Southwestern Mandarin
Upper Yangtze Mandarin
RegionSichuan, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hong Kong, others
Native speakers
260 million (2012)[1]
Official status
Official language in
 China (Guangxi)
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
ISO 639-6xghu
Two Southwest Mandarin speakers, recorded in Richmond, Canada.

Southwestern Mandarin (Chinese: 西南官话; pinyin: Xīnán Guānhuà), also known as Upper Yangtze Mandarin (Chinese: 上江官话; pinyin: Shàngjiāng Guānhuà), is a Mandarin Chinese dialect spoken in much of Southwestern China, including in Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Guizhou, most parts of Hubei, the northwestern part of Hunan, the northern part of Guangxi and some southern parts of Shaanxi and Gansu.

Southwestern Mandarin is spoken by roughly 260 million people.[1] If considered a language distinct from central Mandarin, it would be the eighth-most spoken language by native speakers in the world, behind Mandarin itself, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Arabic and Bengali.


Modern Southwestern Mandarin was formed by the waves of immigrants brought to the regions during the Ming[2][3] and Qing Dynasties.[4] Because of the comparatively recent move, such dialects show more similarity to modern Standard Mandarin than to other varieties of Chinese like Cantonese or Hokkien. For example, like most Southern Chinese dialects, Southwestern Mandarin does not possess the retroflex consonants (zh, ch, sh, r) of Standard Mandarin, but most varieties of it also fail to retain the checked tone that all southern dialects have. The Chengdu-Chongqing and Hubei dialects are believed to reflect aspects of the Mandarin lingua franca that was spoken during the Ming.[5] However, some scholars believe its origins may be more similar to Lower Yangtze Mandarin.[6] Though part of the Mandarin group, Southwestern Mandarin has many striking and pronounced differences with Standard Mandarin such that until 1955, it was generally categorized alongside Cantonese and Wu Chinese as a branch of Chinese varieties.[7]

Southwestern Mandarin is commonly spoken in Kokang district in Northern Myanmar, where the population is largely Kokang. Southwestern Mandarin is also one of two official languages of the Wa State, an unrecognized autonomous state within Myanmar, alongside the Wa language. Because Wa has no written form, Chinese is the official working language of the Wa State government.[8][9] Some of its speakers, known as the Chin Haw, live in Thailand.[10] It is also spoken in parts of Northern Vietnam.[11] Ethnic minorities in Vietnam's Lào Cai Province used to speak Southwestern Mandarin to each other when their languages were not mutually intelligible.[12] Southwestern Mandarin is also used between different ethnic minorities in Yunnan,[13][14] Guizhou[3]: 31  and Guangxi.[3][15][16]



Most Southwestern Mandarin dialects have, like Standard Mandarin, retained only four of the eight tones of Late Middle Chinese. However, the entering tone has completely merged with the light-level tone in most Southwestern dialects, but in Standard Mandarin, it is seemingly randomly dispersed among the remaining tones.

Tones of Southwestern Mandarin Dialects[17]
Name Dark-Level Light-Level Rising tone Dark-
Entering tone Geographic Distribution
Sichuan (Chengdu dialect) ˥ (55) ˨˩ (21) ˦˨ (42) ˨˩˧ (213) light-level merge Main Sichuan Basin, parts of Guizhou
Luzhou dialect ˥ (55) ˨˩ (21) ˦˨ (42) ˩˧ (13) ˧ (33) Southwest Sichuan Basin
Luding County dialect ˥ (55) ˨˩ (21) ˥˧ (53) ˨˦ (24) dark-level merge Ya'an vicinity
Neijiang dialect ˥ (55) ˨˩ (21) ˦˨ (42) ˨˩˧ (213) departing merge Lower Tuo River area
Hanzhong dialect ˥ (55) ˨˩ (21) ˨˦ (24) ˨˩˨ (212) level tone merge Southern Shaanxi
Kunming dialect ˦ (44) ˧˩ (31) ˥˧ (53) ˨˩˨ (212) light-level merge Central Yunnan
Gejiu dialect ˥ (55) ˦˨ (42) ˧ (33) ˩˨ (12) light-level merge Southern Yunnan
Baoshan dialect ˧˨ (32) ˦ (44) ˥˧ (53) ˨˥ (25) light-level merge Western Yunnan
Huguang (Wuhan dialect) ˥ (55) ˨˩˧ (213) ˦˨ (42) ˧˥ (35) light-level merge Central Hubei
Shishou dialect ˦˥ (45) ˩˧ (13) ˦˩ (41) ˧ (33) ˨˩˦ (214) ˨˥ (25) Southern Hubei (Jingzhou)
Hanshou dialect ˥ (55) ˨˩˧ (213) ˦˨ (42) ˧ (33) ˧˥ (35) ˥ (55) Northwestern Hunan (Changde)
Li County dialect ˥ (55) ˩˧ (13) ˨˩ (21) ˧ (33) ˨˩˧ (213) (light) ˧˥ (35) Northwestern Hunan (Changde)
Xiangfan dialect ˧˦ (34) ˥˨ (52) ˥ (55) ˨˩˨ (212) light-level Northern Hubei
Guilin dialect ˧ (33) ˨˩ (21) ˥ (55) ˧˥ (35) light-level Northern Guangxi, Southern Guizhou, parts of Southern Hunan


Southwestern Mandarin dialects do not possess the retroflex consonants of Standard Mandarin but share most other Mandarin phonological features. Most dialects have lost the distinction between the nasal consonant /n/ and the lateral consonant /l/ and the nasal finals /-n/ and /-ŋ/. For example, the sounds "la" and "na" are generally indistinguishable, and the same is true for the sounds "fen" and "feng". Some varieties also lack a distinction between the labiodental /f/ and the glottal /h/.


Chengyu and Guanchi subgroups in Sichuan and Chongqing

Southwestern Mandarin was classified into twelve dialect groups in the Language Atlas of China:[18]

In addition, the Selibu language is a mixed language with a Southwestern Mandarin base, residual Zhongyuan Mandarin features,[19] and morphosyntatic and semantic features from Alangu Khams.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (2012). Zhōngguó yǔyán dìtú jí (dì 2 bǎn): Hànyǔ fāngyán juǎn 中国语言地图集(第2版):汉语方言卷 [Language Atlas of China (2nd edition): Chinese dialect volume]. Beijing: The Commercial Press. p. 3.
  2. ^ Holm, David (2013). Mapping the Old Zhuang Character Script: A Vernacular Writing System from Southern China. BRILL. p. 42. ISBN 978-90-04-24216-6.
  3. ^ a b c Tsung, Linda (2014). Language Power and Hierarchy: Multilingual Education in China. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-4411-5574-0.
  4. ^ Chew, Phyllis Ghim-Lian (2013). Emergent Lingua Francas and World Orders: The Politics and Place of English as a World Language. Routledge. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-135-23557-4.
  5. ^ Zhou and Xu 周及徐, 2005. "The pronunciation and historical evolution of '虽遂'-class characters in Ba-Shu dialects" 《巴蜀方言中“虽遂”等字的读音及历史演变》, Zhonghua Wenhua Luntan 中华文化论坛.
  6. ^ Wang Qing 王庆, 2007. "Consonants in Ming Dynasty Repopulation Area Dialects and Southern Mandarin" 《明代人口重建地区方言的知照系声母与南系官话》, Chongqing Normal University Journal 重庆师范大学学报.
  7. ^ Liu Xiaomei 刘晓梅 and Li Rulong 李如龙, 2003. "Special Vocabulary Research in Mandarin Dialects" 《官话方言特征词研究》, Yuwen Yanjiu 语文研究.
  8. ^ Interactive Myanmar Map, The Stimson Center
  9. ^ Wa, Infomekong
  10. ^ Clyne, Michael G. (1992). Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Walter de Gruyter. p. 306. ISBN 978-3-11-012855-0.
  11. ^ Ito, Masako. Politics of Ethnic Classification in Vietnam.
  12. ^ Ito, Masako (2013). Politics of Ethnic Classification in Vietnam. Kyoto University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-920901-72-1.
  13. ^ Volker, Craig Alan; Anderson, Fred E. (2015). Education in Languages of Lesser Power: Asia-Pacific Perspectives. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 68. ISBN 978-90-272-6958-4.
  14. ^ Pelkey, Jamin R. (2011). Dialectology as Dialectic: Interpreting Phula Variation. Walter de Gruyter. p. 154. ISBN 978-3-11-024585-1.
  15. ^ Holm, David (2003). Killing a buffalo for the ancestors: a Zhuang cosmological text from Southwest China. Southeast Asia Publications, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University. ISBN 978-1-891134-25-8.
  16. ^ Harper, Damian (2007). China's Southwest. Lonely Planet. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-74104-185-9.
  17. ^ Li Lan 李蓝, 2009, Southwestern Mandarin Areas (Draft)
  18. ^ Kurpaska, Maria (2010). Chinese Language(s): A Look Through the Prism of The Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-3-11-021914-2.
  19. ^ Tournadre, Nicolas; Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2023). The Tibetic Languages: an introduction to the family of languages derived from Old Tibetan. Paris: LACITO. ISBN 978-2-490768-08-0.
  20. ^ Zhou, Yang; Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2021-11-10). "Evidentiality in Selibu". Diachronica. 39 (2). John Benjamins Publishing Company: 268–309. doi:10.1075/dia.19055.zho. ISSN 0176-4225.