Wenzhounese (), also known as Oujiang (), Tong Au () or Auish (), is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang, China. Nicknamed the "Devil's Language" for its complexity and difficulty, 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. Due to 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. 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. Wenzhounese speakers who have studied Korean and Japanese note that there are words that sound like Korean and/or Japanese but have different meanings. 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. These are spoken over the Zhejiang and south Jiangsu provinces. Wenzhounese is seen as a typical representative of southern Wu.

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 Flushing Chinatown and the Chinatowns in Brooklyn in New York City in the United States. Wenzhounese is also spoken by some Overseas Chinese communities in Europe, in particular Italy, France, and Spain. It is used more widely among the Chinese people in Italy than Mandarin, which is home to about half of the Wenzhounese diaspora in Europe. Over 80% of the Chinese diaspora that are resident in the city of Prato, Tuscany, were born in Zhejiang Province.


Oujiang (Dong'ou) 甌江 (東甌) *Wenzhou dialect 溫州話 *Rui'an dialect 瑞安話 *Wencheng dialect 文成話 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 before : The tones of all other Oujiang dialects are similar to Wenzhounese. (Wenzhounese ''puu'' transcribes the lengthened entering tone.)




Vowels are . Diphthongs are . The only coda is eng, in and syllabic .


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). The ''rù'' 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). The ''shǎng'' and ''rù'' 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, ''rù''); not only are the ''píng'' and ''qù'' pairs obviously distinct phonetically, but they behave as four different tones in the ways they undergo tone sandhi. 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 ''qù'' tones reduce to HM (''yīn qù'') before any other tone, and again with one exception, the ''rù'' tone does not interact with a following tone. The ''shǎng'' and ''rù'' tones change a preceding non-''rù'' tone to HM, and are themselves never affected. (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 :|ML.MH.ML.ML.HM.HM.ML| Per sandhi, the last two syllables become L.L. The antepenult then dissimilates to H, and all pre-tonic syllables become L, for: :/L.L.L.L.H.L.L/ 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 :|ML.HM.L.L.ML| 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): :/HM.M.M.M.ML/ 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.



Wenzhou has a tonic deictic morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the classifier changes its tone to ''rù'' (dipping), and a voiced initial consonant is devoiced. For example, from 'group' there is 'this group', and from 'some (people)' there is 'these (people)'.Zhiming Bao, 1999. ''The structure of tone'', p 119


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

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. 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" ().


There are several sub-branches of Oujiang dialects, and some are not mutually intelligible to 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. An example would be the word for "garbage" (垃圾), which is in the Baimen dialect and in the Wangzhai dialect. Numbers in Oujiang Dialects (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-chî Yi-sû Chī-tuh Sang Iah Sing Shī: Sz̀ fuh-iang tà sź-du ae-djüe fa üe-tsiu t'û''", with the entire book in romanized Wenzhou dialect.

See also

*List of varieties of Chinese *Wenzhounese romanisation *Suzhou dialect *Shanghainese *Hangzhou dialect



General sources

* Qian Nairong (1992). ''Dāngdài Wúyǔ yánjiū''. (Contemporary Wu linguistics studies). Shànghǎi: shànghǎi jiāoyù chūbǎnshè. (錢乃榮. 1992. 當代吳語研究. 上海敎育出版社) * Shen, Kecheng (2009). ''Wenzhou hua ci yu kao shi''. Ningbo: Ningbo chu ban she. (宁波 : 宁波出版社, 2009.) {{Zhejiang topics Category:Languages of China Category:Languages of France Category:Languages of Italy Category:Languages of Spain Category:Wenzhou Category:Wu Chinese