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The Dungan language is a Sinitic language spoken by the Dungan of Central Asia, an ethnic group related to the Hui people of Chinamarker.


The Dungan people of Kyrgyzstanmarker and Kazakhstanmarker (with smaller groups living in other post-Soviet states) are the descendants of several groups of the Hui people that migrated to the region in the 1870s and the 1880s after the defeat of the Dungan revolt in Northwestern China. The Hui of Northwestern China (often referred to as "Dungans" or "Tungani" by the 19th-century western writers) would normally speak the same Mandarin dialect as the Han people in the same area (or in the area from which the a particular Hui community had been resettled from). At the same time, due to their unique history, their speech would be rich in Islamic or Islamic influenced terminology, based on loanwords from Arabic, Persian, and Turkic languages, as well as translations of them into Chinese. The Hui traders in the bazaars would be able to use Arabic or Persian numbers when talking between themselves, to keep their communications secret from Han bystanders. While not constituting a separate language, these words, phrases and turns of speech, known as Huihui hua (回回话, "Hui speech"), served as markers of group identity. As early 20th century travellers in Northwestern China would note, "the Mohammedan Chinese have to some extent a vocabulary, and always a style and manner of speech, all their own".

As the Dungans in the Russian Empire, and even more so in the Soviet Union, were isolated from China, their language experienced significant influence from the Russian and the Turkic languages of their neighbors.

In the Soviet Union, a written standard of the Dungan language was developed, based on a Gansu dialect, rather than the Beijing base of the Standard Mandarin norm adopted in China. The language was used in the schools in Dungan villages. In the Sovietmarker time there were several school textbooks published for studying the Dungan language, a three volume Russian-Dungan dictionary (14,000 words), the Dungan-Russian dictionary, philology monographs on the language and books in Dungan. The first Dungan-language newspaper was established in 1932; it continues publication today in weekly form.

When Dru C. Gladney, who had spent some years working with the Hui people in China, met with Dungans in Almatymarker in 1988, he described the experience as speaking "in a hybrid Gansu dialect that combined Turkish and Russian lexical items".


Dungan is spoken primarily in Kyrgyzstanmarker, with speakers in Kazakhstanmarker, Uzbekistanmarker, and Russiamarker as well. The Dungan ethnic group are the descendants of refugees from China who migrated west into Central Asia.

According to the Soviet census statistics from 1970 to 1989, the Dungan maintained the use of their ethnic language much more successfully than other minority ethnic groups in Central Asia; however, in the post-Soviet period, the proportion of Dungans speaking the Dungan language as their mother tongue appears to have fallen sharply.

Dungan speakers by population
Year Dungan L1 Russian L2 Total Dungan population Source
1970 36,445 (94.3%) 18,566 (48.0%) 38,644 Soviet census
1979 49,020 (94.8%) 32,429 (62.7%) 51,694 Soviet census
1989 65,698 (94.8%) 49,075 (70.8%) 69,323 Soviet census
2001 41,400 (41.4%) N/A 100,000 Ethnologue


In basic structure and vocabulary, the Dungan language is not very different from Mandarin Chinese, specifically a variety of Zhongyuan Mandarin (not Lan-Yin Mandarin) spoken in the southern part of the province of Gansumarker and the western part of the valley of Guanzhong in the province of Shaanximarker. Like other Chinese languages, Dungan is tonal. There are two main dialects, one with 4 tones, and the other, considered standard, with 3 tones in the final position in phonetic words and 4 tones in the nonfinal position.


The corresponding table compares current Dungan spelling, old Dungan spelling, pinyin, and IPA.

Consonant table
Unaspirated Aspired Nasal Fricative Voiced etc
Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA
б в b п p p м m m ф f f в v w
д d d т t t н n n л l l
з z z ц c c с s s р r
җ zh ч ç ch ш ş sh ж ƶ r
j q щ x й j y
г g g к k k ң ņ ng х x h


Using standard Mandarin vowels as basis, the follow are each vowels and their respective current Dungan spelling, old Dungan spelling, pinyin, and IPA.

Note that the correspondence between Dungan vowels and Standard Mandarin vowels is not perfect.

Vowel table
Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA Cyrillic Latin Pinyin IPA
ы ƅ i и i i ў w u ү y ü, u
а a a я ja ia (ya) ( ) уа ua ua
ә ə e е je ie (ye) ( ) уә uo үә üe, ue
э e ê, ai уэ ue ue, uai
о o o, ao ё jo iao (yao) ( ) уэй wj ui
ый ƅj ei уй vi wei
у u ou ю ju, jy iu (you) ( )
ан an an ян jan ian (yan) ( ) уан uan uan үан yan üan, uan
он on ang ён jon iang (yang) ( ) уон uon uang
ын ƅn eng, en ин in ing, in ун wn ong үн yn iong, un
эр әƣ er
Vowel constructs that can be used as independent syllable without consonants are shown in parenthesis.There are rhotacised vowels, as well as some syllables only seen in loan words from Russian, Kyrgyz, Arabic etc., in addition to the above table.


Tonal comparison between Dungan and Mandarin
Tone number Tone name Dungan example Chinese character Gansu-Dungan Shaanxi-Dungan Standard Mandarin References
Pitch pattern Tone contour Pitch pattern Tone contour Pitch pattern Tone contour
1 陰平
хуа Rising (24) Falling (51) High (55) Standard Gansu-Dungan doesn't distinguish tone 1 and tone 2 only in the final position of phonetic words.
2 陽平
хуа Rising (24) Rising (35)
3 上声
во Falling (51) Falling (53) Low/dipping (1, 214)
4 去声
Чў High (44) High (44) Falling (52) Some characters originating in tone 4 fall into tone 1 in modern Mandarin.
0 軽声 зы Short Varies Short Varies Short Varies Actual pitch depends on the preceding character.


The basilects of Gansu/Shaanxi Mandarin and Dungan are largely mutually intelligible; Chinese journalists conversant in one of those Mandarin dialects report that they can make themselves understood when communicating with Dungan speakers. However, even at the level of basic vocabulary, Dungan contains many words not present in modern Mandarin dialects, such as Arabic and Persian loanwords, as well as archaic Qing dynastymarker-era Chinese vocabulary. Furthermore, the acrolects of Dungan and Gansu/Shaanxi Mandarin have diverged significantly due to time and cultural influences. During the 20th century, translators and intellectuals introduced many neologisms and calques into the Chinese language, especially for political and technical concepts. However, the Dungan, cut off from the mainstream of Chinese discourse by orthographic barriers, instead borrowed words for those same concepts from Russian, with which they came into contact through government and higher education. As a result of these borrowings, the equivalent standard Chinese terms are not widely known or understood among the Dungan.

Writing system

[[Image:Dungan-books-2450.jpg|thumb|right|Books in Dungan, or about Dungan (in Russian or English). Most of them were published in Frunzemarker, Kirghiz SSRmarkerin the 1970s and 80s.]]
Latin]] transcriptions
Cyrillic А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж Җ З И Й К Л
Name a бэ вэ гэ дэ e ё жэ җe зэ и ий кa эль
IPA a, ɑ p v k d ʐ tʂ, tɕ ts i, ei j l
Latin a b v g d (y)e yo zh, rzh zh z i (y)u, (y)i k l
Cyrillic М Н Ң Ә О П/п Р С Т У Ў Ү Ф Х
Name эм эн ың ә o пэ эр эc тэ у ў ү эф xa
IPA m n ɳ ɤ ɔ ɚ, r s ɤu, u u y f x
Latin m n ng eh o p r s t u wu (y)u f kh
Cyrillic Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я
Name цэ чэ шa щa нин xo ы ван xo э ю йa
IPA tsʰ tʂʰ, tɕʰ ʂ ɕ * ɪ, ɨə * ɛ iɤu ia, iɑ
Latin ts ch sh shch, hs `` `i ` e(i) yu ya
  • The letters Ъ and Ь are only used to write Russian loanwords

Dungan is unique in that it is the only variety of the Chinese language which is not normally written using Chinese characters. Originally the Dungan, who were Muslim descendants of the Hui, wrote their language in an Arabic-based system known as Xiao'erjing. The Soviet Unionmarker banned all Arabic scripts in the late 1920s, which led to a Latin orthography. The Latin orthography lasted until 1940, when the Soviet government promulgated the current Cyrillic-based system. Xiao'erjing is now virtually extinct in Dungan society, but it remains in limited use by some Hui communities in China.

The writing system is based on the standard 3-tone dialect. Tones marks or numbering do not appear in general-purpose writing, but are specified in dictionaries, even for loanwords.

Consonant chart:
Pinyin Palladiy Dungan Pinyin Palladiy Dungan Pinyin Palladiy Dungan Pinyin Palladiy Dungan
b б б p п п m м м f ф ф
d д д t т т n н н / л l л л
g г г k к к h х х
j цз(ь) җ(ь) q ц(ь) ч(ь) x с(ь) щ(ь)
z цз з c ц ц s с с
zh чж җ ch ч ч sh ш ш / с / ф r ж ж


A number of books in Dungan language, including textbooks, Dungan-Russian and Russian-Dungan dictionaries, a Dungan etymological dictionary, collections of folk tales, original and translated fiction and poetry have been published in Kyrgyzstan. Usual print runs were no more than a few hundred copies. A newspaper in Dungan has been published as well.

Works of the Dungan poet Yasir Shiwaza (Iasyr Shivaza) have been translated into Russian, Standard Mandarin Chinese, and a number of other languages, with print runs in some of them been much higher than in the original Dungan. English translations of some of them, along with the original Dungan text, are available in the book by S. Rimsky-Korsakoff (1991).

See also


  1. Dru C. Gladney, Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic. 1st ed.: Harvard University Press, 1991, ISBN 0-674-59495-9; 2nd ed., 1996. ISBN 0-674-59497-5. Pages 393-394 in the 1991 edition. The following pages in this book, 395-321, are occupied by "A Select Glossary of Hui Chinese Islamic Terms", into which Gladney included only words (many found in older publications) that he could verify as known or recognized by people in at least some Hui communities he visited.
  2. Gladney (1991), p. 68
  3. Owen Lattimore, The Desert Road to Turkestan. London, Methuen & Co, ca. 1928-29. Page 196.
  4. Gladney, pp 33, 102

General references

  • Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer, Soviet Dungan: The Chinese language of Central Asia: alphabet, phonology, morphology. Asian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University, 1967. (No ISBN).
  • Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer, Iasyr Shivaza: The Life and Works of a Soviet Dungan Poet. 1991. ISBN 3631439636. (Contains a detailed bibliography and ample samples of Shivaza works', some in the original Cyrillic Dungan, although most in a specialized transcription, with English and sometimes standard Chinese translations).
  • Olga I. Zavjalova. "Some Phonological Aspects of the Dungan Dialects // Computational Analyses of Asian and African Languages." Tokyo, 1978. No. 9. Pp. 1–24. (Contains an experimental analysis of Dungan tones).
  • 海峰。 中亚东干语言研究 (Hai Feng. Zhongya Donggan yuyan yanjiu—A Study of the Dungan Language of Central Asia.) Urumchi, 2003. 479 p. ISBN 7-5631-1789-X. (Description of the Dungan language by a professor of Xinjiang University).

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