Hakka Chinese
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Hakka Chinese
Hak-kâ-fa/Hak-kâ-va (Hakka/Kejia) written in Chinese characters
Native toMainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan
RegionMainland China: northeastern Guangdong, adjoining regions of Fujian, Jiangxi, southern Hunan and the midwest of Sichuan
Hong Kong: New Territories (older generations since younger Hakkas mostly speak Cantonese due to language shift and social assimilation)
Native speakers
47.8 million (2007)[1]
hanzi, romanization[2]
Official status
Official language in
Taiwan [a]
Recognised minority
language in
Taiwan (a statutory language for public transportation;[5] government sponsor of Hakka-language television station)
Language codes
Linguasphere79-AAA-g > 79-AAA-ga (+ 79-AAA-gb transition to 79-AAA-h)
Idioma hakka.png
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Hakkahag5 ga1 fa4
or hag5 ga1 va4

Hakka is a language group of varieties of Chinese, spoken natively by the Hakka people throughout southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and throughout the diaspora areas of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and in overseas Chinese communities around the world.

Due to its primary usage in scattered isolated regions where communication is limited to the local area, Hakka has developed numerous varieties or dialects, spoken in different provinces, such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Fujian, Sichuan, Hunan, Jiangxi and Guizhou, as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Hakka is not mutually intelligible with Yue, Wu, Southern Min, Mandarin or other branches of Chinese, and itself contains a few mutually unintelligible varieties. It is most closely related to Gan and is sometimes classified as a variety of Gan, with a few northern Hakka varieties even being partially mutually intelligible with southern Gan. There is also a possibility that the similarities are just a result of shared areal features.[7]

Taiwan (where Hakka is the native language of a significant minority of the island's residents) is a center for the study and preservation of the language. Pronunciation differences exist between the Taiwanese Hakka dialects and Mainland China's Hakka dialects; even in Taiwan, two major local varieties of Hakka exist.

The Meixian dialect (Moiyen) of northeast Guangdong in China has been taken as the "standard" dialect by the People's Republic of China. The Guangdong Provincial Education Department created an official romanization of Moiyen in 1960, one of four languages receiving this status in Guangdong.


The name of the Hakka people who are the predominant original native speakers of the variety literally means "guest families" or "guest people": Hak ? (Mandarin: ) means "guest", and ka ? (Mandarin: ji?) means "family". Among themselves, Hakka people variously called their language Hak-ka-fa (-va) , Hak-fa (-va) , Tu-gong-dung-fa (-va) ?, literally "Native Guangdong language", and Ngai-fa (-va), "My/our language". In Tonggu County, Jiangxi province, people call their language Huai-yuan-fa ().


Early history

It is commonly believed that Hakka people have their origins in several episodes of migration from northern China into southern China during periods of war and civil unrest[8] dating back as far as the end of Western Jin.[9] The forebears of the Hakka came from present-day Central Plains provinces of Henan and Shaanxi, and brought with them features of Chinese varieties spoken in those areas during that time. (Since then, the speech in those regions has evolved into dialects of modern Mandarin). The presence of many archaic features occur in modern Hakka, including final consonants -p -t -k, as are found in other modern southern Chinese varieties, but which have been lost in Mandarin.

Laurent Sagart (2002)[10] considers Hakka and southern Gan Chinese to be sister dialects that descended from a single common ancestral language (Proto-Southern Gan) spoken in central Jiangxi during the Song Dynasty. In Hakka and southern Gan, Sagart (2002) identifies a non-Chinese substratum that is possibly Hmong-Mien, an archaic layer, and a more recent Late Middle Chinese layer. Lexical connections between Hakka, Kra-Dai, and Hmong-Mien have also been suggested by Deng (1999).[11]

Due to the migration of its speakers, Hakka may have been influenced by other language areas through which the Hakka-speaking forebears migrated. For instance, common vocabulary is found in Hakka, Min, and the She (Hmong-Mien) languages.[] Today, most She people in Fujian and Zhejiang speak Shehua, which is closely related to Hakka.

Linguistic development

A regular pattern of sound change can generally be detected in Hakka, as in most Chinese varieties, of the derivation of phonemes from earlier forms of Chinese. Some examples:

  • Characters such as ? (war, martial arts) or ? (room, house), are pronounced roughly mwio and uk (mjuX and ?uwk in Baxter's transcription) in Early Middle Chinese, have an initial v phoneme in Hakka, being vu and vuk in Hakka respectively. Like in Mandarin, labiodentalisation process also changed mj- to a w-like sound in Hakka before grave vowels, while Cantonese retained the original distinction (compare Mandarin ? w?, ? w?, Cantonese ? mou5, ? uk1).
  • Middle Chinese initial phonemes /?/ (ny in Baxter's transcription) of the characters ? and ?, among others, merged with ng- /?/ initials in Hakka (? ngin, ? ngit). For comparison, in Mandarin, /?/ became r- (? rén, ? ), while in Cantonese, it merged with initial /j/ (? yan4, ? yat6).
  • The initial consonant phoneme exhibited by the character ? (word, speech; Mandarin huà) is pronounced f or v in Hakka (v does not properly exist as a distinct unit in many Chinese varieties).
  • The initial consonant of ? h?k usually corresponds with an h [h] approximant in Hakka and a voiceless alveo-palatal fricative (x [?]) in Mandarin.



Hakka has as many regional dialects as there are counties with Hakka speakers as the majority. Some of these Hakka dialects are not mutually intelligible with each other. Meixian is surrounded by the counties of Pingyuan, Dabu, Jiaoling, Xingning, Wuhua, and Fengshun. Each county has its own special phonological points of interest. For instance, Xingning lacks the codas [-m] and [-p]. These have merged into [-n] and [-t], respectively. Further away from Meixian, the Hong Kong dialect lacks the [-u-] medial, so, whereas Meixian pronounces the character ? as [kw], Hong Kong Hakka dialect pronounces it as [k], 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. However, there are dialects which have lost all of their checked tone (Ru Sheng), and the characters originally of this tone class are distributed across the non-Ru tones. Such a dialect is Changting 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 and Lufeng 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).

In Taiwan, there are two main dialects: Sixian and Hailu (alternatively known as Haifeng; Hailu refers to Haifeng County and Lufeng County). Most Hakka dialect speakers found on Taiwan originated from these two regions. Sixian speakers come from Jiaying Prefecture (Chinese: ), mainly from the four counties of Chengxiang (now Meixian District), Zhengping (now Jiaoling), Xingning and Pingyuan. Most dialects of Taiwanese Hakka, except Sixian and Dabu, preserved postalveolar consonants ([t?], [t], [?] and [?]), which are uncommon in other southern Chinese varieties.

Ethnologue reports the dialects as Yue-Tai (Meixian, Wuhua, Raoping, Taiwan Kejia: Meizhou above), Yuezhong (Central Guangdong), Huizhou, Yuebei (Northern Guangdong), Tingzhou (Min-Ke), Ning-Long (Longnan), Yugui, Tonggu.


Like other southern Chinese varieties, Hakka retains single syllable words from earlier stages of Chinese; thus a large number of syllables are distinguished by tone and final consonant. This reduces the need for compounding or making words of more than one syllable. However, it is also similar to other Chinese varieties in having words which are made from more than one syllable.

monosyllabic words
Hakka hanzi Pronunciation English Notes
? [?in?] person
? [n] bowl
? [k?u] dog
? [?iu?] cow
? [?uk?] house
? [ts?i] mouth
? [?ai?] me / I In Hakka, the standard Chinese equivalent ? is pronounced [].
?[13] or ?[14] [ki?] he / she / it In Hakka, the standard Chinese equivalents ? / ? / ? /? are pronounced [t?a?].
polysyllabic words
Hakka hanzi Pronunciation English
[?it? tu?] sun
[?i?t? k?] moon
[?uk? k?a?] home
[t?i?n? ?a] telephone
[h?k? t?] school
[kai zi?] chopsticks

Hakka, as well as numerous other Chinese varieties such as Min and Cantonese, prefers the verb [k?] ? when referring to saying rather than the Mandarin shu? ? (Hakka [s?t?]).

Hakka uses [sit?] ?, like Cantonese [s?k?] for the verb "to eat" and ? [j?m] (Hakka [jim]) for "to drink", unlike Mandarin which prefers ch? ? (Hakka [k?i?t?]) as "to eat" and h? ? (Hakka [h?t?]) as "to drink" where the meanings in Hakka are different, to stutter and to be thirsty respectively.

Hakka hanzi IPA English
,? [a? m?i?, ?ja? mi? hi? t?ju? hi? ts?n l?i? m? tsn?] Has your mother returned from going to the market yet, child?
[kja? lau t?ai? tsuk? tau tsak? j jap? l?i? kau] His/her younger brother caught a butterfly to play with.
, [hau la , sui t?u kai sui kam? kn? p?n? ] It's very cold, the water in the bucket has frozen over.

Writing systems

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

The popular The Little 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.


Hakka TV is a state-run, primarily Hakka-language television channel in Taiwan that started in 2003. In mainland China, Meizhou Televisions's Hakka Public Channel () has broadcasts 24 hours a day in Hakka since 2006.[15]

See also


  1. ^ National language in Taiwan;[3] also statutory status in Taiwan as one of the languages for public transport announcements[] and for the naturalisation test[4]


  1. ^ Hakka at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hakka was written in Chinese characters by missionaries around the turn of the 20th century.[1] Archived 2004-08-22 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Draft national language development act clears legislative floor". focustaiwan.tw.
  4. ^ Article 6 of the Standards for Identification of Basic Language Abilities and General Knowledge of the Rights and Duties of Naturalized Citizens
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hakka Chinese". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  7. ^ Thurgood & LaPolla, 2003. The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge.
  8. ^ Hakka Migration
  9. ^ [h http://edu.ocac.gov.tw/lang/hakka/a/main_a11.htm Migration of the Hakka people (in Chinese])
  10. ^ Sagart, Laurent. 2002. Gan, Hakka and the Formation of Chinese Dialects. Dialect Variations in Chinese, 129-153. Papers from the Third International Conference on Sinology, Linguistics Section.
  11. ^ Deng, Xiaohua . 1999. Kejiahua gen Miao-yao Zhuangdongyu de Guanxi wenti . Minzu Yuwen ? 3:42-49.
  12. ^ Zhan, Bohui (1993). . Fangyan (in Chinese) (2): 129-141.
  13. ^ . . Chinese University of Hong Kong Press (?). p. xxvi. ISBN 962-201-750-9.
  14. ^ http://dict.variants.moe.edu.tw/yitic/frc/frc00280.htm
  15. ^ [3]

Further reading

  • Hashimoto, Mantaro J. (2010). The Hakka Dialect: A Linguistic Study of Its Phonology, Syntax and Lexicon. Princeton/Cambridge Studies in Chinese Linguistics. 5. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-13367-8.
  • O'Connor, Kevin A. (1976). "Proto-Hakka". Ajia Afurika Gengo Bunka Kenky? / Journal of Asia and Africa Studies. 11 (1): 1-64.
  • Sagart, Laurent (1998). "On distinguishing Hakka and non-Hakka dialects". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 26 (2): 281-302. JSTOR 23756757.
  • ——— (2002). "Gan, Hakka and the Formation of Chinese Dialects" (PDF). In Ho, Dah-an (ed.). Dialect Variations in Chinese. Taipei: Academia Sinica. pp. 129-154.
  • Schaank, Simon Hartwich (1897). Het Loeh-foeng-dialect (in Dutch). Leiden: E.J. Brill. Retrieved 2015.

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