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Amoy dialect

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Title: Amoy dialect  
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Amoy dialect

Amoy (Chinese: 廈門話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Ē-mn̂g-ōe or Ē-mûiⁿ-ōa), also known as Xiamenese or Xiamen dialect, is a Hokkien dialect spoken in Southern Fujian province (in Southeast China), in the area centered on the city of Xiamen. The Amoy dialect is often known by its Hokkien or Min Nan in Southeast Asia. It is one of the most widely researched varieties of Min Nan,[1] and has historically come to be one of the more standardized varieties.[2]

Spoken Amoy and Taiwanese are both mixtures of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou speech.[3] As such, they are very closely aligned phonologically. However, there are some subtle differences between the two, as a result of physical separation and other historical factors. The lexical differences between the two are slightly more pronounced. Generally speaking the Hokkien dialects of Amoy, Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia are mutually intelligible.


  • History 1
  • Special characteristics 2
    • Accents 2.1
    • Tones 2.2
    • Tone sandhi 2.3
    • Literary and colloquial readings 2.4
  • Vocabulary 3
  • Grammar 4
  • Romanization 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


In 1842, as a result of the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, Xiamen (Amoy) was designated as a trading port. Xiamen and Gulangyu islands rapidly developed, which resulted in a large influx of people from neighboring areas such as Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. The mixture of these various accents formed the basis for Amoy. Over the last several centuries, there has been a large number of descendants from these areas to migrate to Taiwan. Eventually, Amoy became popularly known as Taiwanese among the locals living there. Just like British and American English, there are subtle lexical and phonological differences between Taiwanese and Amoy; however, these differences do not generally pose any barriers to communication. Amoy speakers also spread to Southeast Asia, where it became widely known as Hokkien.

Special characteristics

Spoken Amoy preserves many of the sounds and words from Old Chinese. However, the vocabulary of Amoy was also influenced in its early stages by the languages of the Minyue peoples.[4] Spoken Amoy is known for its extensive use of nasalization.

Unlike Mandarin, Amoy distinguishes between voiced and voiceless unaspirated initial consonants (Mandarin has no voicing of initial consonants). Unlike English, it differentiates between unaspirated and aspirated voiceless initial consonants (as Mandarin does too). In less technical terms, native Amoy speakers have little difficulty in hearing the difference between the following syllables:

  unaspirated aspirated
bilabial stop bo 母 po 保 pʰo 抱
velar stop go 俄 ko 果 kʰo 科
  voiced voiceless


A comparison between Amoy and other Min Nan dialects can be found there.


Amoy is similar to other Min Nan dialects in that it makes use of five tones, though only two in checked syllables. The tones are traditionally numbered from 1 through 8, with 4 and 8 being the checked tones, but those numbered 2 and 6 are identical in most regions.
Tone number Tone name Tone letter
1 Yin level ˥
2 Yin rising ˥˧
3 Yin falling ˨˩
4 Yin entering ˩ʔ
5 Yang level ˧˥
6=2 Yang rising ˥˧
7 Yang falling ˧
8 Yang entering ˥ʔ

Tone sandhi

Amoy has extremely extensive tone sandhi (tone-changing) rules: in an utterance, only the last syllable pronounced is not affected by the rules. What an 'utterance' is, in the context of this language, is an ongoing topic for linguistic research. For the purpose of this article, an utterance may be considered a word, a phrase, or a short sentence. The diagram illustrates the rules that govern the pronunciation of a tone on each of the syllables affected (that is, all but the last in an utterance):

Literary and colloquial readings

Like other varieties of Min Nan, Amoy has complex rules for literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters. For example, the character for big, 大, has a vernacular reading of tōa (), but a literary reading of tāi (). Because of the loose nature of the rules governing when to use a given pronunciation, a learner of the language must often simply memorize the appropriate reading for a word on a case by case basis. For single syllable words, it is more common to use the vernacular pronunciation. This situation is comparable to the on and kun readings of Japanese.

The vernacular readings are generally thought to predate the literary readings; the literary readings appear to have evolved from Middle Chinese. The following chart illustrates some of the more commonly seen sound shifts:

Colloquial Literary Example
[p-], [pʰ-] [h-] pun hun divide
[ts-], [tsʰ-], [tɕ-], [tɕʰ-] [s-], [ɕ-] chiâⁿ sêng to become
[k-], [kʰ-] [tɕ-], [tɕʰ-] kí chí finger
[-ã], [-uã] [-an] khòaⁿ khàn to see
[-ʔ] [-t] chia̍h si̍t to eat
[-i] [-e] sì sè world
[-e] [-a] ke ka family
[-ia] [-i] kh khì to stand


For further information, read the article: Swadesh list

The Swadesh word list, developed by the linguist Morris Swadesh, is used as a tool to study the evolution of languages. It contains a set of basic words which can be found in every language.


Amoy grammar shares a similar structure to other Chinese dialects, although it is slightly more complex than Mandarin. Moreover, equivalent Amoy and Mandarin particles are usually not cognates.

Complement constructions

Amoy complement constructions are roughly parallel to Mandarin ones, although there are variations in the choice of lexical term. The following are examples of constructions that Amoy employs.

In the case of adverbs:

English: He runs quickly.
Amoy: i cháu ē kín (伊走會緊)
Mandarin: tā pǎo de kuài (他跑得快)
Gloss: He-runs-obtains-quick.

In the case of the adverb "very":

English: He runs very quickly.
Amoy: i cháu chiok kín (伊走足緊)
Mandarin: tā pǎo de hěn kuài (他跑得很快)
Gloss: He-runs-obtains-quick.
English: He does not run quickly.
Amoy: i cháu kín (伊走未緊)
Mandarin: tā pǎo kuài (他跑不快)
Gloss: He-runs-not-quick
English: He can see.
Amoy: i khòaⁿ ē tio̍h (伊看會著)
Mandarin: tā kàn de dào (他看得到)
Gloss: He-see-obtains-already-achieved

For the negative,

English: He cannot see.
Amoy: i khòaⁿ tio̍h (伊看未著)
Mandarin: tā kàn dào (他看不到)
Gloss: He-sees-not-already achieved

For the adverb "so," Amoy uses kah (甲) instead of Mandarin de (得):

English: He was so startled, that he could not speak.
Amoy: i kiaⁿ "kah" ōe mā kóng boē chhut-lâi (伊驚甲話每講未出來)
Mandarin: tā xià de huà dōu shuō bù chūlái (他嚇得話都說不出來)
Gloss: He-startled-to-the point of-words-also-say-not-come out

Negative particles

Negative particle syntax is parallel to Mandarin about 70% of the time, although lexical terms used differ from those in Mandarin. For many lexical particles, there is no single standard Hanji character to represent these terms (e.g. m̄, a negative particle, can be variously represented by 毋, 呣, and 唔), but the most commonly used ones are presented below in examples. The following are commonly used negative particles:

  1. m̄ (毋, 呣, 唔) - is not + noun (Mandarin 不, )
    i m̄-sī gún lāu-bú. (伊毋是阮老母) She is not my mother.
  2. m̄ - does not + verb/will not + verb (Mandarin 不, )
    i m̄ lâi. (伊毋來) He will not come.
  3. verb + bē (未 or 袂) + particle - is not able to (Mandarin 不, )
    góa khòaⁿ-bē-tio̍h. (我看未著) I am not able to see it.
  4. bē (未) + helping verb - cannot (opposite of ē 會, is able to/Mandarin 不, )
    i bē-hiáu kóng Eng-gú. (伊未曉講英語) He can't speak English.
    • helping verbs that go with bē (未)
      bē-sái (未使) - is not permitted to (Mandarin 不可以 bù kěyǐ)
      bē-hiáu (未曉) - does not know how to (Mandarin 不会, búhuì)
      bē-tàng (未當) - not able to (Mandarin 不能, bùnéng)
  5. mài (莫, 勿, or 嘜) - do not (imperative) (Mandarin 別, bié)
    mài kóng! (莫講) Don't speak!
  6. bô (無) - do not + helping verb (Mandarin 不, )
    i bô beh lâi. (伊無侎來) He is not going to come.
    • helping verbs that go with bô (無):
      beh (侎 or 欲) - want to + verb; will + verb
      ài (愛) - must + verb
      èng-kai (應該) - should + verb
      kah-ì (合意) - like to + verb
  7. bô (無) - does not have (Mandarin 沒有, méiyǒu)
    i bô chîⁿ. (伊無錢) He does not have any money.
  8. bô - did not (Mandarin 沒有, méiyǒu)
    i bô lâi. (伊無來) He did not come.
  9. bô (無) - is not + adjective (Mandarin 不, )
    i bô súi. (伊無婎 or 伊無媠) She is not beautiful.
    • Hó (good) is an exception, as it can use both m̄ and bô.

Common particles

Commonly seen particles include:

  • 與 (hō·) - indicates passive voice (Mandarin 被, bèi)
    i hō· lâng phiàn khì (伊與人騙去) - They were cheated
  • 共 (kā) - identifies the object (Mandarin 把, )
    i kā chîⁿ kau hō· lí (伊共錢交與你) - He handed the money to you
  • 加 (ke) - "more"
    i ke chia̍h chi̍t óaⁿ (伊加食一碗) - He ate one more bowl
  • 共 (kā) - identifies the object
    góa kā lí kóng (我共你講) - I'm telling you
  • 濟 (choē) - "more"
    i ū khah choē ê pêng-iú (伊有較濟的朋友) - He has comparatively many friends


A number of Romanization schemes have been devised for Amoy. Pe̍h-ōe-jī is one of the oldest and best established. However, the Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet has become the romanization of choice for many of the recent textbooks and dictionaries from Taiwan.

IPA a ap at ak ã ɔ ɔk ɔ̃ ə o e i ɪɛn
Pe̍h-ōe-jī a ap at ak ah aⁿ ok oⁿ o o e eⁿ i ian eng
Revised TLPA a ap at ak ah aN oo ok ooN o o e eN i ian ing
TLPA a ap at ak ah ann oo ok oonn o o e enn i ian ing
BP a ap at ak ah na oo ok noo o o e ne i ian ing
MLT a ab/ap ad/at ag/ak aq/ah va o og/ok vo ø ø e ve i ien eng
DT a āp/ap āt/at āk/ak āh/ah ann/aⁿ o ok onn/oⁿ or or e enn/eⁿ i ian/en ing
Taiwanese kana アア アㇷ゚ アㇱ アㇰ アァ アア オオ オㇰ オオ オオ ヲヲ エエ エエ イイ イェヌ イェン
Extended bopomofo ㄚㆴ ㄚㆵ ㄚㆶ ㄚㆷ ㆦㆶ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄥ
Tâi-lô a ap at ak ah ann oo͘ ok onn o o e enn i ian ing
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA ɪk ĩ ai au am ɔm ɔŋ ŋ̍ u ua ue uai uan ɨ (i)ũ
Pe̍h-ōe-jī ek iⁿ ai aiⁿ au am om m ong ng u oa oe oai oan i (i)uⁿ
Revised TLPA ik iN ai aiN au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan ir (i)uN
TLPA ik inn ai ainn au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan ir (i)unn
BP ik ni ai nai au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan i n(i)u
MLT eg/ek vi ai vai au am om m ong ng u oa oe oai oan i v(i)u
DT ik inn/iⁿ ai ainn/aiⁿ au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan i (i)unn/uⁿ
Taiwanese kana イェㇰ イイ アイ アイ アウ アム オム オン ウウ ヲア ヲエ ヲァイ ヲァヌ ウウ ウウ
Extended bopomofo ㄧㆶ ㄨㄚ ㄨㆤ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄢ
Tâi-lô ik inn ai ainn au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan i iunn
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA p b m t n l k ɡ h tɕi ʑi tɕʰi ɕi ts dz tsʰ s
Pe̍h-ōe-jī p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h chi ji chhi si ch j chh s
Revised TLPA p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h zi ji ci si z j c s
TLPA p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h zi ji ci si z j c s
BP b bb p bb d t n lng l g gg k h zi li ci si z l c s
MLT p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h ci ji chi si z j zh s
DT b bh p m d t n nng l g gh k h zi r ci si z r c s
Taiwanese kana パア バア パ̣ア マア タア タ̣ア ナア ヌン ラア カア ガア カ̣ア ハア チイ ジイ チ̣イ シイ ザア サ̣ サア
Extended bopomofo ㄋㆭ
Tâi-lô p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h tsi ji tshi si ts j tsh s
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

Tone name Yin level
Yin rising
Yin departing
Yin entering
Yang level
Yang rising
Yang departing
Yang entering
High rising
Neutral tone
IPA a˥˧ a˨˩ ap˩
a˧˥ a˥˧ ap˥
Pe̍h-ōe-jī a á à ap
â á ā a̍p
a1 a2 a3 ap4
a5 a2 (6=2) a7 ap8
a9 a0
BP ā ǎ à āp
á ǎ â áp
af ar ax ab
aa aar a ap
DT a à â āp
ǎ à ā ap
á å
Taiwanese kana
(normal vowels)
アア アア アア アㇷ゚
アア アア アア アㇷ゚
Taiwanese kana
(nasal vowels)
アア アア アア アㇷ゚
アア アア アア アㇷ゚
Zhuyin ㄚˋ ㄚ˪ ㄚㆴ
ㄚˊ ㄚˋ ㄚ˫ ㄚㆴ˙
Tâi-lô a á à ah â á ā a̍h    
(traditional Chinese)

(simplified Chinese)

See also


  1. ^ Alan Lee, Tone patterns of Kelantan Hokkien and related issues in Southern Min tonology (January 1, 2005). Paper AAI3197700.
  2. ^ From p.151 of Heylen, Ann (January 1, 2001). "Missionary linguistics on Taiwan. Romanizing Taiwanese: codification and standardization of dictionaries in Southern Min (1837-1923)". In Ku Wei-Ying; De Ridder, Koen. Authentic Chinese Christianity : Preludes to its development (Nineteenth and twentieth centuries). Leuven Chinese studies. pp. 135–174.  
  3. ^ 牛耕叟 Niú Gēngsǒu The Historical Development of Taiwanese Hoklo台湾河洛话发展历程
  4. ^ "The Ancient Minyue People and the Origins of the Min Nan Language".  


  • To understand the beauty of Taiwanese () (in Mandarin/Taiwanese).  
  • A vocabulary and sentence structure comparison between Mandarin, Taiwanese and English () (in Mandarin/Taiwanese/English).  
  • Papers on Southern Min Syntax () (in Mandarin/Min Nan/English).  
  • Carstairs Douglas, Thomas Barclay (1899). Chinese-English dictionary of the vernacular or spoken language of Amoy: with the principal variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew dialects (NEW EDITION ed.). LONDON 14 PATERNOSTER SQUARE: Presbyterian church of England. p. 612. Retrieved 2011-05-15. (Original from the University of Michigan)
  • John Macgowan (missionary.) (1898). A manual of the Amoy colloquial ... (FOURTH EDITION ed.). Amoy: Chui Keng Ton. p. 216. Retrieved 2011-05-15. (Original from the New York Public Library)

External links

  • Carstairs Douglas, Thomas Barclay (1899). Chinese-English dictionary of the vernacular or spoken language of Amoy: with the principal variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew dialects. Presbyterian church of England. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • John Macgowan (missionary.) (1898). A manual of the Amoy colloquial .... Chui Keng Ton. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • {Why it is Called Amoy}, Why Minnan is called "Amoy"
  • , Amoy-Mandarin on-line dictionary
  • , Amoy-Hakka-Mandarin on-line conversion
  • listen to the news in Amoy Min Nan (site is in Chinese script)
  • Database of Pronunciations of Chinese Dialects (in English, Chinese and Japanese)
  • Glossika - Chinese Languages and Dialects
  • Voyager - Spacecraft - Golden Record - Greetings From Earth - Amoy, includes translation and sound clip
    (The voyager clip says: Thài-khong pêng-iú, lín-hó. Lín chia̍h-pá--bē? Ū-êng, to̍h lâi gún chia chē--ô·! )
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