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Native to Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China
Region Southeastern China, and in Wenzhou immigrant populations in New York City; Paris; Milan and Prato, Italy
Ethnicity Wenzhounese (Han Chinese)
Native speakers
unknown (4.2 million cited 1987)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
ISO 639-6 qjio (Oujiang)
wzhu (Wenzhou proper)
Glottolog ouji1238[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

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) or Dong'ou (東甌), is the speech of Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang Province, China. Nicknamed the "Devil's Language" for its complexity and difficulty, it is the most divergent division of Wu Chinese, and is sometimes considered a separate language.[citation needed] It features noticeable elements of Min, which borders it to the south. Oujiang is sometimes used as the broad umbrella term, reserving Wenzhou for Wenzhounese proper in sensu stricto.

Wenzhou is not mutually intelligible with other varieties of Wu neighboring it to the north and west, nor with Min Dong to the south or with the official language of China, Mandarin.

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. 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.[3][4]

Wenzhounese speakers have been mistaken to be from Japan and Korea.[5] Wenzhounese speakers who have studied Japanese and Korean note that there are words that sound like Japanese or Korean 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, Minnan, Teochew, and Hakka.


The linguistic mosaic that makes up China is especially diverse in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located. Wenzhou is further divided into many dialects. When people refer to the most standard Wenzhou dialect, it refers to the Wenzhounese spoken by the population of over 1 million people living in Lucheng District which is downtown Wenzhou.[7] Over five million people from more developed areas of Lucheng District, Longwan District, Rui'an, Yueqing and Ouhai District, speak dialects of Wenzhou that are mutually intelligible. People who speak the Wu dialect from Taizhou, a city that borders Wenzhou to the north, cannot comprehend Wenzhounese.

Reputation for eccentricity

Due to its high degree of eccentricity and difficulty for non-locals to understand, the language is reputed to have been used during the Second Sino-Japanese War during wartime communication as Code talkers and in Sino-Vietnamese War for programming military code.[7][8][9] 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" (天不怕,地不怕,就怕温州人说温州话).

Geographic distribution

Wenzhounese is spoken primarily in Wenzhou and the surrounding southern portion of Zhejiang Province of China. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in scattered pockets of Fujian Province in Southeastern China. Overseas, it is spoken in increasingly larger communities in Flushing Chinatown and Brooklyn Chinatown, New York City, USA.[10][11][12] Wenzhounese is the most spoken language of Chinese overseas in Europe, in particular Italy, France and Spain.[citation needed] Compared to Mandarin this variety assumes much more importance among the Chinese immigrant communities in Italy.


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 ɕɔdi

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

Phonetics and phonology


Consonants of Wenzhou dialect
  bilabial labio-dental alveolar alveolo-palatal palatal velar glottal
nasal voiced m   n ȵ   ŋ  
voiceless ʔm   ʔn ʔȵ   ʔŋ  
plosives voiced b   d     ɡ  
voiceless unaspirated p   t     k  
voiceless aspirated        
fricatives voiced   v z       ɦ
voiceless   f s ɕ     h
affricates voiced     dz      
voiceless unaspirated     ts      
voiceless aspirated     tsʰ tɕʰ      
approximants         j    
lateral approximants     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 yin–yang tone split dating from Middle Chinese still corresponds to the voicing of the initial consonant in Wenzhou, and the shang tones are abrupt and end in glottal stop (this has been used as evidence for a similar situation independently posited for Old Chinese).[13] The ru 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).[14]

Tone chart of Wenzhou dialect[15]
Tone number Tone name Tone contour
1 yin ping (陰平) ˧ 3
2 yang ping (陽平) ʱ˧˩ 31
3 yin shang (陰上) ˧˥ʔ 35
4 yang shang (陽上) ʱ˨˦ʔ 24
5 yin qu (陰去) ˦˨ 42
6 yang qu (陽去) ʱ˩ 1
7 yin ru (陰入) ˧˨˧ː 323
8 yang ru (陽入) ʱ˨˩˨ː 212

The shang and ru 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 (shang), HM & L (qu), and dipping (MLM, ru); not only are the ping and qu 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 shang and qu tones reduce to HM (yin qu) before any other tone, and again with one exception, ru tone does not interact with a following tone. Shang and ru tone change a preceding non-ru 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 do change in phrases. For example, "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 that they are independent of vowels or other segments.[16]



Wenzhou has a tonic deictic morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the classifier changes its tone to ru (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)'.[16]


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


鲎hau阴去(彩虹),亦称“挂鲎” 洗面(洗脸) 饺剪(剪刀) 鸡卵(鸡蛋) 桠o阴去(“强与人物也,衣驾切”)(强迫人家吃)如:桠你吃。 金瓜(南瓜) 娒mai阴平(小孩子)(普通话为mei2)


There are a lot of sub-branches of Oujiang group of dialects, some are not very intelligible like Wenzhou city dialect with some Wencheng dialect, but there is no trouble understanding neighbouring dialect or very few, I'll take as example 2 dialects spoken in Li'ao village of Ouhai District, Wenzhou, one dialect is spoken in 白门 (where the local people have 姜 as their surname), the other one is 王宅 (where local people have normally 王 or 黄 as their surname), they are nearly 100% except for few vocabulary, as the word RUBBISH is different in these 2 dialects, in one, the 白门 dialect it is ʔlutsuu, in the other is ʔladʒee (from mandarin 垃圾).


wenzhou ʔjɐi liɛ2 sa1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰɐi tɕɐɯ2 zɐi
ruian ʔja la2 sɔ1 sɨ3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰa tɕɐɯ2 za

(The long vowels transcribe the lengthened ru tone.)

Literature in Wenzhounese

"THE FOUR GOSPELS AND ACTS, IN WENCHOW." was published in 1894 under the title of "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 Wenzhou dialect.[17]

See also


  1. Sinolect.org
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Oujiang". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. http://www.wenzhou.gov.cn/art/2010/12/30/art_9832_155126.html
  4. "《珠三角熱話》". 無綫新聞. 2013-12-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Template:Zh-yue
  5. "What It's Like to Live in China and Speak the 'Devil-Language'". Retrieved 28 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "What It's Like to Live in China and Speak the 'Devil-Language'". Retrieved 28 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 http://baike.baidu.com/view/66242.htm?from_id=3553094&type=syn&fromtitle=温州方言&fr=aladdin#reference-[1]-66242-wrap
  8. http://news.163.com/14/0517/12/9SEQN8RN00014AEE.html
  9. 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
  10. http://books.google.com/books?id=6glk5aF8FQYC&pg=PA103&dq=Little+Fuzhou+in+Brooklyn+Chinatown&hl=en&ei=8P7fTbu1NZOugQfSpunRCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CFEQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Little%20Fuzhou%20in%20Brooklyn%20Chinatown&f=false
  11. "WenZhounese in New York". WenZhounese.info. Retrieved 2010-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Wenzhounese in NYC (Facebook)". Retrieved 2010-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 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
  14. Phil Rose, 2008. "Oujiang Wu tones are acoustic reconstruction", in Morphology and language history: in honour of Harold Koch, p 237
  15. 15.0 15.1 Matthew Chen, 2000. Tone Sandhi: patterns across Chinese dialects, p 476ff.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Zhiming Bao, 1999. The structure of tone, p 119
  17. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Qian Nairong (1992). Dāngdài Wúyǔ yánjiū. (Contemporary Wu linguistics studies). Shànghǎi: shànghǎi jiāoyù chūbǎnshè. (錢乃榮. 1992. 當代吳語研究. 上海敎育出版社) ISBN 7-5320-2355-9