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Suzhou dialect

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Title: Suzhou dialect  
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Subject: Wu Chinese, Changzhou dialect, Shanghainese, Taihu Wu dialects, Hangzhou dialect
Collection: Culture of Suzhou, Suzhou, Wu Chinese
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Suzhou dialect

Suzhou dialect
Native to People's Republic of China
Region Suzhou, Jiangsu province; also in Shanghai
Overseas, in the United States (New York City)
Native speakers
approx. 5-7 million (date missing)
  • Chinese
    • Wu
      • Taihu
        • Suzhou–Shanghai–Jiaxing
          • Suzhou dialect
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6 suji
Linguist list
Glottolog None

The Suzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 苏州话; traditional Chinese: 蘇州話; pinyin: Sūzhōuhuà; Suzhounese: 蘇州閒話, IPA: ), formerly romanized as the Soochow dialect and now also known as Suzhounese, is a branch of Wu Chinese, one of group of Chinese linguistic varieties. Suzhounese is spoken in the city of Suzhou in China's Jiangsu Province and is the traditional prestige dialect of Wu. Considered one of the most flowing and elegant languages of China, even effeminate, it is rich in vowels and conservative in having many initials.


  • Distribution 1
  • History 2
  • Plural pronouns 3
  • Varieties 4
  • Phonology 5
    • Initials 5.1
    • Rimes 5.2
    • Tones 5.3
  • Romanization 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The Suzhou dialect is spoken within the city itself and the surrounding area, including migrants living in nearby Shanghai. There is also an increasing number of Suzhounese speakers in New York City in the United States.

The Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in its satellite cities such as Kunshan, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, as well as those spoken in its former satellites Wuxi and Shanghai. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in other areas of the Wu cultural sphere such as Hangzhou and Ningbo. It is not mutually intelligible with modern Mandarin or Cantonese but, as all public schools and most broadcast communication in Suzhou use Mandarin exclusively, nearly all speakers of the dialect are at least bilingual. Owing to migration within China, many residents of the city cannot speak the local dialect but can usually understand it after a few months or years in the area.


A "ballad-narrative" (說晿詞話) known as "The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao" (薛仁貴跨海征遼故事), which is about the Tang dynasty hero Xue Rengui[1] is believed to been written in the Suzhou dialect.[2]

Plural pronouns

Second- and third-person pronouns are suffixed with [toʔ] for the plural. The first-person plural is a separate root, [ni].[3]


Some non native speakers of Suzhou dialect speak Suzhou dialect in a "stylized variety" to tell tales.[4]



Initials of Suzhou dialect
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolo-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ȵ ŋ
Plosive aspirated
voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
voiceless ts
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z ɦ
Lateral l

Suzhou dialect has a set of voiced initials and exhibits unvoiced unaspirated and aspirated stops, there are unvoiced and voiced fricatives sets. Moreover, palatized initials also feature.


Vowels Diphthongs Triphthongs Nasals Glottals
      m, n, ŋ, l  


i iø, io, iæᵄ, iɒ iøʏ in, ioŋ, iã, iɒ̃ ɪʔ(iəʔ), ioʔ, iaʔ, iɒʔ
y     yən yɤʔ
u uø, uɛ, uɒ   uən, uɒ̃, uã uɤʔ, uaʔ
ø øʏ      
  əu   ən ɤʔ
ɒ     ɒ̃ ɒʔ

Suzhou has one triphthong rhyme, [iøʏ]. Unlike Shanghai, it has no nasalised rhymes, though it does have a set of rhymes that end in a nasal stop. Middle Chinese entering tone characters which end in [p t k] end as a glottal stop [ʔ] in Suzhou. Middle Chinese nasal endings [m] have merged with rhymes that end with [n] in Suzhou. Middle Chinese [ŋ] ending rhymes have split into two types in Suzhou. Those with a high-fronted main vowel merge with [n] ending rhymes. Those with a palatising medial [i] and back main vowel retain the [ŋ] ending.


Suzhou is considered to have seven tones. However, since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant, these constitute just three phonemic tones: ping, shang, and qu. (Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)

Tone chart of Suzhou dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) ˦ (44) high
2 yang ping (陽平) ˨˨˦ (224) level-rising
3 shang (上) ˥˨ (52) high falling
4 yin qu (陰去) ˦˩˨ (412) dipping
5 yang qu (陽去) ˨˧˩ (231) rising-falling
6 yin ru (陰入) ˦ʔ (4) high checked
7 yang ru (陽入) ˨˧ʔ (23) rising checked

In Suzhou, the Middle Chinese Shang tone has partially merged with the modern yin qu tone.


See also


  1. ^ Boudewijn Walraven, Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 341.  
  2. ^ Boudewijn Walraven, Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 342.  
  3. ^ Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla (2003). Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla, ed. The Sino-Tibetan languages. Volume 3 of Routledge language family series (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 86.  
  4. ^ George Melville Bolling, Linguistic Society of America, Bernard Bloch, Project Muse (2000). Language, Volume 76, Issues 1-2. Linguistic Society of America. p. 160. Retrieved 2012-03-10. She also examines a stylized variety of Suzhou Wu as used to tell stories by native speakers of another dialect. (Original from the University of Michigan)(Digitized Dec 17, 2010)

External links

  • Wu Association
  • Soochow(Suzhou) Dialect
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