Hakka (linguistics)

Hakka is one language in the family of languages known as Chinese. The majority of its speakers are known Hakka people. Hak 客 (Mandarin: kè) means "guest", and ka 家 (Mandarin: jia) means "family". Amongst themselves, Hakka people variously called their language Hak-ka-fa/-va 客家語, Hak-fa/-va, 客語, Tu-gong-dung-fa/-va 土廣東話, Ngai-fa/-va "亻厓"話 (my/our speech).

The Hakka language has numerous dialects, spoken in Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Guizhou provinces, including Hainan island and Taiwan.

Hakka (客家话)
Spoken in: China (the PRC and the ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other countries where Hakka Chinese migrants have settled.
Region: in China: Eastern Guangdong province; adjoining regions of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces
Total speakers: 34 million
Ranking: 30
Genetic classification: Sino-Tibetan


Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: The Guangdong Provincial Education Department created an official romanisation of Meixian Hakka dialect in 1960, one of four languages receiving this status in Guangdong. It is called Kejiahua Pinyin Fang'an.
Language codes
ISO 639-1zh
ISO 639-2chi (B) / zho (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Amongst the dialects of Hakka, the Moi-yen/Moi-yan (梅縣, pinyin: MéiXìan) dialect has been used most as a prime example of the Hakka language. Moiyen is located in the north eastern region of Guangdong province.

Like all other varieties of Chinese, there is plenty of dispute as to whether Hakka is a language or a dialect. Please see here for the issues surrounding this dispute.



The Hakka people have their origins in several episodes of migration from northern China into southern China during periods of war and civil unrest. The forebearers of the Hakka came from present-day Henan and Shaanxi provinces, and brought with them features of dialects spoken in those areas during that time. (Since then the speech in those regions evolved into dialects of modern Mandarin.) The presence of many archaic features occur in modern Hakka, including final consonants , as are found in other modern southern Chinese dialects, but these have been lost in some northern Mandarin dialects.

Due to the migration of its speakers, the Hakka language may have been influenced by other language areas through which the Hakka-speaking forebears migrated. For instance, common vocabulary are found in Hakka, Min and Cantonese Chinese languages.

Hakka phonology

Moiyen dialect initials

There are no voiced plosives stops () in Hakka, but it exhibits two sets of stops, one unaspirated (), and the other aspirated ().

  IPA/Rom Labials Dentals/Apicals Silibants Palatals Velars Laryngeals
Voiceless Unaspirated Stops IPA  
Rom b d z   g  
Voiceless Aspirated Stops IPA    
Rom p t     k  
Nasals IPA    
Rom m n   ngi ng  
Fricatives IPA      
Rom f   s     h
Liquids IPA      
Rom v l   (y)    

When the initials z c s () and ng () is followed by a palatised medial, they become j q x () and ngi () respectively.

Moiyan rimes

Moiyan Hakka has six vowels, , that are romanised as i, i, , a, e, o and u, respectively. The palatisation medial () is represented by i and the labialisation medial () is represented as u.

Moreover, Hakka rimes exhibits the final stops found in Middle Chinese, namely which are romanised as m, n, ng, b, d, and g respectively in the official Moiyan romanisation.

vowel medial
Syllabics         ŋ      

Moiyen tones

The Middle Chinese fully voiced initial characters have become aspirated unvoiced initial characters in Hakka. The four Middle Chinese tones Ping, Shang, Qu, Ru have developed in the Moiyan dialect to exhibit a yin-yang splitting in the Ping tone, and a yin-yang splitting in the Ru tone, giving it six tones.

Tone name Yin Ping Yang Ping Shang Qu Yin Ru Yang Ru
Tone contour 44 11 31 53 1 5
Tone 1 2 3 4 5 6

These so called yin-yang tonal splittings developed mainly as a consequence of the type of initial a Chinese character had during the Middle Chinese stage in the development of Chinese languages, with unvoiced initial characters tending to become of the yin type, and the voiced initial characters developing into the yang type. In modern Meixian Hakka however, part of the Yin Ping tone characters have sonorant initials originally from the Middle Chinese Shang tone characters and fully voiced Middle Chinese Qu tone characters, so the voiced/unvoiced distinction should be taken only as a rule of thumb.

Tone Sandhi in Moiyen Hakka

For Meixian Hakka, the yin ping and qu tone characters exhibit sandhi when the following character is of a lower pitch than it is. The pitch of the yin ping tone changes from /44/ to /35/ when sandhi occurs. Similarly, the qu tone changes from /53/ to /55/ under sandhi.

Sandhi + Yin Ping + Yang Ping + Shang + Qu + Yin Ru + YangRu + Neutral
Yin Ping + 44 + 44 35 + 11 35 + 31 35 + 53 35 + 1 44 + 5 35 + ~
Qu + 53 + 44 55 + 11 55 + 31 55 + 53 55 + 1 53 + 5 55 + ~

The neutral tone is indicated by the tilde occurring in some postfixes used in Hakka. Its pitch level can be approximated by /3/.

Other dialects of Hakka

The Hakka language has as many regional dialects as there are counties with Hakka speakers in the majority. Surrounding Meixian are the counties of Pingyuan 平遠, Dabu 大埔, Jiaoling 蕉嶺, XingNing 興寧, Wuhua 五華, and FengShun 豐順. Each is said to have its own special phonological points of interest. For instance, the XingNing does not have rimes ending in or . These have merged into and ending rimes, respectively. Further away from Meixian, the Hong Kong dialect lacks the medial, so whereas Meixian dialect pronounces the character 光 as , Hong Kong Hakka dialect pronounces it as , which is similar to the Hakka spoken in neighbouring Shenzhen.

As much as endings and vowels are important, the tones also vary across the dialects of Hakka. The majority of Hakka dialects have six tones, as typified by Meixian dialect above. However, there are dialects which have lost all of their Ru Sheng tones, and the characters originally of this tone class are distributed across the non-Ru tones. Such a dialect is ChangTing 長汀 which is situated in the Western Fujian province. Moreover, there is evidence of the retention of an earlier Hakka tone system in the dialects of HaiFeng 海 豐 and LuFeng 陸 豐 situated on coastal south eastern Guangdong province. They contain a yin-yang splitting in the Qu tone, giving rise to seven tones in all (with yin-yang registers in Ping and Ru tones and a Shang tone).

The Hailu 海陸 Hakka dialect speakers found on Taiwan originated from this region. This particular dialect contains postalveloar consonants (, , , etc.), usually not found in other Chinese dialects. Taiwan's other main population of Hakka speakers, the Sixian (Hakka: Siyen 四縣) speakers come from Jiaying 嘉應 and surrounding JiaoLing, PingYuan, XingNing, and WuHua dialects. Jiaying county later changed its name to Meixian.

Written traditions

Various dialects of Hakka have been written in a number of Latin orthographies, largely for religious purposes, since at least the mid-19th century.

Currently the single largest work in Hakka is the New Testament and Psalms (1993, 1138 pp., see [1] (http://www.worldscriptures.org/pages/chinesehakka.html)), although that is expected to be surpassed soon by the publication of the Old Testament. These works render Hakka in both romanization and Han characters (including ones unique to Hakka) and are based on the dialects of Taiwanese Hakka speakers.

The popular Le Petit Prince has also been translated into Hakka (2000), specifically the Miaoli dialect of Taiwan (itself a variant of the Sixian dialect). This also was dual-script, albeit using the Tongyong Pinyin scheme.

External links

Chinese: spoken varieties

Mandarin | Jin | Wu | Hui | Xiang | Gan | Hakka | Yue | Pinghua | Min
Danzhouhua | Shaozhou Tuhua | Xianghua

Subcategories of Min: Min Dong | Min Bei | Min Zhong | Pu Xian | Min Nan | Qiong Wen | Shao Jiang
Note: The above is only one classification scheme among many.
Comprehensive list of Chinese dialects
Official spoken varieties: Standard Mandarin | Standard Cantonese
Historical phonology: Old Chinese | Middle Chinese | Proto-Min | Proto-Mandarin | Haner
Chinese: written varieties
Official written varieties: Classical Chinese | Vernacular Chinese
Other varieties: Written Cantonese

de:Hakka (Sprache) ja:客家語 sv:Hakka (sprk) zh:客家话 zh-min-nan:Kheh-oē


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