Teochew is a member of the Southern Min subgroup, which in turn constitutes a part of Min Chinese, one of the seven major language groups of Chinese. As with other varieties of Chinese, it is not mutually intelligible with the other dialect groups, but is mutually intelligible with some other Southern Min languages and dialects, such as those of Amoy, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Even within the Teochew dialects, there is substantial variation in phonology between different regions of Chaoshan and between different Teochew communities overseas.
The Chaoshan dialects in China be roughly divided into three sub-groups defined by physically proximate areas:
- Chaozhou sub-group (潮州片): including Chaozhou, Shantou, Jieyang, Chenghai, Nan'ao County and Raoping;
- Chaopu sub-group (潮普片): including Chaoyang, Puning and Huilai;
- Hailufeng sub-group (海陸豐片): including Shanwei, Lufeng and Haifeng
The Chaoshan region, which includes the twin cities of Chaozhou and Shantou, is where the standard variant of Teochew (Chaoshan dialact) is spoken. Parts of the Hakka-speaking regions of Jiexi County, Dabu County and Fengshun, also contain pocket communities of Teochew speakers.
As Chaoshan was one of the major sources of Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia during the 18th to 20th centuries, a considerable Overseas Chinese community in that region is Teochew-speaking. In particular, the Teochew people settled in significant numbers in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, where they form the largest Chinese sub-language group. Teochew-speakers form a minority among Chinese communities in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia (especially in the states of Johor and Selangor) and Indonesia (especially in West Kalimantan on Borneo). Waves of migration from Chaoshan to Hong Kong, especially after the communist victory of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, has also resulted in a community there, although most descendants now primarily speak Cantonese and English.
Teochew speakers are also found among overseas Chinese communities in Japan and the Western world (notably in the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France and Italy), a result of both direct emigration from Chaoshan to these nations and secondary emigration from Southeast Asia.
In Singapore, due to influences from the media and the government such as the Speak Mandarin Campaign, Chinese Singaporeans whose ancestral language is Teochew are either converting to English, Mandarin, Cantonese or Hokkien, the fourth of which Teochew shares a limited but certain degree of mutual intelligibility. Teochew remains the ancestral language of many Chinese people in Singapore - Teochew people are the second largest Chinese group in Singapore, after the Hoklos - although Mandarin is gradually supplanting Teochew as their main language, especially amongst the younger generations. In Thailand, particularly in the Bangkok, Teochew is still spoken among older ethnic Chinese Thai citizens; however, the younger generation tends to learn Standard Mandarin and/or Standard Cantonese as a second or third language after Thai and English.
Teochew was never popular in Chinese communities in Japan and South Korea, since most of the Teochew people who migrated to these countries are secondary immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most of them are second-generation people from Hong Kong and Taiwan who speak Cantonese, Hokkien and Mandarin, as well as Korean and Japanese, leaving Teochew to be spoken mostly by elders.
This refers to Chaozhou, the variety of Teochew spoken in China.
Chaozhou children are introduced to Standard Chinese as early as in kindergarten; however, Chaozhou remains the primary medium of instruction. In the early years of primary education, Mandarin becomes the sole language of instruction, although students typically continue to talk to one another in Chaozhou. Mandarin is widely understood, however minimally, by most younger Chaozhou speakers, but the elderly usually do not speak Mandarin since teaching was done in the local vernacular in the past.
Native Chaozhou speakers find the neutral tone in Mandarin hardest to master. Chaozhou has lost the alveolar nasal ending [-n] and so the people often replace the sound in Mandarin with the velar nasal [-ŋ]. None of the southern Min dialects have a front rounded vowel, therefore a typical Chaozhou accent supplants the unrounded counterpart [i] for [y]. Chaozhou, like its ancient ancestor, lacks labio-dentals; people therefore substitute [h] or [hu] for [f] when they speak Mandarin. Chaozhou does not have any of the retroflex consonants in the northern dialects, so they pronounce [ts], [tsʰ], [s], and [z] instead of [tʂ], [tʂʰ], [ʂ] and [ʐ].
Since Chao'an, Raoping and Jieyang border the Hakka-speaking region in the north, some people in these regions speak Hakka, though they can usually speak Chaozhou as well. Chaozhou people have historically had a great deal of contact with the Hakka people, but Hakka has had little, if any, influence on Chaozhou. Similarly, in Dabu and Fengshun, where the Chaozhou- and Hakka-speaking regions meet, Chaozhou is also spoken although Hakka remains the primary form of Chinese spoken there.
Because of the strong influence of Hong Kong soap operas, Guangdong provincial television programs and Cantonese pop songs, many young Chaoshan peoples can understand quite a lot of Cantonese even if they cannot speak it in certain degrees of fluency.
In the mountainous area of Fenghuang (凤凰山; 鳳凰山), the She language, an endangered Hmong–Mien language, is spoken by the She people, who are an officially-recognised non-Han ethnic minority. They predominantly speak Hakka and Teochew; only about 1,000 She still speak their eponymous language.
Teochew, like other Southern Min varieties, is one of the few modern Sinitic languages which have voiced obstruents (stops, fricatives and affricates); however, unlike Wu and Xiang Chinese, the Teochew voiced stops and fricatives did not evolve from Middle Chinese voiced obstruents, but from nasals. The voiced stops [b] and [ɡ] and also [l] are voicelessly prenasalised [ᵐ̥b], [ᵑ̊ɡ], [ⁿ̥ɺ], respectively. They are in complementary distribution with the tenuis stops [p t k], occurring before nasal vowels and nasal codas, whereas the tenuis stops occur before oral vowels and stop codas. The voiced affricate dz, initial in such words as 字(dzi˩), 二(dzi˧˥), 然(dziaŋ˥), 若(dziak˦) loses its affricate property with some younger speakers abroad, and is relaxed to [z].
Southern Min dialects and varieties are typified by a lack of labiodentals, as illustrated below:
Syllables in Teochew contain an onset consonant, a medial glide, a nucleus, usually in the form of a vowel, but can also be occupied by a syllabic consonant like [ŋ], and a final consonant. All the elements of the syllable except for the nucleus are optional, which means a vowel or a syllabic consonant alone can stand as a fully-fledged syllable.
All the consonants except for the glottal stop ʔ shown in the consonants chart above can act as the onset of a syllable; however, the onset position is not obligatorily occupied.
Teochew finals consist maximally of a medial, nucleus and coda. The medial can be i or u, the nucleus can be a monophthong or diphthong, and the coda can be a nasal or a stop. A syllable must consist minimally of a vowel nucleus or syllabic nasal.
Teochew, like other Chinese varieties, is a tonal language. It has six tones (reduced to two in stopped syllables) and extensive tone sandhi.
As with sandhi in other Min Nan dialects, the checked tones interchange. The yang tones all become low. Sandhi is not accounted for in the description below.
The grammar of Teochew is similar to other Min languages, as well as some southern varieties of Chinese, especially with Hakka, Yue and Wu. The sequence 'subject–verb–object' is typical, like Standard Mandarin, although the 'subject–object–verb' form is also possible using particles.
The personal pronouns in Teochew, like in other Chinese varieties, do not show case marking, therefore 我 [ua] means both I and me and 伊人 [iŋ] means they and them. The southern Min dialects, like some northern dialects, have a distinction between an inclusive and exclusive we, meaning that when the addressee is being included, the inclusive pronoun 俺 [naŋ] would be used, otherwise 阮 [ŋ]. No other southern Chinese variety has this distinction.
Teochew does not distinguish the possessive pronouns from the possessive adjectives. As a general rule, the possessive pronouns or adjectives are formed by adding the genitive or possessive marker 個 [kai5] to their respective personal pronouns, as summarised below:本書是我個。
[puŋ˥˨ tsɨ˧ si˧˥ ua˥˨ kai˥]
The book is mine.
As 個 [kai˥] is the generic measure word, it may be replaced by other more appropriate classifiers:我條裙
[ua˥˨ tiou˥ kuŋ˥]
Teochew has the typical two-way distinction between the demonstratives, namely the proximals and the distals, as summarised in the following chart:
Note: (T): Traditional characters; (S): Simplified characters.
Ordinal numbers are formed by adding 第 [tõĩ˧˥] in front of a cardinal number.
In Teochew passive construction, the agent phrase by somebody always has to be present, and is introduced by either 乞 [kʰoiʔ˦] (some speakers use [kʰəʔ] or [kʰiəʔ] instead) or 分 [puŋ˧], even though it is in fact a zero or indefinite agent as in:伊分人刣掉。
[i˧ puŋ˧ naŋ˥ tʰai˥ tiou˩]
S/he was killed (by someone).
While in Mandarin one can have the agent introducer 被; bèi or 給; gěi alone without the agent itself, it is not grammatical to say* 個杯分敲掉。
[kai˥ pue˧ puŋ˧ kʰa˧ tiou˩]
The cup was broken.
cf. Mandarin 杯子給打破了
; bēizi gěi dǎ pòle
Instead, we have to say:個杯分人敲掉。
[kai˥ pue˧ puŋ˧ naŋ˥ kʰa˧ tiou˩]
The cup was broken.
Even though this 人 [naŋ˥] is unknown.
Note also that the agent phrase 分人 [puŋ˧ naŋ˥] always comes immediately after the subject, not at the end of the sentence or between the auxiliary and the past participle like in some European languages (e.g. German, Dutch)
Comparative construction with two or more nouns
Teochew uses the construction "X ADJ 過 [kue˨˩˧] Y", which is believed to have evolved from the Old Chinese "X ADJ 于 (yú) Y" structure to express the idea of comparison:伊雅過汝。
[i˧ ŋia˥˨ kue˨˩˧ lɨ˥˨]
She is more beautiful than you.
Cantonese uses the same construction:佢靚過你。
Keoi5 leng3 gwo3 nei5.
She is more beautiful than you.
However, due to modern influences from Mandarin, the Mandarin structure "X 比 Y ADJ" has also gained popularity over the years. Therefore, the same sentence can be re-structured and becomes:伊比汝雅。
[i˩ pi˥˨ lɨ˥˨ ŋia˥˨]
She is more beautiful than you.
cf. Mandarin 她比你漂亮
; tā bǐ nǐ piàoliang
Comparative construction with only one noun
It must be noted that the 過- or 比-construction must involve two or more nouns to be compared; an ill-formed sentence will be yielded when only one is being mentioned:* 伊雅過
Teochew is different from English, where the second noun being compared can be left out ("Tatyana is more beautiful (than Lisa)". In cases like this, the 夭-construction must be used instead:伊夭雅。
[i1 iou6 ŋia2]
She is more beautiful.
The same holds true for Mandarin and Cantonese in that another structure needs to be used when only one of the nouns being compared is mentioned. Note also that Teochew and Mandarin both use a pre-modifier (before the adjective) while Cantonese uses a post-modifier (after the adjective).Mandarin
tā bǐjiào piàoliang
keoi5 leng3 di1
There are two words which are intrinsically comparative in meaning, i.e. 贏 [ĩã5] "better" and 輸 [su1] "worse". They can be used alone or in conjunction with the 過-structure:只領裙輸(過)許領。
[tsi2 nĩã2 kuŋ5 su1 kue3 hɨ2 nĩã2]
This skirt is not as good as that one.
[ua2 lai6 kai7 tiaŋ6 nau2 ĩã5 i1 kai7 hoʔ2 tsoi7]
My computer (at home) is
far better than his.
Note the use of the adverbial 好多 [hoʔ2 tsoi7] at the end of the sentence to express a higher degree.
In Teochew, the idea of equality is expressed with the word 平 [pẽ5] or 平樣 [pẽ5 ĩõ7]:只本書佮許本平重。
[tsi2 puŋ2 tsɨ1 kaʔ4 hɨ2 puŋ2 pẽ5 taŋ6]
This book is as heavy as that one.
[i1 no6 naŋ5 pẽ5 pẽ5 ĩõ7]
They are the same. (They look the same./They're as good as each other./They're as bad as each other.)
To express the superlative, Teochew uses the adverb 上 [siaŋ5] or 上頂 [siaŋ5 teŋ2]. However, it should be noted that 上頂 is usually used with a complimentary connotation.只間物上頂好食。
[tsi2 kõĩ1 mueʔ8 siaŋ5 teŋ2 ho2 tsiaʔ8]
This (restaurant) is (absolutely) the most delicious.
[i1 naŋ5 tui3 ua2 siaŋ5 ho2]
They treat me best.
The vocabulary of Teochew shares a lot of similarities with Cantonese because of their continuous contact with each other. Like Cantonese, Teochew has a great deal of monosyllabic words. However, ever since the standardisation of Modern Standard Chinese, Teochew has absorbed a lot of Putonghua vocabulary, which is predominantly polysyllabic. Also, Teochew varieties in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have also borrowed extensively from Malay.
Teochew and other Southern Min varieties, such as Taiwanese Hokkien, preserve a good deal of Old Chinese vocabularyour, such as 目 [mak] eye (Chinese: 眼睛; pinyin: yǎnjīng, Taiwanese Hokkien: 目 ba̍k), 灱 [ta] dry (Chinese: 乾; pinyin: gān, Taiwanese Hokkien: 焦 ta), and 囥 [kʰəŋ] hide (cf. Chinese: 藏; pinyin: cáng; Taiwanese Hokkien: 囥 khǹg).
Teochew was romanised by the Provincial Education Department of Guangdong in 1960 to aid linguistic studies and the publication of dictionaries, although Pe̍h-ōe-jī can also be used because Christian missionaries invented it for the transcription of varieties of Southern Min.
Initial consonants of Teochew, are represented in the Guangdong Romanization system as: B, BH, C, D, G, GH, H, K, L, M, N, NG, P, R, S, T, and Z.
Examples:B [p] - bag (北 north)
Bh [b]- bhê (馬/马 horse)
C [tsʰ] - cên (青 green), cǔi (嘴 mouth), cêng (槍/枪 gun)
D [t] - dio (潮 tide)
G [k] - gio (橋/桥 bridge)
GH [g] - gho (鵝/鹅 goose)
H [h] - hung (雲/云 cloud)
K [kʰ] - ke (走 to go)
L [l] - lag (六 six)
M [m] - mêng (明 bright)
N [n] - nang (人 person)
NG [ŋ] - ngou (五 five)
P [pʰ] - peng (平 peace)
R [(d)z] - riêg/ruah (熱/热 hot)
S [s] - sên (生 to be born)
T [tʰ] - tin (天 sky)
Z [ts] - ziu (州 region/state)
Vowels and vowel combinations in the Teochew dialect include: A, E, Ê, I, O, U, AI, AO, IA, IO, IU, OI, OU, UA, UAI, UE, and UI.
Examples:A - ma (媽/妈 mother)
E - de (箸 chopsticks)
Ê - sên (生 to be born)
I - bhi (味 smell/taste)
O - to (桃 peach)
U - ghu (牛 cow)
Many words in Teochew are nasalized. This is represented by the letter "n" in the Guangdong Pengim system.
Example (nasalized):suan (山 mountain)
cên (青 green)
Ending consonants in Teochew include M and NG as well as the stops discussed below.
Examples:M - iam (鹽/盐 salt)
NG - bhuang (萬/万 ten thousand)
Teochew retains many consonant stops lost in Mandarin. These stops include a labial stop: "b"; velar stop: "g"; and glottal stop: "h".
Examples:B - zab (十 ten)
G - hog (福 happiness)
H - tih (鐵/铁 iron)