Fuzhou dialect

The Fuzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 福州话; traditional Chinese: 福州話; pinyin: Fúzhōuhuà, FR: Hók-ciŭ-uâ  IPA: [huʔ˨˩ tsiu˥˧ ua˨˦˨]), also Foochow, Hokchew, Hok-chiu, or Fuzhounese, is the prestige variety of the Eastern Min branch of Min Chinese spoken mainly in the Mindong region of Eastern Fujian Province. Like many other varieties of Chinese, the Fuzhou dialect is dominated by monosyllabic morphemes that carry lexical tones,[4] and has a mainly analytic syntax. While the Eastern Min branch it belongs to is relatively closer to Southern Min or Hokkien than to other Sinitic branches such as Mandarin, Wu Chinese or Hakka, they are still not mutually intelligible.

Fuzhou dialect
福州話 / Hók-ciŭ-uâ
福州語 / Hók-ciŭ-ngṳ̄
平話 / Bàng-uâ
Pronunciation[huʔ˨˩ tsju˥˧ uɑ˨˦˨]
Native toChina (Fuzhou and its surrounding counties) and Taiwan (Matsu Islands), Thailand (Chandi and Lamae), Singapore, Malaysia (Sibu, Miri, Sepang, Bintulu, Yong Peng, Sitiawan and Ayer Tawar) and Indonesia (Semarang and Surabaya)
Native speakers
much of the 10 million population of Mindong
  • Sinitic
    • Min
      • Coastal Min
        • Eastern Min
          • Houguan subgroup
            • Fuzhou dialect
Early forms
Old Chinese
  • Eastern Han Chinese
    • Proto-Min
Chinese characters and Foochow Romanized
Official status
Official language in
Matsu Islands, Taiwan (as local language[1])[2]
Recognised minority
language in
one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the Matsu Islands[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6fzho
Fuzhou dialect in Fujian Province, regions where the standard form is spoken are deep blue.
1: Fuzhou City Proper, 2: Minhou, 3: Fuqing, 4: Lianjiang, 5: Pingnan
6: Luoyuan, 7: Gutian, 8: Minqing, 9: Changle, 10: Yongtai, 11: Pingtan
12: Regions in Fuding, 13: Regions in Xiapu, 14: Regions in Ningde
15: Regions in Nanping, 16: Regions in Youxi
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Everyday language
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Centered in Fuzhou City, the Fuzhou dialect covers 11 cities and counties: Fuzhou City Proper, Pingnan, Gutian, Luoyuan, Minqing, Lianjiang, Minhou, Changle, Yongtai, Fuqing, Pingtan and Lienchiang County (Matsu Islands), Taiwan (ROC). It is also the second local language in many northern and middle Fujian cities and counties such as Nanping, Shaowu, Shunchang, Sanming and Youxi.[5]

Fuzhou dialect is also widely spoken in some regions abroad, especially in Southeastern Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The Malaysian city of Sibu is called "New Fuzhou" due to the influx of immigrants there in the late 19th century and early 1900s. Many Fuzhou people have also emigrated to Japan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan in the decades since China's economic reform.


In older works, the variety is called "Foochow dialect", based on the Chinese postal romanization of Fuzhou. In Chinese, it is sometimes called 福州語 (Hók-ciŭ-ngṳ̄; pinyin: Fúzhōuyǔ). Native speakers also call it Bàng-uâ (平話), meaning "the everyday language."

In Malaysia and Singapore, it is often called "Hokchiu" ([hɔk̚˥t͡ɕiu˦]), which is the pronunciation of Fuzhou in the Southern Min Hokkien language or "Huchiu" ([hu˨˩t͡ɕiu˥]), which is the pronunciation of Fuzhou in the Eastern Min language of Fuzhou itself. Eastern Min and Southern Min are both spoken in the same Fujian Province, but the name Hokkien, while etymologically derived from the same characters as Fujian (福建), is used in Southeast Asia and the English press to refer specifically to Southern Min, which has a larger number of speakers both within Fujian and in the Chinese diaspora of Southeast Asia.



The authoritative Foochow rime book Qī Lín Bāyīn

After the Qin Dynasty conquered the Minyue kingdom of Southeast China in 110 BC, Chinese people began settling what is now Fujian Province. The Old Chinese language brought by the mass influx of Chinese immigrants from the Chinese heartland, along with the influences of local languages, became the early Proto-Min language from which Eastern Min, Southern Min, and other Min languages arose.[6] Within this Min branch of Chinese, Eastern Min and Southern Min both form part of a Coastal Min subgroup, and are thus closer to each other than to Inland Min groups such as Northern Min and Central Min.

The famous book Qī Lín Bāyīn, which was compiled in the 17th century, is the first and the most full-scale rime book that provides a systematic guide to character reading for people speaking or learning the Fuzhou dialect. It once served to standardize the language and is still widely quoted as an authoritative reference book in modern academic research in Min Chinese phonology.

Studies by Western missionaries

Dictionary of the Foochow dialect, 3rd Edition, published in 1929

In 1842, Fuzhou was open to Westerners as a treaty port after the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing. But due to the language barrier, however, the first Christian missionary base in this city did not take place without difficulties. In order to convert Fuzhou people, those missionaries found it very necessary to make a careful study of the Fuzhou dialect. Their most notable works are listed below:[7]

  • 1856, M. C. White: The Chinese language spoken at Fuh Chau
  • 1870, R. S. Maclay & C. C. Baldwin: An alphabetic dictionary of the Chinese language in the Foochow dialect
  • 1871, C. C. Baldwin: Manual of the Foochow dialect
  • 1891, T. B. Adam: An English-Chinese Dictionary of the Foochow Dialect
  • 1893, Charles Hartwell: Three Character Classic of Gospel in the Foochow Colloquial
  • 1898, R. S. Maclay & C. C. Baldwin: An Alphabetic Dictionary of the Chinese Language of the Foochow Dialect, 2nd edition
  • 1905, T. B. Adam: An English-Chinese Dictionary of the Foochow Dialect, 2nd edition]
  • 1906, The Foochow translation of the complete Bible
  • 1923, T. B. Adam & L. P. Peet: An English-Chinese dictionary of the Foochow dialect, 2nd edition
  • 1929, R. S. Maclay & C. C. Baldwin (revised and enlarged by S. H. Leger): Dictionary of the Foochow dialect

Studies by Japanese scholars

Japanese-Chinese Translation: Fuzhou Dialect, published in Taipei, 1940. Foochow kana is used to represent Foochow pronunciation.

During the Second World War, some Japanese scholars became passionate about studying Fuzhou dialect, believing that it could be beneficial to the rule of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. One of their most famous works was the Japanese-Chinese Translation: Fuzhou Dialect (日華對譯: 福州語) published in 1940 in Taipei, in which katakana was used to represent Fuzhou pronunciation.

Status quo

Pupils in Gulou Experimental Elementary School (鼓樓實驗小學) in Fuzhou are learning the Foochow nursery rhyme Cĭng-cēu-giāng (真鳥囝)

By the end of the Qing Dynasty, Fuzhou society had been largely monolingual. But for decades the Chinese government has discouraged the use of the vernacular in school education and in media, so the number of Mandarin speakers has been greatly boosted. Recent reports indicate that less than 50% of young people in Fuzhou are able to speak Fuzhou dialect.[8]

In Mainland China, the Fuzhou dialect has been officially listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage[9] and promotion work is being systematically carried out to preserve its use. In Matsu, currently controlled by the Republic of China located in Taiwan, the teaching of Fuzhou dialect has been successfully introduced into elementary schools.


Like all Chinese varieties, the Fuzhou dialect is a tonal language, and has extensive sandhi rules in the initials, rimes, and tones. These complicated rules make Fuzhou dialect one of the most difficult Chinese varieties.[10]


There are seven original tones in Fuzhou dialect, compared with the eight tones of Middle Chinese:

Name Tone contour Description Example five-scale IPA (李1994)[11] five-scale IPA (冯1998)[12]
Dark-level (Ĭng-bìng 陰平) ˥ high level 44 55
Rising tone (Siōng-siăng 上聲) ˧ middle level 31 33
Dark-departing (Ĭng-ké̤ṳ 陰去) ˨˩˧ low falling and rising 213 212
Dark-entering (Ĭng-ĭk 陰入) ˨˦ middle rising stopped 23 24
Light-level (Iòng-bìng 陽平) ˥˧ high falling 53 53
Light-departing (Iòng-ké̤ṳ 陽去) ˨˦˨ middle rising and falling 353 242
Light-entering (Iòng-ĭk 陽入) ˥ high level stopped 5 5

The sample characters are taken from the Qī Lín Bāyīn. An acoustically quantified set of data for the citation tones (and preliminary discussion of the phonology in more modern terms), the reader may consult Donohue (2013).[13] Little discussed in the existing literature, Fuzhou uses a non-modal phonation with certain tones that has been shown to be perceptually relevant for tonal identification (e.g. Donohue (2012)[14]).

In Qī Lín Bāyīn, the Fuzhou dialect is described as having eight tones, which explains how the book got its title (Bāyīn means "eight tones"). That name, however, is somewhat misleading, because Ĭng-siōng (陰上) and Iòng-siōng (陽上) are identical in tone contour; therefore, only seven tones exist.

Ĭng-ĭk and Iòng-ĭk (or so-called entering tone) syllables end with either velar stop [k] or a glottal stop [ʔ]. However, they are both now realized as a glottal stop, though the two phonemes maintain distinct sandhi behavior in connected speech.

Besides those seven tones listed above, two new tonal values, "˨˩" (Buáng-ĭng-ké̤ṳ, 半陰去) and ˧˥ (Buáng-iòng-ké̤ṳ, 半陽去) occur in connected speech (see Tonal sandhi below).

Tonal sandhi

The rules of tonal sandhi in Fuzhou dialect are complicated, even compared with those of other Min dialects. When two or more than two morphemes combine into a word, the tonal value of the last morpheme remains stable but in most cases those of the preceding morphemes change. For example, "", "" and "" are words of Iòng-ĭk (陽入) with the same tonal value ˥, and are pronounced [tuʔ˥], [liʔ˥], and [niʔ˥], respectively. When combined together as the phrase "獨立日" (Independence Day), "" changes its tonal value to ˨˩, and "" changes its to ˧, therefore the pronunciation as a whole is [tuʔ˨˩ liʔ˧ niʔ˥].

The two-syllable tonal sandhi rules are shown in the table below (the rows give the first syllable's original citation tone, while the columns give the citation tone of the second syllable):

Ĭng-bìng (陰平 ˥)

Iòng-bìng (陽平 ˥˧)
Iòng-ĭk (陽入 ˥)

Siōng-siăng (上聲 ˧)

Ĭng-ké̤ṳ (陰去 ˨˩˧)
Iòng-ké̤ṳ (陽去 ˨˦˨)
Ĭng-ĭk (陰入 ˨˦)

Ĭng-bìng (陰平 ˥)
Ĭng-ké̤ṳ (陰去 ˨˩˧)
Iòng-ké̤ṳ (陽去 ˨˦˨)
Ĭng-ĭk-ék (陰入乙 ˨˦)


Iòng-bìng (陽平 ˥˧)
Iòng-ĭk (陽入 ˥)


Siōng-siăng (上聲 ˧)
Ĭng-ĭk-gák (陰入甲 ˨˦)


Ĭng-ĭk-gák (陰入甲) are Ĭng-ĭk (陰入) syllables ending with /k/ and Ĭng-ĭk-ék (陰入乙) are those with /ʔ/.[15] Both are usually realized as the glottal stop by most modern speakers of the Fuzhou dialect, but they are distinguished both in the above tone sandhi behavior, and in initial assimilation that occurs after them.

The three patterns of tone sandhi exhibited in the Fuzhou dialect may be a reflex of the voicing split from Middle Chinese into different registers. This is based on a comparison with the tonal sandhi system of the subdialect of Lianjiang, a very similar but more conservative Eastern Min variety, where three tonal categories on the penultimate syllables ("Yin" / Ĭng / from unvoiced consonants in Middle Chinese; "Yang" / Iòng / from voiced consonants in Middle Chinese; and a third "Shang" / Siōng / tonal category from the Middle Chinese "rising tone" 上聲 where the Yin and Yang registers have merged) interact with the tonal category of the final syllable to form the sandhi pattern in Lianjiang.[16] Although the effect of the historical tonal registers from Middle Chinese is clear in Lianjiang, the Fuzhou tonal sandhi system has deviated from the older pattern, in that the tone Iòng-ké̤ṳ 陽去˨˦˨, which is from the historical "Yang" tonal register, now follows the sandhi rules for the "Yin" register; and the sandhi tone Ĭng-ĭk-gák 陰入乙 ˨˦, which comes from the historical "Yin" register, follow the sandhi rules for the merged "Shang" tone.[17]

The tonal sandhi rules of more than two syllables display further complexities:

Original tones After tone sandhi
First syllableSecond syllableThird syllable First syllableSecond syllableThird syllable
All tones Dark level /˥/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked (B) /˨˦/
Dark level /˥/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Half dark departing /˨˩/ Dark level /˥/ No change
Rising /˧/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked /˨˦/
Light level /˥˧/
Rising /˧/
Dark checked (A) /˨˦/
Dark level /˥/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Half dark departing /˨˩/
Rising /˧/ Half light departing /˧˥/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked /˨˦/
Dark level /˥/
Dark level /˥/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked (B) /˨˦/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Dark level /˥/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Dark level /˥/ Dark level /˥/
Rising /˧/ Light level /˥˧/ Rising /˧/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked /˨˦/
Half dark departing /˨˩/
Rising /˧/
Dark checked (A) /˨˦/
Dark level /˥/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Rising /˧/
Half light departing /˧˥/ Rising /˧/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked /˨˦/
Dark level /˥/ Half dark departing /˨˩/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Dark level /˥/
Light level /˥˧/
Light checked /˥/
Rising /˧/
Rising /˧/ Rising /˧/
Dark departing /˨˩˧/
Light departing /˨˦˨/
Dark checked /˨˦/
Half dark departing /˨˩/ Half dark departing /˨˩/

For four-syllable words, they can be treated as two sequential two-syllable units, and undergo two-syllable tone sandhi accordingly; in faster speech, the first two syllables are reduced to a half dark departing tone, and the remaining two syllables undergo two-syllable tone sandhi.


There are fifteen initials, including a zero initial realized as a glottal stop [ʔ]:

Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal /m/ () /n/ () /ŋ/ ()
Plosive aspiration /pʰ/ () /tʰ/ () /kʰ/ ()
plain /p/ () /t/ () /k/ () /ʔ/ ()
Fricative /s/ () /h/ ()
Affricate aspiration /tsʰ/ ()
plain /ts/ ()
Lateral /l/ ()

The Chinese characters in the brackets are also sample characters from Qī Lín Bāyīn.

Some speakers find it difficult to distinguish between the initials /n/ and /l/.

No labiodental phonemes, such as /f/ or /v/, exist in Fuzhou dialect, which is one of the most conspicuous characteristics shared by all branches in the Min Family.

[β] and [ʒ] exist only in connected speech (see Initial assimilation below).

Initial assimilation

In Fuzhou dialect, there are various kinds of initial assimilation, all of which are progressive. When two or more than two syllables combine into a word, the initial of the first syllable stays unchanged while those of the following syllables, in most cases, change to match its preceding phoneme, i.e., the coda of its preceding syllable. As with the rime changes, initial assimilation is not as mandatory as tone sandhi in connected speech, and its presence and absence may indicate different parts of speech, different meanings of a single word, or different relationships between groups of words syntactically.[18]

The Coda of the Former Syllable The Initial Assimilation of the Latter Syllable
Null coda or /-ʔ/
  • /p/ and /pʰ/ change to [β];
  • /t/, /tʰ/ and /s/ change to [l];
  • /k/, /kʰ/ and /h/ change to null initial (without [ʔ]);
  • /ts/ and /tsʰ/ change to /ʒ/;
  • /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ and the null initial remain unchanged.
  • /p/ and /pʰ/ change to [m];
  • /t/, /tʰ/ /s/ and /l/ change to [n];
  • /k/, /kʰ/, /h/ and the null initial change to [ŋ];
  • /ts/ and /tsʰ/ change to [ʒ];
  • /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/ remain unchanged.
/-k/ All initials remain unchanged.


The table below shows the seven vowel phonemes of Fuzhou dialect. Fuzhou is known for its vowel alternations much discussed in the linguistic literature (e.g. Donohue (2017)[19])

Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close /i/
Mid /e/
Open /a/

In Fuzhou dialect codas /-m/, /-n/, and /-ŋ/ have all merged as /-ŋ/; and /-p/, /-t/, /-k/ have all merged as /-ʔ/. Seven vowel phonemes, together with the codas /-ŋ/ and /-ʔ/, are organized into forty-six rimes.[20]

/a/ /e/ /ø/ /o/ /i/ /u/ /y/
Open syllable [a]
(蝦, 罷)
[e, a]
(街, 細)
[ø, ɔ]
(驢, 告)
[o, ɔ]
(哥, 抱)
[i, ɛi]
(喜, 氣)
[u, ɔu]
(苦, 怒)
[y, œy]
(豬, 箸)
Nasal Coda /-ŋ/ [aŋ]
(三, 汗)
[iŋ, ɛiŋ]
(人, 任)
[uŋ, ɔuŋ]
(春, 鳳)
[yŋ, œyŋ]
(銀, 頌)
Glottal Coda /-ʔ/ [aʔ]
(盒, 鴨)
[oʔ, ɔʔ]
(樂, 閣)
[iʔ, ɛiʔ]
(力, 乙)
[uʔ, ɔuʔ]
(勿, 福)
[yʔ, œyʔ]
(肉, 竹)
Rising diphthongs Falling diphthongs
/ja/ /je/ /wa/ /wo/ /ɥo/ /ai/ /au/ /eu/ /ei/ /ou/ /øy/ /iu/ /ui/
Open syllable [ja]
(寫, 夜)
(雞, 毅)
(花, 話)
(科, 課)
(橋, 銳)
(紙, 再)
(郊, 校)
[eu, au]
(溝, 構)
[øy, ɔy]
(催, 罪)
(秋, 笑)
(杯, 歲)
Nasal Coda /-ŋ/ [jaŋ]
(驚, 命)
(天, 見)
(歡, 換)
(王, 象)
(鄉, 樣)
[eiŋ, aiŋ]
(恒, 硬)
[ouŋ, ɔuŋ]
(湯, 寸)
[øyŋ, ɔyŋ]
(桶, 洞)
Glottal Coda /-ʔ/ [jaʔ]
(擲, 察)
(熱, 鐵)
(活, 法)
(月, 郭)
(藥, 弱)
[eiʔ, aiʔ]
(賊, 黑)
[ouʔ, ɔuʔ]
(學, 骨)
[øyʔ, ɔyʔ]
(讀, 角)
Open syllable [wai]
(我, 怪)

As has been mentioned above, there are theoretically two different entering tonal codas in Fuzhou dialect: /-k/ and /-ʔ/. But for most Fuzhou dialect speakers, those two codas are only distinguishable when in the tonal sandhi or initial assimilation.

Close/Open rimes

Some rimes come in pairs in the above table: the one to the left represents a close rime (緊韻), while the other represents an open rime (鬆韻). The close/open rimes are closely related with the tones. As single syllables, the tones of Ĭng-bìng (陰平), Siōng-siăng (上聲), Iòng-bìng (陽平) and Iòng-ĭk (陽入) have close rimes while Ĭng-ké̤ṳ (陰去), Ĭng-ĭk (陰入) and Iòng-ké̤ṳ (陽去) have the open rimes. In connected speech, an open rime shifts to its close counterpart in the tonal sandhi.

For instance, "" (hók) is a Ĭng-ĭk syllable and is pronounced [hɔuʔ˨˦] and "" (ciŭ) a Ĭng-bìng syllable with the pronunciation of [tsiu˥]. When these two syllables combine into the word "福州" (Hók-ciŭ, Fuzhou), "" changes its tonal value from ˨˦ to ˨˩ and, simultaneously, shifts its rime from [-ɔuʔ] to [-uʔ], so the phrase is pronounced [huʔ˨˩ tsiu˥]. While in the word "中國" [tyŋ˥˧ kuoʔ˨˦] (Dṳ̆ng-guók, China), "" is a Ĭng-bìng syllable and therefore its close rime never changes, though it does change its tonal value from ˥ to ˥˧ in the tonal sandhi.

As with initial assimilation, the closing of open rimes in connected speech is not as compulsory than tone sandhi. It has been described as "a sort of switch that flips on and off to indicate different things", so its presence or absence can indicate different meanings or different syntactic functions.[18]

The phenomenon of close/open rimes is nearly unique to the Fuzhou dialect and this feature makes it especially intricate and hardly intelligible even to speakers of other Min varieties.

Neutral tone

The neutral tone is attested in the Fuzhou dialect, as well as being found in the Southern Min group and in varieties of Mandarin Chinese, including Beijing-based Standard Mandarin. It is commonly found in some modal particles, aspect markers, and some question-forming negative particles that come after units made up of one tone sandhi domain, and in some adverbs, aspect markers, conjunctions etc. that come before such units. These two types, the post-nucleus and the pre-nucleus neutral tone, exhibit different tone sandhi behavior. Disyllabic neutral tone words are also attested, as are some inter-nuclei neutral tones, mainly connected to the use of 蜀 siŏh /suoʔ˥/ in verbal reduplication.[21]


Most words in Fuzhou dialect have cognates in other varieties of Chinese, so a non-Fuzhou speaker would find it much easier to understand Fuzhou dialect written in Chinese characters than spoken in conversation. However, false friends do exist: for example, "莫細膩" (mŏ̤h sá̤-nê) means "don't be too polite" or "make yourself at home", "我對手汝洗碗" (nguāi dó̤i-chiū nṳ̄ sā̤ uāng) means "I help you wash dishes", "伊共伊老媽嚟冤家" (ĭ gâe̤ng ĭ lâu-mā lā̤ uŏng-gă) means "he and his wife are quarreling (with each other)", etc. Mere knowledge of Mandarin vocabulary does not help one catch the meaning of these sentences.

The majority of Fuzhou dialect vocabulary dates back to more than 1,200 years ago. Some daily-used words are even preserved as they were in the Tang Dynasty, which can be illustrated by a poem of a famous Chinese poet Gu Kuang.[22] In his poem Jiǎn (), Gu Kuang explicitly noted:

" is pronounced as . In Fujian vernacular son is called , and father 郎罷."

In Fuzhou dialect, "" (giāng) and "郎罷" (nòng-mâ) are still in use today.

Words from Old Chinese

Quite a few words from Old Chinese have retained the original meanings for thousands of years, while their counterparts in Mandarin Chinese have either fallen out of daily use or varied to different meanings.

This table shows some Fuzhou dialect words from Old Chinese, as contrasted to Mandarin Chinese:

Meaning Fuzhou dialect Foochow Romanized Mandarin Pinyin
eye 目睭/目珠 mĕ̤k-ciŭ [møyʔ˥ tsju˥] 眼睛 yǎnjīng
you nṳ̄ [ny˧]
chopstick dê̤ṳ [tøy˨˦˨] 筷子 kuàizi
to chase dṳ̆k [tyʔ˥] zhuī
to look, to watch 覷/覰/䁦 ché̤ṳ [tsʰœy˨˩˧] 1 kàn
wet nóng [nɔuŋ˨˩˧] shī
black ŭ [u˥] hēi
to feed huáng [hwaŋ˨˩˧] ² yǎng
1 "" (káng) is also used as the verb "to look" in Fuzhou dialect.
2 "" (iōng) in Fuzhou dialect means "give birth to (a child)".

This table shows some words that are used in Fuzhou dialect close to as they were in Classical Chinese, while the meanings in Mandarin Chinese have altered:

Word Foochow Romanized Meaning in Classical Chinese and Fuzhou dialect Pinyin Meaning in Mandarin
sá̤ [sa˨˩˧] tiny, small, young thin, slender
suók/siók [swoʔ˨˦] to explain, to clarify shuō to speak, to talk
gèng [keiŋ˥˧] tall, high xuán to hang, to suspend (v.)
chói [tsʰwi˨˩˧] mouth huì beak

Words from Ancient Minyue language

Some daily used words, shared by all Min varieties, came from the ancient Minyue language. Such as follows:

Word Foochow Romanized Southern Min / Taiwanese POJ Meaning
kă ([kʰa˥]) kha ([kʰa˥]) foot and leg
giāng [kjaŋ˧] kiáⁿ ([kjã˥˩]) son, child, whelp, a small amount
káung [kʰauŋ˨˩˧] khùn [kʰun˨˩] to sleep
骿 piăng [pʰjaŋ˥] phiaⁿ [pʰjã˥] back, dorsum
nè̤ng [nøyŋ˥˧] lâng [laŋ˨˦] human
chuó/chió [tsʰwo˨˩˧] chhù [tsʰu˨˩] home, house
tài [tʰai˥˧] thâi [tʰai˨˦] to kill, to slaughter

Literary and colloquial readings

The literary and colloquial readings is a feature commonly found in all Chinese dialects throughout China. Literary readings are mainly used in formal phrases derived from the written language, while the colloquial ones are used in colloquial phrases in the spoken language, as well as when used on their own.

Phonologically, a large range of phonemes can differ between the character's two readings: in tone, final, initial, or any and all of these features.

This table displays some widely used characters in Fuzhou dialect which have both literary and colloquial readings:

Character Literary reading Phrase Meaning Colloquial reading Phrase Meaning
hèng [heiŋ˥˧] 行李 hèng-lī luggage giàng [kjaŋ˥˧] 行墿 giàng-duô to walk
sĕng [seiŋ˥] 生態 sĕng-tái zoology, ecology săng [saŋ˥] 生囝 săng-giāng childbearing
gŏng [kouŋ˥] 江蘇 Gŏng-sŭ Jiangsu gĕ̤ng [køyŋ˥] 閩江 Mìng-gĕ̤ng Min River
báik [paiʔ˨˦] 百科 báik-kuŏ encyclopedical báh [paʔ˨˦] 百姓 báh-sáng common people
[hi˥] 飛機 hĭ-gĭ aeroplane buŏi [pwi˥] 飛鳥 buŏi-cēu flying birds
hàng [haŋ˥˧] 寒食 Hàng-sĭk Cold Food Festival gàng [kaŋ˥˧] 天寒 tiĕng gàng cold, freezing
[ha˨˦˨] 大廈 dâi-hâ mansion â [a˨˦˨] 廈門 Â-muòng Amoy (Xiamen)

Loan words from English

The First Opium War, also known as the First Anglo-Chinese War, was ended in 1842 with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing, which forced the Qing government to open Fuzhou to all British traders and missionaries. Since then, quite a number of churches and Western-style schools have been established. Consequently, some English words came into Fuzhou dialect, but without fixed written forms in Chinese characters. The most frequently used words are listed below:[23]

  • kŏk, [kʰouʔ˥], noun, meaning "an article of dress", is from the word "coat";
  • nă̤h, [neʔ˥], noun, meaning "a meshwork barrier in tennis or badminton", is from the word "net";
  • pèng, [pʰeiŋ˥˧], noun, meaning "oil paint", is from the word "paint";
  • pĕng-giāng, [pʰeiŋ˥˧ ŋjaŋ˧], noun, meaning "a small sum of money", is from the word "penny";
  • tă̤h, [tʰeʔ˥], noun, meaning "money", is from the word "take";
  • sò̤, [so˥˧], verb, meaning "to shoot (a basket)", is from the word "shoot";
  • ă-gì, [a˥ ki˥˧], verb, meaning "to pause (usually a game)", is from the word "again".
  • Mā-lăk-gă, [ma˨˩ laʔ˥ ka˥], meaning "Southeastern Asian (esp. Singapore and Malaysia)", is from the word "Malacca".


Some common phrases in Fuzhou dialect:

Writing system

Chinese characters

Foochow Bible in Chinese Characters, published by China Bible House in 1940.

Most of the words of Fuzhou dialect stem from Old Chinese and can therefore be written in Chinese characters. Many books published in Qing Dynasty have been written in this traditional way, such as the famous Mǐndū Biéjì (閩都別記, Foochow Romanized: Mìng-dŭ Biék-gé). However, Chinese characters as the writing system for Fuzhou dialect do have many shortcomings.

Firstly, a great number of words are unique to Fuzhou dialect, so that they can only be written in informal ways. For instance, the word "mâ̤", a negative word, has no common form. Some write it as "" or "", both of which share with it an identical pronunciation but has a totally irrelevant meaning; and others prefer to use a newly created character combining "" and "", but this character is not included in most fonts.

Secondly, Fuzhou dialect has been excluded from the educational system for many decades. As a result, many if not all take for granted that Fuzhou dialect does not have a formal writing system and when they have to write it, they tend to misuse characters with a similar Mandarin Chinese enunciation. For example, "會使 (â̤ sāi)", meaning "okay", are frequently written as "阿塞" because they are uttered almost in the same way.

Foochow Romanized

Bible in Foochow Romanized, published by British and Foreign Bible Society in 1908.

Foochow Romanized, also known as Bàng-uâ-cê (平話字, BUC for short) or Hók-ciŭ-uâ Lò̤-mā-cê (福州話羅馬字), is a romanized orthography for Fuzhou dialect adopted in the middle of 19th century by American and English missionaries. It had varied at different times, and became standardized several decades later. Foochow Romanized was mainly used inside of Church circles, and was taught in some Mission Schools in Fuzhou.[24]

Mǐnqiāng Kuàizì

Mǐnqiāng Kuàizì (閩腔快字, Foochow Romanized: Mìng-kiŏng Kuái-cê), literally meaning "Fujian Colloquial Fast Characters", is a Qieyin System (切音系統) for Fuzhou dialect designed by Chinese scholar and calligrapher Li Jiesan (力捷三) in 1896.

Example text

Below are Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in the Fuzhou dialect, using both Foochow Romanized (left) and Chinese characters (center).

BUC versionHanzi versionEnglish version
Lièng-hăk-guók sié-gái ìng-guòng sŏng-ngiòng 聯合國世界人權宣言 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Dâ̤-ék dèu第一條Article 1
Sū-iū nè̤ng sĕng giâ lì cêu sê cê̤ṳ-iù gì,所有儂生下來就是自由其,All human beings are born free
bêng-chiă diŏh cŏng-ngièng gâe̤ng guòng-lĭk siông ék-lŭk bìng-dēng.並且著尊嚴共權利上一律平等。and equal in dignity and rights.
Ĭ-gáuk-nè̤ng ô lī-séng gâe̤ng liòng-sĭng,伊各儂有理性共良心,They are endowed with reason and conscience
bêng-chiă éng-gāi ī hiăng-diê guăng-hiê gì cĭng-sìng lì hô-siŏng dó̤i-dâi.並且應該以兄弟關係其精神來互相對待。and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



See also

  • Fuzhou
  • Fuzhou people
  • Fuqing dialect
  • Chinatown, Brooklyn
  • Chinatown, Flushing
  • Chinatown, Manhattan
  • Manhattan's Little Fuzhou


  1. 本土語言納中小學必修 潘文忠:將按語發法實施 (in Chinese)
  2. "國家語言發展法 第二條".
  3. 大眾運輸工具播音語言平等保障法
  4. "WALS Online - Language Fuzhou". World Atlas of Language Structures. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  5. 陈泽平. (1998). 福州方言研究: 福建人民出版社, 福州.
  6. Li Rulong, Liang Yuzhang: Fuzhou Dialect Records, 2001, ISBN 7-80597-361-X
  7. Li, Zhuqing: A study of the "Qī Lín Bāyīn", University of Washington, 1993
  8. Survey by Fuzhou Evening Paper Showing Less Than Half of Fuzhou Youth Able to Speak Fuzhou Dialect (in Chinese)
  9. Fuzhou Dialect Protected as Intangible Cultural Heritage Archived 2011-08-07 at the Wayback Machine (in Chinese)
  10. Yuan Jiahua: Summary of Chinese Dialects, 2nd Edition, 2003, ISBN 978-7-80126-474-9
  11. 李如龙, & 梁玉璋. (Eds.). (1994) 福州方言词典. 福州: 福建人民出版社.
  12. 冯爱珍, & 李荣. (Eds.). (1998) 福州方言词典. 江苏教育出版社.
  13. Donohue, Cathryn (2013). Fuzhou tonal acoustics and tonology. Muenchen. ISBN 9783862885220. OCLC 869209191.
  14. Donohue, Cathryn (2012) "The role of contour and phonation in Fuzhou tonal identification" In Quantitative approaches to problems in linguistics : studies in honour of Phil Rose. Donohue, Cathryn,, Ishihara, Shunichi,, Steed, William,, Rose, Philip, 1949-. Muenchen. ISBN 9783862883844. OCLC 822991941
  15. Nguāi Muōng Gōng Nṳ̄ Muōng Tiăng (我罔講汝罔聽), post of March 17th, 2006, retrieved December 26th, 2011.
  16. Wu, J., & Chen, Y. (2012). The Effect of Historical Tone Categories on Tone Sandhi in Lianjiang. Paper presented at the 20th Annual Conference of the IACL, Hongkong.
  17. Wu, J., & Chen, Y. (2012). An account of Lianjiang tone Sandhi: Pitch target, context, and historical tone categories. Paper presented at the Tone and Intonation Conference 2012 (TIE5), Londen.
  18. Li Zhuping: Fuzhou Phonology and Grammar, Dunwoody Press (2002), page 6.
  19. Donohue, Cathryn (2017) "Tones and vowels in Fuzhou revisited" In: Segmental Structure and Tone. Boersma, Paul,, Kehrein, Wolfgang,, Köhnlein, Björn,, Oostendorp, Marc,. Berlin. ISBN 9783110341263. OCLC 1024029520
  20. Peng, Gongguan (2011). A phonetic study of Fuzhou Chinese (Thesis). City University of Hong Kong. Note that the thesis does not mention the open rimes for /e/, /ø/ and /eu/ and does not analyse phonemes independently from tonal allophones.
  21. Li Zhuping: Fuzhou Phonology and Grammar, Dunwoody Press (2002), page 106.
  22. Zhao Rihe: Fuzhou Dialect Rhyme Dictionary, 1998, MRXN-1998-0465
  23. Chen Zeping: Loan Words in Fuzhou dialect, Fujian Normal University, 1994
  24. 福州女校三鼎甲 (in Chinese)

Further reading

Missionary texts

Modern studies

  • Chen, Leo (1969). Foochow-English, English-Foochow glossary (PDF). San Francisco, CA: Asian Language Publication.
  • Chen, Leo; Norman, Jerry (1965). An Introduction to the Foochow Dialect. San Francisco State College.
  • Chen, Zeping 陈泽平 (1998). Fúzhōu fāngyán yánjiū 福州方言研究 [Studies of the Fuzhou dialect]. Fuzhou: Fujian People's Publishing House. ISBN 978-7-211-03080-4.
  • (2010). Shíjiǔ shìjì yǐlái de fúzhōu fāngyán——chuánjiào shì fúzhōu tǔ bái wénxiàn zhī yǔyán xué yánjiū 十九世纪以来的福州方言——传教士福州土白文献之语言学研究 [Fuzhou dialect since the 19th century – missionary literature on the Fuzhou dialect]. Fuzhou: Fujian People's Publishing House. ISBN 978-7-211-06054-2.
  • Dai, Ligang 戴黎刚 (2010). "Fúzhōuhuà shēngmǔ lèi huà lìwài de yuányīn" 福州话声母类化例外的原因. Fangyan. 3.
  • Donohue, Cathryn (2013). Fuzhou tonal acoustics and tonology. LINCOM Europa. ISBN 978-3-86288-522-0.
  • Feng, Aizhen 冯爱珍; Li, Rong, eds. (1998). Fúzhōu fāngyán cídiǎn 福州方言词典 [Fuzhou dialect dictionary]. Jiangsu Educational Press. ISBN 7-5343-3421-7.
  • Li, Rulong 李如龙, ed. (2000). 福州话声母类化的制约条件. Xiamen University (Philosophy and Social Sciences).
  • Li, Rulong 李如龙; Liang, Yuzhang 梁玉璋, eds. (1994). Fúzhōu fāngyán cídiǎn 福州方言词典 [Fuzhou dialect dictionary]. Fuzhou: Fujian People's Publishing House. ISBN 7-211-02354-6.
  • Li, Zhuqing (1997). Fuzhou-English Dictionary. Dunwoody Press. ISBN 978-1-881265-52-8.
  • (2002). Fuzhou Phonology and Grammar. Dunwoody Press. ISBN 978-1-881265-93-1.
  • Liang, Yuzhang 梁玉璋 (1982). "Fúzhōu fāngyán de 'qiè jiǎo cí'" 福州方言的"切脚词". Fangyan. 1: 37–46.
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