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Hakka's Relation to Cantonese and Mandarin

Southern and Northern

Modern Linguistics calls Hakka a "Southern" dialect. The word Southern is used because it shares similarities with outher modern South China dialects such as Cantonese. This is not to say that Hakka or any of the other southern dialects have always resided in the southern part of China since time immemorial. We know through works by other authors[1] and through the records of family histories (Tuk6 Pu2) through tracing the lineages of people back into early Chinese history that the ancestors of Hakka people reside in the North, and have moved down through population migration over the millenia. Mandarin is called a Northern dialect, further north of southern dialectal influence. There are also a number of intermediate dialects which has sprinklings of Northern and Southern dialectal influences[2].

Similarities and Differences

Besides using a core of common Chinese script, the similarities stem from a linguistic nature. Features in one dialect of Chinese can often be mapped to another Chinese dialect. An example of this is in the end consonants in Mandarin. Mandarin uses only two consonant endings, -n and -ng. In Hakka and Cantonese, these can be mapped in the case of -n to both -n and -m. Due to the change in Mandarin which has taken placed, the nasal -m has merged into another nasal -n. In the case of the ending -ng in Mandarin, Canotonese preserves agrees in the majority of cases with words which contain it. Hakka though has lost some of the distinction when there is a preceeding -i- before the -ng (-ing), in which case Hakka is seen regulary as having -in as the rhyme. However, Hakka does keep the -ng after all other vowels.

Another distinguishing feature that causes a separation of Chinese into Northern and Southern dialects is found mainly in the preservation of end consonants -p, -t, and -k. Both Hakka and Cantonese retains these endings, though to a lesser degree in the case of -k in Hakka. The vowel -i- before the -k also affects the ending, such that the Hakka version of the -ik rhyme in Cantonese is -it. Where -k follows any other vowel, the -k consonant ending is the same in Cantonese and Hakka.

The latter three occlusive consonant endings are called Ru Sheng in the language of Tones. Mandarin does not possess these 3 particular endings, so it does not posess a Ru Sheng tone. All characters which has Ru Sheng in Hakka and Cantonese are distributed amongst the other tone classes of Chinese.

Consonant Endings in Chinese and SinoXenic Languages
ChineseDialectVowels Before Consonant EndingOcclusive EndingsNasal Consonant Type Endings
-p / -b -t / -d-k / -g-m-n-ng
Hakka-a-, -e-, -o-, u- -p -t -k -m -n -ng
Cantonese-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--p-t-k-m-n-ng
ChaoZhou-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--p-k-m-n-ng
FuZhou-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--k-ng
Mandarin-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u-No Ru Type or Occlusive
Endings in Mandarin
Sino-XenicJapanese-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--u-tsu/-chi-ki/ku-n-ou / -uu
Korean-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--b-l-g-m-n-ng
Vietnamese-a-, -e-, -i-, -o-, -u--p-t-k-m-n-ng

We give two sinoxenic (ie not Chinese related) languages which has acquired a large body of Chinese vocabulary that is integrated has been integrated into Japanese and Korean everyday speech as a comparison.

Differences and Similarities

Although Hakka has problems associated it the -i- vowel, it nevertheless occurs in a regular fashion before -k, and -ng to form -t and -in repectively. However, we have only talked about end rhymes. The initial is the first consonant of the sound of the word. Though there are initials in common in the three dialects of Chinese under discussion, there is a noticable lack of ng- in Mandarin. ng- initials appear in Hakka, but less so in Cantonese, so we can say that Hakka is the more conservative of the three. Often, the ng- initial has mutated to r- or y- in Mandarin, whilst there is a tendency to y- as an initial in Cantonese. In sinoxenic Japanese, the ng- initial is often represented by a syllable of the "ga row" of the kana table (ga, gi, gu, ge, go).

Hakka from Hong Kong also suffers from the lack of audible contrast between l- and n- initials, consequently, they have merged into l- altogether. The distintions are kept in Mandarin, and slightly less so in modern Cantonese, which is begining to move towards embrace l- as an initial for many n- initial words.

Currently there are are words in Hakka which have two pronunciations. They begin with different initial characters, but using the same rhyme ending. For example, some b- or p- words have f- analogies. /bui/ and /fui/ mean to billow and fly respectively, but only have /fei/ in both Cantonese and Mandarin. /pui/ and /fui/ in Hakka has only /fei/ in both Cantonese and Mandarin.

Also, there are words which have the same initial, but different rhyme endings, which gives us also different meanings for the alternative sounds. It can be seen in many -i- affected words, which had a linguistic ancestor of the -iang rhyme. Here we notice the -a- before the -ng helps preserve the old -ng ending. An example of this are /pin/ and /piang/ both meaning level.

I have found where other Hakka dialects maintains -ia- as a vowel dipthong, it has changed into -e- in SaTdiuGok (STG) Hakka, as witnessed by MeiXian (MX) /mian/ for face whilst /men/ in STG, or MX /bian/ > STG /ben/, and MX /siat/ > STG /set/ for colour and also another word of the same sound, snow. Mandarin seems to be faithful at maintaining vowel dipthongs like Hakka, but Cantonese has often changed them into long vowels. This is not as strange as it may seem, since Cantonese (C) shows signs of this in the double pronunciation, for instance 'sound, noise' is Hakka /sang/ or /shiang/, but C. gives /sing/ and /seng/, thus pointing to -iang as a possible rhyme candidate for older versions of this sound many hundreds and possibly millenia ago.

Other direct correspondences between the sounds of Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin, are in another vowel dipthong, H. -io- is often found as C. -eu- or -ue- , and M. -ia-. Taking the word for "two of...", H. liong, C. leung, M. liang. Quite often, the vowel of Mandarin and Hakka agrees with each other, but seemingly different from Cantonese.

Tones and representation

Chinese is said to be a tonal language hence covers Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin. There are four basic classes of tones. We have already described Ru Sheng tones as words which contain the end consonants -p, -t, and -k. The other tones cannot be distinguished simply by the use of the endings, but rather the observation of the variation in the tone pitch they are set to. The 4 tone classes are, using the Mandarin terms, Ping (level), Shang (rising), Qu (going) and Ru (entering). A tone contour represents the variation of pitch according to a fivel level scale of 1 through to 5, and usually kept between two slashes \--\, with the left most the beginning level and the rightmost number the pitch at which the sound ends.

Though a Ping or level tone can be represented by any of /55/, /44/, /33/, /22/, /11/, /555/, /444/....... and so forth, the reality is that these ancient classifications no longer make too much sense in Cantonese or Hakka. The pitches at which they start and stop no longer seems to correspond to their generic names of Ping, Shang, Qu and Ru, but to another pitch contour configuration. We can represent this by comparing Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin tones in the table below.

Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin Tone Contours

Four Tone
SaTdiuGok HakkaHong Kong CantonesePuTongHua Mandarin
Tone TypeChinese
1/33/ 1/55/ 1/55/
2/11/ 4/11/ 2/35/
3/32/ 2/35/ 3/214/
4/53/ 3/33/ 4/51/
5/3/ 7/55/NO
Ru tones in
Standard Mandarin
6/5/ 9/22/

We see the four basic Tones, I, II, III, and IV as Ping, Shang, Qu and Ru respectively. Cantonese makes the greatest distinctions in the tones, having high and low registers for all the tones, plus a mid register for the Ru types as well. Hakka shows only high and low pitch distinctions in the Ping and Ru types, whilst only in Ping for Mandarin. This gives Cantonese 9 tones, whilst Hakka has 6 and Mandarin due to its loss of Ru endings, only 4.

Sounds - Initials and Endings

There is a method known as Fanqie, in which a syllable of Chinese is split into two parts, the initial consonant and the ending rhyme.
Sorry! This is unfinished......
  • 1. Mantaro J. Hashimoto, The Hakka Dialect, Cambridge, 1973.
  • 2. Jerry Norman, Chinese, Ch.9.

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    This page was started on Saturday 7th March 1998.
    It was recently updated on Sunday 8th March 1998

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