baimen (白門), where the local people have 姜 as their surname, and one spoken in Wangzhai (王宅), where local people have normally 王 or 黄 as their surname. Their dialects are almost fully mutually intelligible except for a few vocabulary. An example would be the word for "garbage" (垃圾), which is /ʔlutsuu/ in the Baimen dialect and /ʔladʒee/ in the Wangzhai dialect.

Numbers in Oujiang Dialects

Wenzhou ʔjɐi liɛ2 sa1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰɐi tɕɐɯ2 zɐi
Rui'an ʔja la2 sɔ1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰa tɕɐɯ2 za

(The long vowels transcribe the lengthened ru tone.)

Literature in Wenzhounese

A translation of part of the New Testament, specifically the four gospels and the book of Acts, was published in 1894 under the title "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 romanized Wenzhou dialect.[25]

See also



  1. ^ Sinolect.org
  2. ^ "温州话到底有多难懂? 连"FBI"都没法破译" . 2015-08-17. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  3. ^ "最难懂十大方言排行榜 温州话排第一东北话垫底" . 2013-12-13. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Culture and demographics" . english.wenzhou.gov.cn. Wenzhou Municipal People's Government. 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  5. ^ "《珠三角熱話》". 無綫新聞. 2013-12-15. (in Yue Chinese)
  6. ^ "What It's Like to Live in China and Speak the 'Devil-Language'" . The Wall Street Journal. 2014-05-23. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  7. ^ Lin, Jingxia (April 2020). "Typological shift in lexicalizing motion events: The case of Wenzhou" . Linguistic Typology. doi:10.1515/lingty-2020-5002 .
  8. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press. p. 199. ISBN 0521228093.
  9. ^ "An Introduction to the Wu Dialects". Journal of Chinese Linguistics Monograph Series. 1991.
  10. ^ Cao, Jianfen; Maddieson, Ian (1992). "An exploration of phonation types in Wu dialects of Chinese". Journal of Phonetics: 82.
  11. ^ Zhao, Xiaojian (2010). The New Chinese America: Class, Economy, and Social Hierarchy . Rutgers University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-8135-4912-5.
  12. ^ "WenZhounese in New York" . WenZhounese.info. Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  13. ^ "Wenzhounese in NYC (Facebook)" . Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  14. ^ Dinh, Hinh T.; Rawski, Thomas G.; Zafar, Ali; Wang, Lihong; Mavroeidi, Eleonora. Tales from the Development Frontier : How China and Other Countries Harness Light Manufacturing to Create Jobs and Prosperity . hdl:10986/15763 .
  15. ^ Paciocco, Adua (4 July 2018). "Performing Chinese Diasporic Identity through Mandarin: The Case of Italian-Schooled Chinese Migrant Youth in Prato (Italy)" . Journal of Language, Identity & Education. 17 (4): 207–221. doi:10.1080/15348458.2018.1437348 . ISSN 1534-8458 .
  16. ^ Deng, Grazia Ting; Xiao, Allen Hai. "Aspiring to Motility: Chinese Petty Entrepreneurs in Italy" (PDF). Transcending Borders: 3–25. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ Denison, Tom; Arunachalam, Dharmalingam; Johanson, Graeme; Smyth, Russell (2007). "The Chinese Community in Prato" . Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ Shen, Kecheng; Shen, Jia (2009). 温州话词语考释 / Wenzhou hua ci yu kao shi. 宁波出版社, Ningbo : Ningbo chu ban she. pp. 758–760.
  19. ^ Tsu-lin Mei, 1970. "Tones and prosody in Middle Chinese and the origin of the rising tone", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 30:86–110
  20. ^ Phil Rose, 2008. "Oujiang Wu tones are acoustic reconstruction", in Morphology and language history: in honour of Harold Koch, p 237
  21. ^ a b Matthew Chen, 2000. Tone Sandhi: patterns across Chinese dialects, p 476ff.
  22. ^ a b Zhiming Bao, 1999. The structure of tone, p 119
  23. ^ "网友总结最难懂方言:温州话让敌军窃听也听不懂_网易新闻" . news.163.com (in Chinese). Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  24. ^ 关于越南战争期间中方使用的密码语言,有一说认为并不是温州话,而是来自温州苍南县(当时仍属平阳县)钱库一带的蛮话,参见 访今寻古之三:扑朔迷离说蛮话 ,苍南广电网 (in Chinese)
  25. ^ Chaò-chî Yi-sû Chī-tuh Sang Iah Sing Shī: Sz̀ fuh-iang tà sź-du ae-djüe fa üe-tsiu t'û . Dà-ìang sing-shï whaỳi yiáng-ge. 1894. p. 564.

General sources

Categories: Languages with ISO6 code | Languages of China | Languages of France | Languages of Italy | Languages of Spain | Wenzhou | Wu Chinese

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