This article should specify the language of its non-English content, using ((lang)), ((transliteration)) for transliterated languages, and ((IPA)) for phonetic transcriptions, with an appropriate ISO 639 code. Wikipedia's multilingual support templates may also be used. See why. (October 2023)
溫州話 / 温州话
iu1 chiou1 gho6
Pronunciation[ʔjy tɕɤu ɦo]
Native toWenzhou, Zhejiang, China
RegionSoutheastern China, and in Wenzhou immigrant populations in New York City; Paris; Milan and Prato, Italy
Native speakers
(4.2 million cited 1987)[1]
Chinese characters
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
ISO 639-6qjio (Oujiang)
wzhu (Wenzhou proper)
Linguasphere79-AAA-dh (incl.
79-AAA-dhd Wenzhou)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Wenzhounese (simplified Chinese: 温州话; traditional Chinese: 溫州話; pinyin: Wēnzhōuhuà, Wenzhounese: Iu Chiu ho), also known as Oujiang (瓯江话; 甌江話; Ōujiānghuà), Tong Au (东瓯片; 東甌片; Dōng'ōupiàn) or Au Nyü (瓯语; 甌語; Ōuyǔ), is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang, China. It is the most divergent division of Wu Chinese, with little to no mutual intelligibility with other Wu dialects or any other variety of Chinese. It features noticeable elements in common with Min Chinese, which is spoken to the south in Fujian. Oujiang is sometimes used as the broader term, and Wenzhou for Wenzhounese proper in a narrow sense.

Given its long history and the isolation of the region in which it is spoken, Wenzhounese is so unusual in its phonology that it has the reputation of being the least comprehensible dialect for an average Mandarin speaker.[2][3] It preserves a large amount of vocabulary of classical Chinese lost elsewhere, earning itself the nickname "the living fossil", and has distinct grammatical differences from Mandarin.[4][5]

Wenzhounese is one of five varieties of Chinese other than Standard Mandarin used for broadcasting by China Radio International, alongside Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, and Hakka.


Wenzhounese is part of the Wu group of Chinese dialects, sharing many linguistic features with them.[6][7] These are spoken over the Zhejiang and south Jiangsu provinces.[8] Wenzhounese is seen as a typical representative of southern Wu.[9]

Geographic distribution

Wenzhounese is spoken primarily in Wenzhou and the surrounding southern portion of Zhejiang, China. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in scattered pockets of Fujian in southeastern China. Overseas, it is spoken in increasingly larger communities in the United States in Flushing Chinatown in the Queens borough of New York City, and the Chinatowns in Brooklyn in New York City.[10][11][12] Wenzhounese is also spoken by some Overseas Chinese communities in Europe, in particular Italy, France, and Spain.[13] It is used more widely among the Chinese people in Italy than Mandarin.[14][15] Over 80% of the Chinese diaspora that are resident in the city of Prato, Tuscany, were born in Zhejiang Province.[16]


Wenzhounese can be generally divided into the following three dialects:

The most important difference between eastern Wenzhounese dialects such as Wencheng and Wenzhou proper are tonal differences (Wencheng has no falling tones) and the retention of /f/ before /o/:

Pinyin (Standard Mandarin) fēng dào xiǎodé
Wenzhou hoŋ ɕiate
Wencheng po foŋ ɕɔti

The tones of all other Oujiang dialects are similar to Wenzhounese. (Wenzhounese puu transcribes the lengthened entering tone.)


See also: Wenzhounese romanisation


Consonants of the Wenzhou dialect[17]
  Labial Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ̟ ŋ
Plosive voiced b d ɡ
voiceless p t k
Affricate voiced dz
voiceless ts
aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Approximant l j

/l/ is lateral, and /j/ is palatal.


Vowels of the Wenzhou dialect[17]
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close i y ɨ u
Close-mid e ø o
Open-mid ɛ ɜ
Open a
Diphthong ai au ei øy ɤu/ou uɔ/yɔ

The only coda is the velar nasal, in /aŋ oŋ/ and syllabic [ŋ̩].


Citation tones

Wenzhou has three phonemic tones. While it has eight phonetic tones, most of these are predictable: The yīn–yáng tone split dating from Middle Chinese still corresponds to the voicing of the initial consonant in Wenzhou, and the shǎng tones are abrupt and end in glottal stop (this has been used as evidence for a similar situation independently posited for Old Chinese).[18] The tones, however, are unusual in being distinct despite having lost their final stops; in addition, the vowel has lengthened, and the tone has become more complex than the other tones (though some speakers may simplify them to low falling or rising tones).[19]

Tone chart of Wenzhou dialect[20]
Tone number Tone name Tone contour
1 yīn píng (陰平) ˧ 33
2 yáng píng (陽平) ʱ˧˩ 31
3 yīn shǎng (陰上) ˧˥ʔ 35
4 yáng shǎng (陽上) ʱ˨˦ʔ 24
5 yīn qù (陰去) ˦˨ 42
6 yáng qù (陽去) ʱ˩ 11
7 yīn rù (陰入) ˧˨˧ː 323
8 yáng rù (陽入) ʱ˨˩˨ː 212

The shǎng and tones are barely distinguishable apart from the voicing of the initial consonant, and so are phonetically closer to two tones than four. Chen (2000) summarizes the tones as M & ML (ping), MH (shǎng), HM & L (qu), and dipping (MLM, ); not only are the píng and pairs obviously distinct phonetically, but they behave as four different tones in the ways they undergo tone sandhi.[clarification needed]

As in Shanghainese, in Wenzhounese only some of the syllables of a phonological word carry tone. In Wenzhounese there may be three such syllables, with the tone of any subsequent (post-tonic) syllables determined by the last of these. In addition, there may be pre-tonic syllables (clitics), which take a low tone. However, in Wenzhounese only one tonic word may exist in a prosodic unit; all other words are reduced to low tone.

Tone sandhi

Up to three tonic syllables may occur together, but the number of resulting tones is reduced by tone sandhi. Of the six phonetic tones, there are only fourteen lexical patterns created by two tonic syllables. With one exception, the shǎng and tones reduce to HM (yīn qù) before any other tone, and again with one exception, the tone does not interact with a following tone. The shǎng and tones change a preceding non- tone to HM, and are themselves never affected.

2nd syllable
-M -ML -HM -L -MH -(M)LM

(Sandhi that are exceptions to the generalizations above are in bold.)

With a compound word of three syllables, the patterns above apply to the last two. The antepenultimate tonic syllable takes only two possible tones, by dissimilation: low if the following syllable (in sandhi form) starts high (HM), high otherwise. So, for example, the unusually long compound noun "daily necessities" (lit., 'firewood-rice-oil-salt-sauce-vinegar-tea') has the underlying tones


Per sandhi, the last two syllables become L.L. The antepenult then dissimilates to H, and all pre-tonic syllables become L, for:


At a phrasal level, these tones may separate, with a HM tone, for example, shifting to the beginning of a phrase. In the lexicalized phrase "radio receiver" ('wireless telephone tube'), the underlying tones are


Per sandhi, the last two become HM.ML. There is no dissimilation, explained by this being grammatically a lexicalized phrase rather than a compound. The HM shifts forward, with intermediate syllables becoming M (the tone the HM leaves off at):


Although checked (MLM) syllables rarely change in compound words, they can change in phrases: "tall steel case" is underlyingly M.MLM.HM. The middle syllable shifts to HM, and sandhi operates on this *HM.HM sequence to produce HM.ML. The HM then shifts back, yielding /HM.M.ML/.

Such behaviour has been used to support arguments that contour tones in languages like Chinese are single units and they are independent of vowels or other segments.[21]



This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2008)

Wenzhou has a tonal deictic morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the classifier changes its tone to (dipping), and a voiced initial consonant is devoiced. For example, from /pa˧/ 'group' there is /pa˧˨˧/ 'this group', and from /le˧˩/ 'some (people)' there is /l̥e˧˨˧/ 'these (people)'.[21]


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2008)

Like other Chinese dialects, Wenzhou dialect has mainly SVO language structure, but in some situations it can be SOV or OSV. SOV is commonly used with verb+suffix, the common suffixes are 过去起落来牢得还.

ex. 书(给)渠还, (个)瓶水pai去


Main article: Wenzhounese romanisation

Reputation for eccentricity

Wenzhounese is reputed to have been used during the Second Sino-Japanese War during wartime communication via code talkers and in the Sino-Vietnamese War for programming military code.[22][23] There is a common rhymed saying in China that reflects this comprehension difficulty: "Fear not the Heavens, fear not the Earth, but fear the Wenzhou man speaking Wenzhounese" (就怕温州人温州话).


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2008)

There are several sub-branches of Oujiang dialects, and some are not mutually intelligible with the Wenzhou city dialect and the Wencheng dialect, but neighboring dialects are often mutually intelligible. For example, there are 2 dialects spoken in Li'ao Village in the Ouhai District of Wenzhou: one spoken in Baimen (白門), where the local people have 姜 as their surname, and one spoken in Wangzhai (王宅), where local people have normally 王 or 黄 as their surname. Their dialects are almost fully mutually intelligible, except for a few vocabulary items. An example would be the word for "garbage" (垃圾), which is /ʔlutsuu/ in the Baimen dialect and /ʔladʒee/ in the Wangzhai dialect.

Numbers in Oujiang Dialects

Wenzhou ʔjɐi liɛ2 sa1 3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰɐi tɕɐɯ2 zɐi
Rui'an ʔja la2 1 3 ŋ2 ləɯ tsʰa tɕɐɯ2 za

(The long vowels transcribe the lengthened ru tone.)

Literature in Wenzhounese

A translation of part of the New Testament, specifically the four gospels and the book of Acts, was published in 1894 under the title "Chaò-Chḯ Yi-sû Chī-tuh Sang Iah Sing Shī: Sz̀ fuh-iang tà sź-du 'ae-djüe fa üe-tsiu t'û¹-'ò", with the entire book in Romanized Wenzhou dialect.[24]

See also



  1. ^ "Native Speakers Chart". Archived from the original on 2013-05-13 – via
  2. ^ "Wēnzhōuhuà dàodǐ yǒu duō nàn dǒng? Lián "FBI" dōu méi fǎ pòyì" 温州话到底有多难懂? 连"FBI"都没法破译. Sōuhú xīnwén 搜狐新闻 (in Chinese). 2015-08-17. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Zuì nán dǒng shí dà fāngyán páiháng bǎng Wēnzhōuhuà pái dì-yī Dōngběihuà diàndǐ" 最难懂十大方言排行榜 温州话排第一东北话垫底. Rénmín wǎng 人民网 (in Chinese). 2013-12-13. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Culture and Demographics". Wenzhou Municipal People's Government Official Web Portal. 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  5. ^ 珠三角熱話. Wúxiàn xīnwén (in Cantonese). 2013-12-15.
  6. ^ Lin, Jingxia (2021). "Typological Shift in Lexicalizing Motion Events: The Case of Wenzhou". Linguistic Typology. 25 (1): 1–38. doi:10.1515/lingty-2020-5002. hdl:10356/148947. S2CID 219072573.
  7. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 199. ISBN 0-521-22809-3.
  8. ^ Pan, Wuyun (1991). "An Introduction to the Wu Dialects". In Wang, William S.-Y. (ed.). Languages and Dialects of China. Journal of Chinese Linguistics Monograph Series, No. 33. Chinese University Press. pp. 235–291. JSTOR 23827040.
  9. ^ Cao, Jianfen; Maddieson, Ian (1992). "An Exploration of Phonation Types in Wu Dialects of Chinese". Journal of Phonetics. 20 (1): 82. doi:10.1016/S0095-4470(19)30255-4.
  10. ^ Zhao, Xiaojian (2010). The New Chinese America: Class, Economy, and Social Hierarchy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-8135-4691-9.
  11. ^ "WenZhounese in New York". Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  12. ^ "Wenzhounese in NYC". Facebook. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  13. ^ Dinh, Hinh T.; Rawski, Thomas G.; Zafar, Ali; Wang, Lihong; Mavroeidi, Eleonora (September 2013). Tales from the Development Frontier: How China and Other Countries Harness Light Manufacturing to Create Jobs and Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-9988-0. hdl:10986/15763. ISBN 978-0-8213-9988-0.
  14. ^ Paciocco, Adua (2018). "Performing Chinese Diasporic Identity through Mandarin: The Case of Italian-Schooled Chinese Migrant Youth in Prato (Italy)". Journal of Language, Identity & Education. 17 (4): 207–221. doi:10.1080/15348458.2018.1437348. S2CID 149952501.
  15. ^ Deng, Grazia Ting; Xiao, Allen Hai (2016). "Aspiring to Motility: Chinese Petty Entrepreneurs in Italy". In Sagiyama, Ikuko; Pedone, Valentina (eds.). Transcending Borders: Selected Papers in East Asian Studies (PDF). Firenze: Firenze University Press. pp. 3–25. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 9, 2021.
  16. ^ Denison, Tom; Arunachalam, Dharmalingam; Johanson, Graeme; Smyth, Russell (2009). "The Chinese Community in Prato". In Johanson, G.; Smyth, R.; French, R. (eds.). Living Outside the Walls: The Chinese in Prato. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 2–24. ISBN 978-1-4438-0356-4.
  17. ^ a b Shen, Kecheng 沈克成; Shen, Jia 沈迦 (2009). Wēnzhōuhuà cíyǔ kǎoshì 温州话词语考释 (in Chinese). Ningbo: Ningbo chubanshe. pp. 758–760.
  18. ^ Mei, Tsu-lin (1970). "Tones and Prosody in Middle Chinese and the Origin of the Rising Tone". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 30: 86–110. doi:10.2307/2718766. JSTOR 2718766.
  19. ^ Rose, Phil (2008). "17. Oujiang Wu tones and acoustic reconstruction". In Bowern, Claire; Evans, Bethwyn; Miceli, Luisa (eds.). Morphology and Language History: In Honour of Harold Koch. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. Vol. 298. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. p. 237. doi:10.1075/cilt.298.21ros. ISBN 978-90-272-4814-5.
  20. ^ a b Chen, Matthew Y. (2000). Tone Sandhi: Patterns Across Chinese Dialects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 476.
  21. ^ a b Bao, Zhiming (1999). The Structure of Tone. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 119. ISBN 0-19-511880-4.
  22. ^ "Wǎngyǒu zǒngjié zuì nán dǒng fāngyán: Wēnzhōuhuà ràng dí jūn qiètīng yě tīng bù dǒng" 网友总结最难懂方言:温州话让敌军窃听也听不懂. Wǎngyì xīnwén 网易新闻 (in Simplified Chinese). Archived from the original on 2018-12-10. Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  23. ^ 关于越南战争期间中方使用的密码语言,有一说认为并不是温州话,而是来自温州苍南县(当时仍属平阳县)钱库一带的蛮话,参见 访今寻古之三:扑朔迷离说蛮话[permanent dead link],苍南广电网 (in Chinese)
  24. ^ Chaò-Chḯ Yi-sû Chī-tuh Sang Iah Sing Shī: Sz̀ fuh-iang tà sź-du 'ae-djüe fa üe-tsiu t'û¹-'ò. Dà-ìang sing-shï whaỳi yiáng-ge. 1894. p. 564. (in Wenzhounese).

General sources