Suzhou dialect

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Suzhou dialect
Native to People's Republic of China
Region Suzhou, Jiangsu province; also in Shanghai
Overseas, in the United States (New York City)
Native speakers
approx. 5-7 million (date missing)[citation needed]
  • Chinese
    • Wu
      • Taihu
        • Suzhou–Shanghai–Jiaxing
          • Suzhou dialect
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6 suji
Linguist list
Glottolog None
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Suzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 苏州; traditional Chinese: 蘇州; pinyin: Sūzhōuhuà; Suzhounese: 蘇州閒話, IPA: [səu˥ʦøʏ˨˩ɦɛ˩˧ɦo˧]), formerly romanized as the Soochow dialect and now also known as Suzhounese, is a branch of Wu Chinese, one of group of Chinese linguistic varieties. Suzhounese is spoken in the city of Suzhou in China's Jiangsu Province and is the traditional prestige dialect of Wu. Considered one of the most flowing and elegant languages of China, even effeminate,[citation needed] it is rich in vowels and conservative in having many initials.


The Suzhou dialect is spoken within the city itself and the surrounding area, including migrants living in nearby Shanghai. There is also an increasing number of Suzhounese speakers in New York City in the United States.[citation needed]

The Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in its satellite cities such as Kunshan, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, as well as those spoken in its former satellites Wuxi and Shanghai. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in other areas of the Wu cultural sphere such as Hangzhou and Ningbo. However, it is not mutually intelligible with modern Mandarin or Cantonese; but, as all public schools and most broadcast communication in Suzhou use Mandarin exclusively, nearly all speakers of the dialect are at least bilingual. Owing to migration within China, many residents of the city cannot speak the local dialect but can usually understand it after a few months or years in the area.[citation needed]


A "ballad–narrative" (說晿詞話) known as "The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao" (薛仁貴跨海征遼故事), which is about the Tang dynasty hero Xue Rengui[1] is believed to been written in the Suzhou dialect.[2]

Plural pronouns

Second- and third-person pronouns are suffixed with [toʔ] for the plural. The first-person plural is a separate root, [ni].[3]


Some non native speakers of Suzhou dialect speak Suzhou dialect in a "stylized variety" to tell tales.[4]



Initials of Suzhou dialect
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolo-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive aspirated
voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
voiceless ts
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Lateral l

Suzhou dialect has a set of voiced initials and exhibits unvoiced unaspirated and aspirated stops, there are unvoiced and voiced fricatives sets. Moreover, palatized initials also feature.


Open Nasal coda Glottal stop coda
Medials Ø j w ɥ Ø j w ɥ Ø j w ɥ
Diphthongs øʏ øʏ        
əu əu      
Monophthongs ə   i u y ən in wən ɥən əʔ jɪʔ~jəʔ wəʔ ɥəʔ
o o jo     joŋ     joʔ    
ɑ ɑ   ɑ̃ jɑ̃ wɑ̃   ɑʔ jɑʔ    
æ æᵄ jæᵄ     ã   jaʔ waʔ  
ɛ ɛ                    
ɪ   ɪ   ʏ                
ø ø                  
Syllabic continuants: [m̩] [n̩] [ŋ̩] [l̩]

Unlike Shanghai, it has no nasalised rhymes, though it does have a set of rhymes that end in a nasal stop. Middle Chinese entering tone characters which end in [p t k] end as a glottal stop [ʔ] in Suzhou. Middle Chinese nasal endings [m] have merged with rhymes that end with [n] in Suzhou. Middle Chinese [ŋ] ending rhymes have split into two types in Suzhou. Those with a high-fronted main vowel merge with [n] ending rhymes. Those with a palatising medial [i] and back main vowel retain the [ŋ] ending.


Suzhou is considered to have seven tones. However, since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant, these constitute just three phonemic tones: ping, shang, and qu. (Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)

Tone chart of Suzhou dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) ˦ (44) high
2 yang ping (陽平) ˨˨˦ (224) level-rising
3 shang (上) ˥˨ (52) high falling
4 yin qu (陰去) ˦˩˨ (412) dipping
5 yang qu (陽去) ˨˧˩ (231) rising-falling
6 yin ru (陰入) ˦ʔ (4) high checked
7 yang ru (陽入) ˨˧ʔ (23) rising checked

In Suzhou, the Middle Chinese Shang tone has partially merged with the modern yin qu tone.


See also


  1. Boudewijn Walraven, Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 341. ISBN 9057891530. Retrieved 2012-03-10. A prosimetrical rendition, entitled Xue Rengui kuahai zheng Liao gushi 薛仁貴跨海征遼故事 (The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao), which shares its opening prose paragraph with the Xue Rengui zheng Liao shilüe, is preserved in a printing of 1471; it is one of the shuochang cihua 說晿詞話 (ballad-narratives<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Boudewijn Walraven, Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 342. ISBN 9057891530. Retrieved 2012-03-10. for telling and singing) which were discovered in the suburbs of Shanghai in 1967. While these shuochang cihua had been printed in modern-day Beijing, their language suggests that they had been composed in the Wu Chinese area of Suzhou and surroundings,<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla (2003). Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla, ed. The Sino-Tibetan languages. Volume 3 of Routledge language family series (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 86. ISBN 0700711295. Retrieved 2012-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. George Melville Bolling, Linguistic Society of America, Bernard Bloch, Project Muse (2000). Language, Volume 76, Issues 1-2. Linguistic Society of America. p. 160. Retrieved 2012-03-10. She also examines a stylized variety of Suzhou Wu as used to tell stories by native speakers of another dialect. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(Original from the University of Michigan)(Digitized Dec 17, 2010)

External links