Sou-tseu ghé-ghô
Native toChina
RegionSuzhou and southeast Jiangsu province
Chinese characters
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6suji
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Suzhou dialect
Traditional Chinese蘇州話
Simplified Chinese苏州话
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese蘇州閒話

Suzhounese (Suzhounese: 蘇州閒話; sou1 tseu1 ghe2 gho6; [səu˥.tsøʏ˥.ɦɛ˨˨˦.ɦo˨˧˩]), also known as the Suzhou dialect, is the variety of Chinese traditionally spoken in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu, China. Suzhounese is a variety of Wu Chinese, and was traditionally considered the Wu Chinese prestige dialect. Suzhounese has a large vowel inventory and it is relatively conservative in initials by preserving voiced consonants from Middle Chinese.[citation needed]


Suzhou dialect is spoken within the city itself and the surrounding area, including migrants living in nearby Shanghai.

The Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in its satellite cities such as Kunshan, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, as well as those spoken in its former satellites Wuxi and Shanghai. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in other areas of the Wu cultural sphere such as Hangzhou and Ningbo. However, it is not mutually intelligible with Cantonese or Standard Chinese; but, as all public schools and most broadcast communication in Suzhou use Mandarin exclusively, nearly all speakers of the dialect are at least bilingual. Owing to migration within China, many residents of the city cannot speak the local dialect but can usually understand it after a few months or years in the area.[citation needed]


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Personal pronouns

Pronoun Number Word Pinyin IPA
1st Singular ngou6 ŋəu
Plural gni6 nʲi
2nd Singular ne6 ne
Plural 唔笃 n6 toq7 n toʔ
3rd Singular li1 li
俚倷 li1 ne6 li ne
唔倷 n1 ne6 n ne
Plural 俚笃 li1 toq7 li toʔ

Second and third-person pronouns are suffixed with 笃 [toʔ] for the plural. The first-person plural is a separate root, 伲 [nʲi].[3]


Proximal Neutral Distal
e1 geq8 ue1
ke1 kue1

哀 with 该 and 弯 with 归 means the exact same thing and only differ in pronunciation. The use of neutral demonstrative pronoun became clear once proximal and neutral demonstrative pronouns are used.

When "搿" refers to time, there is no need to use the proximal and distal in opposition. The role of the neutral demonstrative is very obvious.

In this sentence, "掰歇(弯歇)" cannot be replaced by "哀歇" because the Anti-Japanese War happened more than fifty years ago, so only the neutral or distal demonstrative can be used, not proximal.

When not referring to time, the proximal "哀" and the neutral demonstrative "掰" can be interchanged. For example, the "掰" in "掰个人勿认得" can be replaced by "哀".

"哀", "该", "掰", "弯" and "归" cannot be used as subjects or objects alone, but must be combined with the following quantifiers, locative words, etc.

Suzhou Mandarin English
哀葛 e1 keq7 这个 this (thing)
哀点 e1 tie3 这些 these
哀歇 e1 shieq3 这时候 this (moment)
哀呛 e1 tie3 这阵子 this (period)
哀面 e1 mie6 这边 this (side)
哀搭 e1 taeq7 这里 this place (here)

Example phrases:

现在什么时候了? What time is it now?

现阵子你身体好吗? How are you now?


Some non-native speakers of Suzhou speak the Suzhou dialect in a "stylized variety" to tell tales.[4]



Initial consonants
  Labial Dental/Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n n̠ʲ ŋ
Plosive tenuis p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate tenuis ts
aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Lateral l

The Suzhou dialect has series of voiced, voiceless, and aspirated stops, and voiceless and voiced fricatives. Moreover, palatalized initials also occur.


Vowel nuclei
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close /i/ /y/
Near-close /ɪ/ /ʏ/ /ɵ/ /ʊ/
Mid /ɛ/ /ə/ /o/
Open /æ/ /a/ /ɑ/
Diphthong /øʏ, oʊ/
Coda Open Nasal Glottal stop
Medial j w j w ɥ j w ɥ
Nucleus i i                  
y y                    
ʏ ʏ   ʏɲ              
ɵ ɵ                
ʊ ʊ                    
ɛ ɛ                  
ə       ən   wən ɥən əʔ jəʔ wəʔ ɥəʔ
o o jo   joŋ     joʔ    
æ æ                
a       ã   jaʔ waʔ ɥaʔ
ɑ ɑ ɑ̃ jɑ̃ wɑ̃   ɑʔ jɑʔ    
Syllabic continuants: [z̩] [z̩ʷ] [β̩~v̩] [m̩] [ŋ̩] [l̩]


The Middle Chinese [-ŋ] rimes are retained, while [-n] and [-m] are either retained or have disappeared in the Suzhou dialect. Middle Chinese [-p -t -k] rimes have become glottal stops, [-ʔ].

In the Suzhou dialect, [gə] is a very special demonstrative that is used alongside a separate set of proximal and distal demonstratives. [gə] can indicate referents appearing in a speech situation, which may be close to or far away from the deictic center, and under these conditions, [gə] is always used in combination with gestures. Hence [gə] can serve both proximal and distal functions.[6]


Suzhou is considered to have seven tones. However, since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant. Yang tones are only found with voiced initials, namely [b d ɡ z v dʑ ʑ m n nʲ ŋ l ɦ], while the yin tones are only found with voiceless initials. These constitute just three phonemic tones: ping, shang, and qu. (Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)

Tone chart
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (阴平) ˦ (44) high
2 yang ping (阳平) ˨˨˦ (224) level-rising
3 shang (阴上) ˥˨ (52) high falling
4 yin qu (阴去) ˦˩˨ (412) dipping
5 yang qu (阳去) ˨˧˩ (231) rising-falling
6 yin ru (阴入) ˦ʔ (4) high checked
7 yang ru (阳入) ˨˧ʔ (23) rising checked

In Suzhou, the Middle Chinese 阴上 tone has partially merged with the modern 阴去 tone. Meanwhile, the 阳上 tone has fully merged with 阳去 tone. Therefore, 买 and 卖 has the exact same pronunciation in literary and colloquial readings.

Tone Sandhi

The tone sandhi present in Suzhou dialect introduces 4 completely new tones. ˧ (33), ˨˩ (21), ˨˩˨ (212), and ˨ʔ (2)

A. Stop final + stop final

The both two-character in this combination do not change tone.

B. Stop final + clear final

The first character do not change tones. The second character do not change tone if it has a yin (阴) tone.

If the second character is yangping (阳平), it becomes ˦ (44), the same as yinping (阴平).

If the second character is yangqu (阳去), it becomes ˨˩ (21) or ˨˩˨ (212).

C. Clear final + stop final

The second character's tone becomes ˨ʔ (2). The first character does not change tone if it has a ping (平) or yinshang (阴上) tone.

If the first character is yinqu (阴去) it becomes ˦ (44) similar to yinping or ˥˨ (52) similar to yinshang.

前字阳去多数变 ˨˨˦ (224) 调, 即与阳平同调; 少数不变。

D. Clear final + clear final

The first character does not change tone if it has a ping (平) or yinshang (阴上) tone.

If the first character is yinqu (阴去) it becomes ˦ (44) similar to yinping or ˥˨ (52) similar to yinshang.

If the first character is yangqu (阳去) it becomes ˨˨˦ (224) similar to yangping.

The second character becomes ˨˩ (21) after yinping tones.

The second character becomes ˧ (33), ˨˩ (21) after yinshang, yinqu, yangping, yangqu tones.

Suzhou dialect in literature


A "ballad–narrative" (說唱詞話) known as "The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao" (薛仁貴跨海征遼故事), which is about the Tang dynasty hero Xue Rengui[7] is believed to have been written in the Suzhou dialect.[8]


Han Bangqing wrote Lives of Shanghai Flowers, one of the earliest novels in Wu dialect, in Suzhou dialect. Suzhou serves as an important drive for Han to write the novel. Suzhou dialect is used in innovative methods to demonstrate urban space and time, as well as the interrupted narrative aesthetics, making it an integral part of an effort, which is presented as a fundamental and self-conscious new thing.[9] Han's novel also inspired other authors to write in Wu dialect.

See also


  1. ^ 叶, 祥苓 (1988). 蘇州方言詞典. 江苏教育出版社. p. 407.
  2. ^ 叶, 祥苓 (1993). 苏州方言志. 江苏教育出版社. p. 454.
  3. ^ Yue, Anne O. (2003). "Chinese Dialects: Grammar". In Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.). The Sino-Tibetan Languages (illustrated ed.). London: Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 0-7007-1129-5.
  4. ^ Clements, Clancy (2000). "Review of Creole and Dialect Continua". Language. 76 (1): 160. doi:10.1353/lan.2000.0054. JSTOR 417399. S2CID 141755433. She also examines a stylized variety of Suzhou Wu as used to tell stories by native speakers of another dialect.
  5. ^ Ling, Feng (2009). A Phonetic Study of the Vowel System in Suzhou Chinese (PhD thesis). City University of Hong Kong.
  6. ^ Chen, Yujie (2015), Chappell, Hilary M (ed.), "The semantic differentiation of demonstratives in Sinitic languages", Diversity in Sinitic Languages, Oxford: Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198723790.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-872379-0, retrieved 2021-12-06
  7. ^ Idema, Wilt L. (2007). "Fighting in Korea: Two Early Narratives of the Story of Xue Rengui". In Breuker, Remco E. (ed.). Korea in the Middle: Korean Studies and Area Studies: Essays in Honour of Boudewijn Walraven (illustrated ed.). Leiden: CNWS Publications. p. 341. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3. A prosimetrical rendition, entitled Xue Rengui kuahai zheng Liao gushi 薛仁貴跨海征遼故事 (The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao), which shares its opening prose paragraph with the Xue Rengui zheng Liao shilüe, is preserved in a printing of 1471; it is one of the shuochang cihua 說唱詞話 (ballad-narratives
  8. ^ Idema, Wilt L. (2007). "Fighting in Korea: Two Early Narratives of the Story of Xue Rengui". In Breuker, Remco E. (ed.). Korea in the Middle: Korean Studies and Area Studies: Essays in Honour of Boudewijn Walraven (illustrated ed.). Leiden: CNWS Publications. p. 342. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3. for telling and singing) which were discovered in the suburbs of Shanghai in 1967. While these shuochang cihua had been printed in modern-day Beijing, their language suggests that they had been composed in the Wu Chinese area of Suzhou and surroundings,
  9. ^ Des Forges, Alexander (2007). Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3081-6. JSTOR j.ctt13x1jm2.