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Hakka Chinese

This article is about the language. For the people, see Hakka people.
Hak-kâ-fa/Hak-kâ-va (Hakka/Kejia) written in Chinese characters
Native to 23x15px People's Republic of China
23x15px Republic of China (Taiwan)
Template:Country data Hong Kong (Hakka ethnic group is one of the indigenous people in Hong Kong.)
23x15px Thailand
23x15px Singapore
Template:Country data Indonesia
Template:Country data Japan (due to presence of Taiwanese community in Tokyo-Yokohama Metropolitan Area)
Template:Country data India
23x15px Vietnam
South Africa
Other countries where Hakka Chinese-speaking migrants have settled.
Region 23x15px People's Republic of China:
Eastern Guangdong province; adjoining regions of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces
23x15px Republic of ChinaTaiwan
Template:Country data Hong Kong
(Villages in New Territories)
Ethnicity Hakka people (Han Chinese)
Native speakers
44 million  (2007)[1]
hanzi, romanization[2]
Official status
Official language in
none (legislative bills have been proposed for it to be one of the "national languages" in the Republic of China); one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the ROC [2]; ROC government sponsors Hakka-language television station to preserve language
Regulated by In 1960, the Guangdong Provincial Education Department created an official romanisation called Kejiahua Pinyin Fang'an for the Meixian Hakka dialect, one of four languages receiving this status in Guangdong.
The ROC Ministry of Education also created an official romanisation called Kejiayu Pinyin Fang'an and recommended Chinese characters for six dialects of Hakka spoken in Taiwan.
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hak
Glottolog hakk1236[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Traditional Chinese 客家話
Simplified Chinese 客家话
Hakka Hak-kâ-fa
or Hak-kâ-va

Hakka /ˈhækə/,[4] also rendered Kejia, is one of the major Chinese language subdivisions or varieties and is spoken natively by the Hakka people in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and throughout the diaspora areas of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and around the world.

Due to its primary usage in scattered isolated regions where communication is limited to the local area, Hakka has developed numerous variants or dialects, spoken in Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, and Guizhou provinces, including Hainan island, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Hakka is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, Wu, Southern Min, or other branches of Chinese. It is most closely related to Gan and is sometimes classified as a variety of Gan.[5]

Taiwan, where Hakka is the native language of a significant minority of the island's residents, is an important world center for study and preservation of the language. Pronunciation differences exist between the Taiwanese Hakka dialect and China's Guangdong Hakka dialect; even in Taiwan, two 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 客 (Mandarin: kè) means "guest", and ka 家 (Mandarin: jiā) means "family". Amongst themselves, Hakka people variously called their language Hak-ka-fa (-va) 客家話, Hak-fa (-va), 客話, Tu-gong-dung-fa (-va) 土廣東話, literally, "Native Guangdong language", and Ngai-fa (-va) 我話, "My/our language".


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[6] dating back as far as the end of Western Jin.[7] The forebears of the Hakka came from present-day Henan and Shaanxi provinces 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.

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.

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 武 (war, martial arts) or 屋 (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 武 wu3, 屋 wu1, Cantonese 武 mou5, 屋 uk1).
  • Middle Chinese initial phonemes /ɲ/ (ny in Baxter’s transcription) of the characters 人 and 日, among others, merged with ng- /ŋ/ initials in Hakka (人 ngin, 日 ngit). For comparison, in Mandarin, /ɲ/ became r- (人 rén, 日 rì), while in Cantonese, it merged with initial /j/ (人 yan4, 日 yat6).
  • The initial consonant phoneme exhibited by the character 話 (word, speech; Mandarin hua) is pronounced f or v in Hakka (v does not properly exist as a distinct unit in many Chinese varieties).
  • The initial consonant of 學 hɔk usually corresponds with an h [h] approximant in Hakka and a voiceless alveo-palatal fricative (x [ɕ]) in Mandarin.


Further information: Meixian dialect


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. Surrounding Meixian are the counties of Pingyuan (平遠, Pin Yen), Dabu (大埔, Tai Pu), Jiaoling (蕉嶺, Jiao Liang), Xingning (興寧, Hin Nen), Wuhua (五華, Ng Fah), and Fengshun (豐順, Foong Soon). Each is said to have its own special phonological points of interest. For instance, the Xingning does not have rimes ending in [-m] or [-p]. These have merged into [-n] and [-t] ending rimes, respectively. Further away from Meixian, the Hong Kong dialect lacks the [-u-] medial, so whereas Moiyen pronounces the character 光 as [kwɔŋ˦], Hong Kong Hakka dialect pronounces it as [kɔŋ˧], 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 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).

In Taiwan, there are two main dialects: Sixian (Hakka: Siyen 四縣) and Haifeng (Hakka: Hoi Foong 海豐), alternatively known as Hailu (Hakka: Hoiluk 海陸). Hakka dialect speakers found on Taiwan originated from these two regions. Sixian (Hakka: Siyen, 四縣) speakers come from Jiaying (嘉應) and surrounding Jiaoling, Pingyuan, Xingning, and Wuhua. Jiaying county later changed its name to Meixian. The Hoiliuk dialect contains postalveolar consonants ([ʃ], [ʒ], [tʃ], etc.), which are uncommon in other southern Chinese varieties. Wuhua, Dabu, and Xingning dialects have two sets of fricatives and affricates.

  • Huizhou (Hakka) dialect 惠州客家話
  • Meizhou dialect 梅州客家話
  • Wuhua dialect 五華客家話
  • Xingning dialect 興寧客家話
  • Pingyuan dialect 平遠客家話
  • Jiaoling dialect 蕉嶺客家話
  • Dabu dialect 大埔客家話
  • Fengshun dialect 豐順客家話
  • Longyan dialect 龍岩客家話
  • Lufeng (Hakka) dialect 陸豐客家話

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 it can differentiate a large number of working syllables by tone and rime. 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
[ŋin˩] person
[ʋɔn˧˩] bowl
[kɛu˧˩] dog
[ŋiu˩] cow
[ʋuk˩] house
[tsɔi˥˧] mouth
𠊎 [ŋai˩] me / I In Hakka, the standard Chinese equivalent 我 is pronounced [ŋɔ˧].
[8] or 𠍲[9] [ki˩] he / she / it In Hakka, the standard Chinese equivalent 他 / 她 / 它 is pronounced [tʰa˧].
polysyllabic words
Hakka hanzi Pronunciation English
日頭 [ŋit˩ tʰɛu˩] sun
月光 [ŋiɛt˥ kʷɔŋ˦] moon
屋下 [ʋuk˩ kʰa˦] home
電話 [tʰiɛn˥ ʋa˥˧] telephone
學堂 [hɔk˥ tʰɔŋ˩] school

Hakka prefers the verb [kɔŋ˧˩] when referring to saying rather than the Mandarin shuō (Hakka [sɔt˩]).

Hakka uses [sit˥] , like Cantonese [sɪk˨] for the verb "to eat" and [jɐm˧˥] (Hakka [jim˧˩]) for "to drink", unlike Mandarin which prefers chī (Hakka [kʰiɛt˩]) as "to eat" and (Hakka [hɔt˩]) as "to drink" where the meanings in Hakka are different, to stutter and to be thirsty respectively.

Hanzi IPA English
阿妹, 若姆去投墟轉來唔曾? [a˦ mɔi˥, ɲja˦ mi˦ hi˥ tʰju˩ hi˦ tsɔn˧˩ lɔi˩ m˦ tsʰɛn˩] Has your mother returned from going to the market yet, child?
其佬弟捉到隻蛘葉來搞. [kja˦ lau˧˩ tʰai˦ tsuk˧ tau˧˩ tsak˩ jɔŋ˩ jap˥ lɔi˩ kau˧˩] His younger brother caught a butterfly to play with.
好冷阿, 水桶个水敢凝冰阿 [hau˧˩ laŋ˦ ɔ˦, sui˧˩ tʰuŋ˧ kai˥˧ sui˧˩ kam˦ kʰɛn˩ pɛn˦ ɔ˦] 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.

Previously, the single largest work in Hakka is the New Testament and Psalms (1993, 1138 pp., see The Bible in Chinese: Hakka), although since 2012, that has been surpassed by the publication of the complete Hakka Bible known as the Today's Taiwan Hakka Version and includes the Old Testament along with audio recordings. These works render Hakka in both romanization (pha̍k-fa-sṳ) and Han characters (including ones unique to Hakka) and are based on the dialects of Taiwanese Hakka speakers. The work of Biblical translation is being performed by missionaries of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Hakka was written in Chinese characters by missionaries around the turn of the 20th century.[1]
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hakka Chinese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. ^ Thurgood & LaPolla, 2003. The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge.
  6. ^ Hakka Migration
  7. ^ [h Migration of the Hakka people (in Chinese])
  8. ^ p.xxvi 客語拼音字彙, 劉鎮發, 中文大學出版社, ISBN 962-201-750-9
  9. ^

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 0-521-13367-X. 
  • O'Connor, Kevin A. (1976). "Proto-Hakka". Ajia Afurika gengo bunka kenkyū / Journal of Asia and Africa Studies 11 (1): 1–64. 
  • Schaank, Simon Hartwich (1897). Het Loeh-foeng-dialect (in Dutch). Leiden: E.J. Brill. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 

External links

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