Xiang (Hsiang, simplified Chinese: 湘语; traditional Chinese: 湘語) or Hunanese (Chinese: 湖南话), is a group of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of Chinese, spoken mainly in Hunan province but also in a few parts of Guangxi, Sichuan and Shaanxi. Scholars divided Xiang into five subgroups, Chang-Yi, Lou-Shao, Hengzhou, Chen-Xu and Yong-Quan. Among those, Lou-shao, as known as Old Xiang, still exhibits the three-way distinction of Middle Chinese obstruents, preserving the voiced stops, fricatives, and affricates. Xiang has also been heavily influenced by Mandarin, which adjoins three of the four sides of the Xiang speaking territory, and Gan in Jiangxi Province, from where a large population immigrated to Hunan during the Ming Dynasty.
Xiang speakers played an important role in Modern Chinese history, especially in those reformatory and revolutionary movements such as Self-Strengthening Movement, Hundred Days' Reform, Xinhai Revolution and Chinese Communist Revolution. Some examples of Xiang speakers are Mao Zedong, Zuo Zongtang, Huang Xing and Ma Ying-jeou.
During Qin and Han dynasty, most part of today's Eastern Hunan belonged to Changsha-Xian/Changsha-Guo. According to Yang Xiong's Fangyan, people in this region spoke Southern Chu language. Southern Chu language is considered the ancestor of Xiang language today.
Middle ages and recent history
During the Tang dynasty, a large-scale emigration took place with people emigrating from the north to the south, bringing Middle Chinese into Hunan. Today's Xiang still keeps some Middle Chinese words, such as 嬉 (to have fun), 薅 (to weed), 行 (to walk). Entering tone vowels started weakening in Hunan at this time.
The late Yuan Dynasty peasant uprising caused a great many casualties in Hunan. During the Ming dynasty, a large-scale emigration from Jiangxi to Hunan took place. Gan, which was brought by settlers from Jiangxi, influenced Xiang language. The language in east Hunan differentiated into New Xiang during that period.
Quanzhou County became part of Guangxi province after the adjustment of administrative divisions in the Ming Dynasty. Some features of Xiang language at that time was kept in this region.
Since the classification of Yuan Jiahua (1960), Xiang has been considered one of seven major groups of varieties of Chinese.
Jerry Norman viewed Xiang, together with the Gan and Wu, as comprising a higher-level Central grouping, intermediate between the Mandarin group to the north and the southern groups, Min, Hakka and Yue. But in fact, Xiang is not an intermediate or transition language between any of them, but a distinct Chinese language native to most places of Hunan.
In Xiang dialects, the voiced initials of Middle Chinese yield unaspirated initials in all tone categories. A few varieties have retained voicing in all tones, but most have voiceless initials in some or all tone categories.
Development of voiced initials in different tones
|| Middle Chinese
|| 桃 daw
|| 坐 dzwaX
|| 共 gjowngH
|| 白 baek
Xiang and other subgroups identified by Bao & Chen</div>
| New Xiang (Chang–Yi)
</td>|| Xiangnan Tuhua
| Chen–Xu (Ji–Xu)
| Old Xiang (Lou–Shao)
Pervasive influence from Mandarin dialects has made Xiang dialects difficult to classify.
Xiang is traditionally divided into New Xiang, in which voicing has been lost largely, and Old Xiang varieties, which retain voiced initials in at least some tones.
Changsha dialect is usually taken as representative of New Xiang, while Shuangfeng dialect represents Old Xiang.
New Xiang is generally very different from the Southwestern Mandarin(in Western Hunan), and they can not be intelligible to each other. Inside New Xiang and Old Xiang, there are also many different sub-dialects.
The Language Atlas of China identified a third subgroup, Ji-Xu (later as Chen-Xu Xiang) in some places of Western Hunan.
Bao & Chen (2007) split out part of New Xiang as a new Hengzhou Xiang subgroup, and part of Old Xiang out as a Yong-Quan Xiang subgroup.
They also reclassified parts of the Ji–Xu subgroup as Southwest Mandarin, naming the remainder of the Ji–Xu subgroup as Chen-Xu Xiang.
Their five subgroups are:
- New Xiang
- (17.8 million speakers) voiced initials in Middle Chinese become unaspirated voicless consonant. Most of the dialects of New Xiang retain the entering tone as a separate category.
- Old Xiang
- (11.5 million speakers) Voiced initials still exist. The entering tone does not exist in most of the dialects.
- Chen-Xu Xiang
- (3.4 million speakers) Some of the voiced consonants are retained.
- Hengzhou Xiang
- (4.3 million speakers)
- Yong-Quan Xiang
- (6.5 million speakers) Voiced consonants still exist. Sometimes Yong-Quan dialects are considered a variety of Old Xiang.
Xiang is spoken by over 36 million people in China, primarily in the most part of the Hunan province, and in the four counties of Quanzhou, Guanyang, Ziyuan, and Xing'an in northestern Guangxi province, and in several places of Guizhou and Guangdong provinces. It is abutted by Southwestern Mandarin-speaking areas to the north and west, as well as by Gan in the eastern parts of Hunan and Jiangxi. Xiang is also in contact with the Qo-Xiong Miao and Tujia languages in West Hunan.
Distribution of Xiang subgroups according to Bao & Chen (2007)
|| Main cities and counties
| New Xiang
|| Urban Changsha, Changsha County, Wangcheng, Ningxiang, Liuyang*, Urban Zhuzhou, Zhuzhou County, Urban Xiangtan, Xiangyin, Miluo, Nanxian, Anxiang*
|| Urban Yiyang, Yuanjiang, Taojiang, Anhua, Nanxian*
|| Yueyang County, Urban Yueyang
| Old Xiang
|| Xiangtan County, Shuangfeng, Shaoshan, Urban Loudi, Hengshan*
|| Lianyuan, Lengshuijiang*, Anhua*, Ningxiang*
|| Xinhua, Lengshuijiang
|| Urban Shaoyang, Wugang, Shaodong, Shaoyang County, Xinshao, Longhui, Xinning, Chengbu, Dongkou*
|| Suining, Huitong
|| Urban Hengyang, Hengyang County, Hengnan
|| Hengshan, Hengdong, Nanyue
|| Chenxi, Xupu, Luxi, Jishou**, Baojing**, Huayuan**, Guzhang**, Yuanling*
|| Urban Yongzhou, Dong'an, Qiyang, Qidong
|| Jiangyong, Daoxian, Jianghua*, Xintian*
|| Quanzhou County, Xing'an, Guanyang, Ziyuan
| *Small part of this territory belongs to this Xiang subgroup.|
**Included in Xiang only in Language Atlas of China.
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