Nanjing dialect

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Nanjing dialect
Chinese: 南京話
Native to People's Republic of China
Region Nanjing, Jiangsu province
Ethnicity Nanjing People (Han Chinese)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Nanjing dialect or Nanjing Mandarin is a dialect spoken in Nanjing in China. It is part of the Jianghuai group of Mandarin Chinese varieties.[1]


A number of features distinguish the Nanjing dialect from other Mandarin varieties. It maintains the glottal stop final and the entering tone, which Northern Mandarin or Southwestern Mandarin likely also had until recently. Like Northern Mandarin, it has preserved the retroflex initials of Middle Chinese. As with other Jianghuai Mandarin dialects, Nanjing dialect has lost syllable-initial /n/, which have all become /l/. The opposite has occurred in Southwestern Mandarin. Northern Mandarin on the other hand, retains distinct /l/ and /n/ initials. Jianghuai, like Northern Mandarin, also distinguishes between /f/ and /x/ initials in all environments, while they have merged in Southwestern Mandarin before the final /u/.[2]

While Mandarin dialects typically feature two nasal finals (/n/ and /ŋ/), these have merged into one in Jianghuai Mandarin dialects.[3]


The earliest dialect of Nanjing was an ancient Wu dialect during the Eastern Jin. After the Wu Hu uprising, the Jin Emperor and many northern Chinese fled south, establishing the new capital Jiankang in what is modern day Nanjing. It was during this time that the ancient Wu of Nanjing was replaced by Jianghuai Mandarin. Further events occurred, such as Hou Jing's rebellions during the Liang dynasty, the Sui dynasty invasion of the Chen dynasty which resulted in Jiankang's destruction, Ming Taizu's relocation of southerners from below Yangtze to his newly established capital Nanjing, and the establishment of Nanjing as the capital of the Taiping Kingdom during the Taiping rebellion which resulted in a significant decrease in the city's population. These events all played in role in forming the Nanjing dialect of today.[4]


Some linguists have studied the influence that Nanjing Jianghuai Mandarin had on the Mandarin-based koiné spoken by the Ming dynasty.[5] Although it was based on the Nanjing dialect, there were important differences and the koiné exhibited non-Jianghuai characteristics. Francisco Varo, a Dominican monk living in 17th century China pointed to the speech of Nanjing as one of several places Mandarin speech paralleled that of the elites.[5]

During the 19th century, dispute arose over whether the Nanjing dialect or Beijing dialect should be preferred by Western diplomats and translators, as the prestige of Nanjing dialect seemed to be waning.[6] Even when it was clear that the Beijing dialect had gained prominence, many sinologists and missionaries maintained their preference for the Nanjing dialect. Leipzig-based professor Georg von der Gabelentz even argued that the Nanjing dialect was preferable for scientific because it had fewer homophones:[7]

Only in recent times has the northern dialect, pek-kuān-hoá, in the form [spoken] in the capital, kīng-hoá, begun to strive for general acceptance, and the struggle seems to be decided in its favor. It is preferred by the officials and studied by the European diplomats. Scholarship must not follow this practise. The Peking dialect is phonetically the poorest of all dialects and therefore has the most homophones. This is why it is most unsuitable for scientific purposes.

The originally Japanese book "Mandarin Compass" (官话指南) was modified with Nanjing dialect's tones and published with French commentary by Jiangnan based French missionary Henri Boucher.[8] Calvin W. Mateer attempted to compromise between Northern and Southern Mandarin in his book "A Course of Mandarin Lessons", published in 1892.[7]

Study of the Nanjing dialect

Important works written on the Nanjing dialect include Syllabar des Nankingdialektes oder der correkten Aussprache sammt Vocabular by Franz Kühnert, and Die Nanking Kuanhua by K. Hemeling.[9][10][11]

The English & Chinese vocabulary in the court dialect by Samuel Wells Williams was based on the Nanjing dialect, rather than the Beijing dialect. Williams also described the differences between Nanjing and Beijing Mandarin in the same book and noted the ways in which the Peking dialect differs from the Nanjing dialect, such as the palatalization of velars before front vowels. Williams also noted that the changes were consistent so that switching between pronunciations would not be difficult.[12]


In the 19th and early 20th centuries, romanization of Mandarin consisted of both Beijing and Nanjing pronunciations. The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal offered that romanizing for both Nanjing and Beijing dialects were beneficial. The journal explained that, for example, because 希 and 西 are pronounced the same in Beijing () but differently in Nanjing (with the latter being si), the Standard System retains the two spellings. The system similarly retains contrasts in Beijing that are missing in Nanjing, such as that between 官 and 光. [13]


  1. Chappell (2002), p. 244.
  2. Ho (2003), pp. 129–130.
  3. Norman (1988), p. 193.
  4. Kurpaska (2010), p. 161.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hé (2003), p. 129.
  6. Kaske (2008), p. 67–68.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kaske (2008), pp. 70–71.
  8. Kaske (2008), pp. 71–72.
  9. Ding, Yu & Li (2000), p. 74.
  10. Coblin & 柯蔚 (2000), p. 54.
  11. Coblin (2000), p. 271.
  12. Williams (1844), p. xxvi–xxvii.
  13. The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (1905), p. 144–145.
  • Chappell, Hilary (2002), "The universal syntax of semantic primes in Mandarin Chinese", in Goddard, Cliff; Wierzbicka, Anna (eds.), Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings, 1, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 243–322, ISBN 90-272-3063-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coblin, W. South (2000), "A Diachronic Study of Míng Guānhuá Phonology", Monumenta Serica, 48: 267–335.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coblin, W. South; 柯蔚南 (2000), "Late Apicalization in Nankingese/南方方言的一種晚起舌尖後元音", Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 28 (1): 52–66.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ding, Bangxin; Yu, Aiqin; Li, Fanggui (2000), Yu yan bian hua yu Han yu fang yan: Li Fanggui xian sheng ji nian lun wen ji, Zhong yang yan jiu yuan yu yan xue yan jiu suo chou bei chu.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hé, Dà'ān (2002), 第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 語言組. 南北是非 : 漢語方言的差異與變化 (Third International Conference on Sinology: North-South non-language groups: Differences and changes in Chinese Dialects), Volume 7 of 第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 語言組., 中央硏究院語言學硏究所, ISBN 957-671-936-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ho, Dah-an (2003), "The characteristics of Mandarin dialects", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan languages, Routledge, pp. 126–130, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kaske, Elisabeth (2008), The politics of language in Chinese education, 1895-1919, 82 of Sinica Leidensia, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-16367-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kurpaska, Maria (2010), Chinese Language(s): A Look Through the Prism of "The Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects", Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-021914-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Romanized Mandarin", The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 36 (3): 144–145, 1905<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Williams, Samuel Wells (1844), English & Chinese vocabulary in the Court Dialect, Office of the Chinese Repository.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Samuel Wells Williams (1844). English & Chinese vocabulary in the court dialect. MACAO: PRINTED AT THE OFFICE OF THE CHINESE REPOSITORY: Office of the Chinese Repository. p. 440. Retrieved 1 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(Lyon Public Library)(Digitized Jul 26, 2011)
  • Samuel Wells Williams (2011). English and Chinese Vocabulary in the Court Dialect (reprint ed.). BiblioBazaar. p. 576. ISBN 1-246-13663-5. Retrieved 1 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Karl Ernst Georg Hemeling (1907). Die Nanking Kuanhua. Göttingen. Druck der Dieterich'schen Univ.-Buchdruckerei (W. Fr. Kaestner).: Leipzig. p. 107. Retrieved 10 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>()
  • Karl Hemeling (1907). Die Nanking Kuanhua: Inaugural-dissertation, Leipzig. Göttingen. Druck der Dieterich'schen Univ.-Buchdruckerei (W. Fr. Kaestner).: Universitat Leipzig. Retrieved 10 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(Harvard University)
  • Karl Hemeling (1907). Die Nanking Kuanhua. Dieterich. p. 111. Retrieved 10 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>()
  • Karl Hemeling (2010). Die Nanking Kuanhu (reprint ed.). BiblioBazaar. p. 128. ISBN 1-148-43595-6. Retrieved 10 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>