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The Southern Min language, or Min Nan (Hokkien: ), ("Southern Fujian" language) is a family of Chinese languages which are spoken in southern Fujianmarker and neighboring areas, and by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora. In common parlance, Southern Min usually refers to the Hokkien, in particular the Amoy and Taiwanese. Amoy and Taiwanese are both combinations of Quanzhoumarker and Zhangzhoumarker speech. The Southern Min family also includes Teochew and Hainanese. Teochew has limited mutual intelligibility with the Amoy. However, Hainanese is generally not considered to be mutually intelligible with any other Southern Min variants.

Southern Min forms part of the Min language group, alongside several other divisions. The Min languages/dialects are part of the Chinese language group, itself a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Southern Min is not mutually intelligible with Eastern Min, Cantonese, or Mandarin. As with other varieties of Chinese, there is a political dispute as to whether the Southern Min language should be called a language or a dialect. (See Identification of the varieties of Chinese for greater detail.)

Geographic distribution

Southern Min is spoken in the southern part of Fujianmarker province, three southeastern counties of Zhejiangmarker province, the Zhoushan archipelagomarker off Ningbomarker in Zhejiang, and the eastern part of Guangdongmarker province (Chaoshan region). The Qiong Wen variant spoken in the Leizhoumarker peninsula of Guangdongmarker province, as well as Hainanmarker province, which is not mutually intelligible with standard Minnan or Teochew, is classified in some schemes as part of Southern Min and in other schemes as separate.

A form of Southern Min akin to that spoken in southern Fujian is also spoken in Taiwan, where it has the native name of Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē. The (sub)ethnic group for which Southern Min is considered a native language is known as the Holo (Hō-ló) or Hoklo, the main ethnicity of Taiwanmarker. The correspondence between language and ethnicity is generally true though not absolute, as some Hoklo have very limited proficiency in Southern Min while some non-Hoklos speak Southern Min fluently.

There are many Southern Min speakers also among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Many ethnic Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Indonesiamarker (the former Dutch East Indiesmarker) and present day Malaysiamarker and Singaporemarker (formerly Malaya and the British Straits Settlementsmarker). In general, Southern Min from southern Fujian is known as Hokkien, Hokkienese, Fukien or Fookien in Southeast Asia, and is very much like Taiwanese. Many Southeast Asian ethnic Chinese also originated in the Chaoshan region of Guangdongmarker province and speak Teochew, the variant of Southern Min from that region. Southern Min is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the community of ethnic Chinese in the Philippinesmarker, among whom it is also known as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē ("Our people’s language"). Southern Min speakers form the majority of Chinese in Singapore with the largest being Hoklos and the second largest being the Teochewsmarker.


Southern Fujianmarker is home to three main Amoy dialects. They are known by the geographic locations to which they correspond (listed north to south):

As Xiamen is the principal city of southern Fujian, the Xiamen dialect is considered the most important, or even prestige dialect. The Xiamen dialect is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. The Xiamen dialect (also known as the Amoy dialect) has played an influential role in history, especially in the relations of Western nations with China, and was one of the most frequently learned of all Chinese languages/dialects by Western during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

The variants of Southern Min spoken in Zhejiangmarker province are most akin to that spoken in Quanzhou. The variants spoken in Taiwanmarker are similar to the three Fujianmarker variants, and are collectively known as Taiwanese. Taiwanese is used by a majority of the population and is quite important from a socio-political perspective, forming the second (and perhaps today most significant) major pole of the language. Those Southern Min variants that are collectively known as "Hokkien" in Southeast Asia also originate from these variants. The variants of Southern Min in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong province are collectively known as Teochew or Chaozhou. Teochewmarker is of great importance in the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora, particularly in Malaysiamarker, Philippinesmarker, Thailandmarker, Cambodiamarker, Vietnammarker, Sumatramarker and western Kalimantan.

The Southern Min language variant spoken around Shanwei and Haifeng differs markedly from Teochewmarker and may represent a later migration from Zhangzhou. Linguistically, it lies between Teochewmarker and Amoymarker. In southwestern Fujianmarker, the local variants in Longyanmarker and Zhangping form a separate division of Min Nan on their own. Among ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Penangmarker, Malaysiamarker and Medanmarker, Indonesiamarker, a distinct form of Zhangzhoumarker (Changchewmarker) Hokkien has developed. In Penangmarker, it is called Penang Hokkien while across the Malacca Straitmarker in Medanmarker, an almost identical variant is known as Medan Hokkien.


The Southern Min language has one of the most diverse phonologies of Chinese variants, with more consonants than standard Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels, on the other hand, are more or less similar to those of Standard Mandarin. In general, Southern Min dialects have five to six tone, and tone sandhi is extensive. There are minor variations within Hokkien, but the Teochew system differs significantly. See Hokkien dialect, Amoy dialect, and Teochew dialect for details.


Xiamen speech is a hybrid of Quanzhoumarker and Zhangzhoumarker speech. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. Taiwanese in northern Taiwanmarker tends to be based on Quanzhou speech, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The grammar is basically the same. Additionally, Taiwanese includes several dozen loanwords from Japanese. In contrast, Teochew speech is significantly different from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech in both pronunciation and vocabulary.

Mutual intelligibility

  • Spoken: Quanzhoumarker speech, Xiamenmarker (Amoy) speech, Zhangzhoumarker speech and Taiwanese are mutually intelligible. Chaozhoumarker (Teochewmarker) speech and Amoy speech are 84.3% phonetically similar and 33.8% lexically similar, whereas Mandarin and Amoy Min Nan are 62% phonetically similar and 15.1% lexically similar. In comparison, German and English are 60% lexically similar. In other words, Chao-Shan, including Swatow (both of which are variants of Teochewmarker), has very low intelligibility with Amoy, and Amoy and Teochewmarker are not mutually intelligible with Mandarin. However, many Amoy and Teochew speakers speak Mandarin as a second or third language.
  • Written: Southern Min dialects lack a standardized written language. Southern Min speakers are taught how to read Standard Mandarin in school. As a result, there has not been an urgent need to develop a writing system. In recent years, an increasing number of Southern Min Language speakers have become interested in developing a standard writing system (either by using Chinese Characters, or using Romanized script). For a phonological and lexical comparison of major Sino-tibetan languages (including prominent varieties of Southern Min Language), see Sino-Tibetan Swadesh lists.

See also

Related languages

Other topics


  1. glossika Southern Min Language phonetics
  2. glossika Southern Min Language
  3. glossika Southern Min Language
  4. Ethnologue: German
  5. Ethnologue: Min Nan

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