Wenzhounese (), also known as Oujiang (), Tong Au () or Auish (), is the language spoken in , the southern prefecture of , China. Nicknamed the "Devil's Language" for its complexity and difficulty, it is the most divergent division of , with little to no with other Wu dialects or any other . It features noticeable elements in common with , which is spoken to the south in . ''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 that it has the reputation of being the least comprehensible dialect for an average speaker. It preserves a large amount of vocabulary of lost elsewhere, earning itself the nickname "the ", and has distinct grammatical differences from Mandarin. Wenzhounese is one of five other than Standard Mandarin used for broadcasting by , alongside , , , and .


Wenzhounese is part of the 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 , China. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in scattered pockets of in southeastern China. Overseas, it is spoken in increasingly larger communities in the and the in in the United States. Wenzhounese is also spoken by some communities in Europe, in particular Italy, France, and Spain. It is used more widely among the 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 , Tuscany, were born in Zhejiang Province.


Wenzhounese can be generally divided into the following three dialects: * Northern Dialect, including dialects spoken in Wenzhou, Ouhai, Yongqiong, Yongjia, and some towns in Yueqing like Liushi and Baixiang. * Southern Dialect, including , , Longgang dialect, Pingyang dialect, etc. * Northeastern Dialect, which is spoken in the city of Yueqing. 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 .)




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


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 (this has been used as evidence for a independently posited for ). The ''rù'' tones, however, are unusual in being distinct despite having lost their final stops; in addition, the , 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 . As in , 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 (s), which take a low tone. However, in Wenzhounese only one tonic word may exist in a ; 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 . 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 : 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 morpheme. To convey the sense of "this", the 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)'.


Like other Chinese dialects, Wenzhou dialect has mainly 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 during wartime communication via s and in the for programming military . 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 , specifically the and the book of , 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

* * * * *



General sources

* (1992). ''Dāngdài Wúyǔ yánjiū''. (Contemporary Wu linguistics studies). Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe. (錢乃榮. 1992. 當代吳語研究. 上海敎育出版社) * Shen, Kecheng (2009). ''Wēnzhōuhuà cíyǔ kǎoshì''. Ningbo: Ningbo chubanshe. (宁波 : 宁波出版社, 2009.) {{Zhejiang topics Wu Chinese