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Hakka or Kejia is one of the main subdivisions of the Chinese language spoken predominantly in southern China by the Hakka people and descendants in diaspora throughout East and Southeast Asia and around the world.

Due to its usage in scattered isolated regions where communication is limited to the local area, the Hakka language has developed numerous variant or dialects, spoken in Guangdongmarker, Fujianmarker, Jiangximarker, Guangxi, Sichuanmarker, Hunanmarker, and Guizhoumarker provinces, including Hainanmarker island and Taiwanmarker. Hakka is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, Wu, Minnan, and most of the significant spoken variants of the Chinese language.

There is a pronunciation difference between the Taiwanese Hakka dialect and the Guangdong Hakka dialect. Among the dialects of Hakka, the Moi-yen/Moi-yan (梅縣, Pinyin: Méixiàn) dialect of northeast Guangdong has been typically viewed as a prime example of the Hakka language, forming a sort of standard dialect.

The Guangdongmarker Provincial Education Department created an official romanization of the Meixian Hakka dialect in 1960, one of four languages receiving this status in Guangdong.

See Identification of the varieties of Chinese for more on the dispute of whether Hakka and other Chinese linguistic groups should be properly considered languages or dialects.


The name of the Hakka people who are the predominant original native speakers of the language literally means "guest families" or "guest people": Hak 客 (Mandarin: kè) means "guest", and ka 家 (Mandarin: jiā) means "family". Amongst themselves, Hakka people variously called their language Hak-ka-fa (-va) 客家話, Hak-fa (-va), 客話, Tu-gong-dung-fa (-va) 土廣東話, literally, "Native Guangdong language," and Ngai-fa (-va) 話, "My/our language".


Early history

The Hakka people have their origins in several episodes of migration from northern Chinamarker into southern Chinamarker during periods of war and civil unrest. The forebears of the Hakka came from present-day Henanmarker and Shaanximarker provinces, and brought with them features of Chinese languages spoken in those areas during that time. (Since then the speech in those regions has evolved into dialects of modern Mandarin.) Hakka is quite conservative, and is generally closer to Middle Chinese than other modern Chinese languages. The presence of many archaic features occur in modern Hakka, including final consonants , as are found in other modern southern Chinese languages, but which have been lost in Mandarin. The distance between Hakka and the more well-known Cantonese may be compared to that between Portuguese and Spanish, whereas Mandarin might be compared to French—more distantly related, and with a quite different phonology.

Due to the migration of its speakers, the Hakka language may have been influenced by other language areas through which the Hakka-speaking forebears migrated. For instance, common vocabulary are found in Hakka, Min and She (Hmong-miao) languages.

Some people consider Hakka to have mixed with other languages, such as the language of the She people, throughout its development.

Linguistic development

A regular pattern of sound change can generally be detected in Hakka, as in most Chinese languages, of the derivation of lexemes from earlier forms of Chinese. Some examples:
  • The lexeme represented by the characters 武 (war, martial arts) or 屋 (room, house), pronounced mvio and uk in Middle Chinese is vu and vuk in Hakka respectively (Mandarin: wu).
  • Lexemes corresponding with characters 人 and 日, among others, are pronounced with a ng consonant in Hakka (人:ngin, 日:ngit), and have a corresponding reading in Mandarin as an initial r- consonant.
  • The consonant initial of the lexeme corresponding with the character 話 (word, speech; Mandarin hua) is pronounced f or v in Hakka (v does not properly exist as a distinct unit in many Chinese languages).
  • The initial consonant of 學 usually corresponds with a h [h] approximant in Hakka and a voiceless alveo-palatal fricative (x [ɕ]) or velar fricative (h [x]) in Mandarin .


Moiyen dialect initials

There are no voiced plosives ( ) in Hakka, but it exhibits two sets of voiceless stops, an unaspirated set ( ), and the other aspirated ( ).

  Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal |{{IPA|/n/}} |{{IPA|/ɲ/}} * |{{IPA|/ŋ/}} * |  |- !rowspan=2|[[plosive consonant|Plosive]] ![[tenuis consonant|plain]] |{{IPA|/p/}} |{{IPA|/t/}} | |{{IPA|/k/}} |{{IPA|(ʔ)}} |- ![[aspiration (phonetics)|aspirated]] |{{IPA|/pʰ/}}

|{{IPA|/tʰ/}} | |{{IPA|/kʰ/}} |  |- !rowspan=2|[[affricate consonant|Affricate]] !plain | |{{IPA|/ts/}} /* | | | |- !aspirated | |{{IPA|/tsʰ/}} /* | | | |- !colspan=2 |[[fricative consonant|Fricative]] |{{IPA|/f/}} |{{IPA|/s/}} /* |  |  |{{IPA|/h/}} |- !colspan=2|[[approximant consonant|Approximant]] |{{IPA|/ʋ/}} |{{IPA|/l/}} |{{IPA|(j)}} |  |  |} * When the initials {{IPA|[ts]}} , {{IPA|[tsʰ]}} , {{IPA|[s]}} , and {{IPA|[ŋ]}} , are followed by a [[palatal approximant|palatal]] [[medial (linguistics)|medial]] {{IPA|[j]}} , they become {{IPA|[tɕ]}} , {{IPA|[tɕʰ]}} , {{IPA|[ɕ]}} , and {{IPA|[ɲ]}} , respectively.

Moiyen rimes

Moiyen Hakka has six vowels, , that are romanised as i, ê, a, e, o and u, respectively. The palatisation medial ( ) is represented by i and the labialisation medial ( ) is represented as u.

Moreover, Hakka rime exhibits the final consonants found in Middle Chinese, namely which are romanised as m, n, ng, b, d, and g respectively in the official Moiyen romanisation.

vowel medial + vowel
Syllabics           ŋ      

Moiyen tones

Moiyen has four tones, which are reduced to two before a final stop consonant. The Middle Chinese fully voiced initial characters became aspirated voiceless initial characters in Hakka. Before that happened, the four Middle Chinese 'tones', ping, shang, qu, ru, underwent a voicing split in the case of ping and ru, giving the dialect six tones in traditional accounts.

Tone chart for the Moiyen dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) (44) high
2 yang ping (陽平) (11) low
3 shang (上) (31) low falling
4 qu (去) (53) high falling
5 yin ru (陰入) (1) low checked
6 yang ru (陽入) (5) high checked

These so called yin-yang tonal splittings developed mainly as a consequence of the type of initial a Chinese character had during the Middle Chinese stage in the development of Chinese languages, with voiceless initial characters tending to become of the yin type, and the voiced initial characters developing into the yang type. In modern Moiyen Hakka however, part of the Yin Ping tone characters have sonorant initials originally from the Middle Chinese Shang tone characters and fully voiced Middle Chinese Qu tone characters, so the voiced/voiceless distinction should be taken only as a rule of thumb.

Hakka tone contours differs more as one moves away from Moiyen. For example the Yin Ping contour is (33) in Changting (长汀) and (24) in Sixian (四县), Taiwanmarker.

Tone sandhi in Moiyen Hakka

For Moiyen Hakka, the yin ping and qu tone characters exhibit sandhi when the following character has a lower pitch. The pitch of the yin ping tone changes from (44) to (35) when sandhi occurs. Similarly, the qu tone changes from (53) to (55) under sandhi. These are shown in red in the following table.

Moiyen tone sandhi
+ Yin Ping + Yang Ping + Shang + Qu + Yin Ru + YangRu + Neutral
Yin Ping +
Qu +

The neutral tone occurs in some postfixes used in Hakka. It has a mid pitch.

Other dialects of Hakka

The Hakka language has as many regional dialects as there are counties with Hakka speakers in the majority. Surrounding Meixianmarker are the counties of Pingyuan 平遠, Dabu 大埔, Jiaoling 蕉嶺, Xingning 興寧, Wuhua 五華, and Fengshun 豐順. Each is said to have its own special phonological points of interest. For instance, the Xingning does not have rimes ending in or . These have merged into and ending rimes, respectively. Further away from Meixian, the Hong Kongmarker dialect lacks the medial, so whereas Meixian dialect pronounces the character 光 as , Hong Kong Hakka dialect pronounces it as , which is similar to the Hakka spoken in neighbouring Shenzhen.

As much as endings and vowels are important, the tones also vary across the dialects of Hakka. The majority of Hakka dialects have six tones, as typified by Meixian dialect above. However, there are dialects which have lost all of their Ru Sheng tones, and the characters originally of this tone class are distributed across the non-Ru tones. Such a dialect is Changting 長汀 which is situated in the Western Fujian province. Moreover, there is evidence of the retention of an earlier Hakka tone system in the dialects of Haifeng 海 豐 and Lufeng 陸 豐 situated on coastal south eastern Guangdongmarker province. They contain a yin-yang splitting in the Qu tone, giving rise to seven tones in all (with yin-yang registers in Ping and Ru tones and a Shang tone).

The Hoi-liuk (Hailu 海陸) Hakka dialect speakers found on Taiwanmarker originated from this region. This particular dialect contains postalveloar consonants ( , , , etc.), usually not found in other Chinese languages. Taiwan's other main population of Hakka speakers, the Sixian (Hakka: Siyen 四縣) speakers come from Jiaying 嘉應 and surrounding Jiaoling, Pingyuan, Xingning, and Wuhua dialects. Jiaying county later changed its name to Meixian.

The Wuhua 五華 Hakka Accent

This Accent is characterized by the pronunciation of many voiced Middle Chinese qu-sheng (4th Tone) syllables of the Meixian Hakka Accent into the shang-sheng (3rd Tone), The Tone-Level of the Yang-Ping is a rising /13/ Instead of the Low-Level /11/ usually found in Meixian, and the Wuhua Accent related areas of Northern Bao'an and Eastern Dongguan, 2 sets of fricatives and affricates (z, c, s, zh, ch, sh), similar to Mandarin and The "y" rime found in The Yuebei Hakka group and Sichuan group, and the trill/retroflex sound, Otherwise the accent is very similar to the Meixian Accent.

The Wuhua Accent can be found in Wuhua County, Jiexi County, Northern Bao'An (Formerly Xin'An, Presently called Shenzhen), Eastern Dongguan, In Yuebei or Northern Guangdong around Shaoguan, in Sichuan and Tonggu, Jiangxi, all of these places has the tonal characteristics of the Wuhua Hakka accent.

The Dabu and Xingning Accents of the Meixian Hakka accents group, also has 2 sets of fricatives and affricates, similar to Wuhua accents group.

Wuhua rimes

Most rimes are the same with Moiyen, except for:"uon" (Meixian)= "on" (Wuhua),"ian" (Meixian)= "an"/"ien" (Wuhua),"ui" (Meixian)= "i" (Wuhua),"in" (Meixian)= "un" (Wuhua),"uan, uai, uon" (Meixian)= Wuhua has lost the "u" rime, example: "kan","ien" (Meixian)= "en" (Wuhua)

Wuhua Tones

Tone chart for the Wuhua dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) ˦ high
2 yang ping (陽平) ˩˧ low rising
3 shang (上) ˧˩ low falling
4 qu (去) ˥˧ high falling
5 yin ru (陰入) ˩ low checked
6 yang ru (陽入) ˥ high checked


Like other southern Chinese languages, Hakka retains single syllable words from earlier stages of Chinese; thus it can differentiate a large number of working syllables by tone and rime. This reduces the need for compounding or making words of more than one syllable. However, it is also similar to other Chinese languages in having words which are made from more than one syllable.

Examples of Single Syllable Words

person (Mandarin rén)

bowl (Mand. wǎn)

dog (Mand. gǒu)

cow (Mand. niú)

house (Mand. )

mouth (Mand. zuǐ)

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