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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


The formation of the Hakka Dialect

Vol. 25 No. 2   6/1995  


The formation of the Hakka Dialect


Kuang-yu Chang









Key words

Hakka, Dialect, Formation


      The massive population migration occurring after the fall of the western Jin era317 A.D. marks the beginning of the dialect division between north and south in the history of the Chinese language. Estimation has it that almost one out of every six northern Chinese at that time moved to the south to avoid the northern barbarian’invasion. These northerners brought with them their Chinese dialects across the Yangtze River. During the confrontation period which lasted about three hundred years, the Chinese dialects had seen divergent developments. While the southern Chinese tended to be conservative in their ancestor’s language, the northern Chinese had begun a leveling process and their dialects had become more and more similar to one another.

    Historical documents show that before the massive population movement there had been dialect differences existing in north China. These dialect differences can be roughly divided into two groups: the eastern Central Plain dialect is more conservative than the western Central Plain dialect. For example:

1) In the first century A. D., the Geng(庚三)rhyme category had alreadymoved out from the Yang(陽)rhyme to merge with the Qing(清) in the western Central Plain dialects, while in the eastern Central Plain dialects it still remained in the Yang rhyme category.

2) In the third century A. D., the eastern Central Pla in dialects kept Yi(益)

and Shi(石)(which came from the archaic Chinese Xiand Duorhyme categories respectivelyas two distinct rhymes, the western Central Plain had already merged them.

3) Also in the third century A. D., while the third and the fourth Grade were distinguishable in the eastern Central Plain dialects, they had largely merged in the western Central Plain dialects.

    The division between the East and the West of the Central Plain is of much significance in that they are reflected in modern southeastern Chinese dialects. The third century eastern Central Plain dialect phenomena can still be seen in the Min dialects, while the western Central Plain dialect phenomena can still be seen in the Hakka dialects. Evidence from Min dialects shows that Yi and Shi are two different rhymes

* ̄iak: * ̄iok, nad the difference between GradeIII and grade IV is something like * ̄ia and * ̄ai. Similar distinctions cannot be found in Hakka dialects.

    It seems quite natural for the Min to preserve the eastern Central Plain dialect feature and the Hakka to preserve the western Central Plain dialect feature if we trace back the migration routes of the ancestors of these two dialect-group speakers. It is interesting to note that besides the examples given above there are still traces that can connect the Min with the eastern Central Plain on the one hand and the Hakka with the western Central Plain on the other:

1) The Chinese breakfast food Yóutiáo(油條; deep-fried twisted dough sticksis called Yóuzhàguô(油炸()餜)in the Shandong area, the Wu dialect area and the Min-speaking area. This food-name is not used in the rest of China.

2) The Hakka Dialects in western Fujian call water(水shui fi. The same initial f­- for the character of water is only seen in the western Central Plain including Shanxi and Henan.

    The Hakka dialect shares a number of features with the Gan, Hui, central PlainShanxi Henanand Mandarin dialects spoken in

Jiangsusoutheastern corner, north of the Yangtze Riveras well as with the Min dialects. This phenomenon is by on means accidental

if we observe that these are just the places the 4th century immigrants of western Central Plain origin had once set foot in. Of all the dialects just mentioned, the Hakka is more closely related to the Gan dialects and more loosely to the Min dialects.

The reason is that a group of western Central Plain immigrants joined the eastern Central Plain immigrants in the Lake Tai area

before they moved further south to the Fujian province. Inland migration history is a little different, the ancestors of Gan and Hakka

speakers shared most to the traveling experiences until a group of them moved further south into the land previously inhabited by the shé women introduced a new breed of people to Chinese. Henceforth, the term“Hakka”(guest) emerged in historical documents. It should be noted that the term“Hakka”makes its first appearance as late as the Song dynasty 960--

    It is hard to define what a Gan dialect is, it is not an easy task either ot define what a Hakka dialect is. In fact, these two dialect groups are not distinguishable except that the Hakka dialect renders the‘Cìzhuó’rising tone as Yinping. If tonal difference like this can be used as a criterion for separating Hakka and Gan into two different dialect groups, the Amoy dialect and Quanzhou dialect can also be set up as two different groups, because the Amoy dialect divides the‘Going’tone into Yin and Yang while the Quanzhou dialect does not, the tonal difference between Amoy and Quanzhou is much greater than that between Hakka and Gan.

    Why must the Hakka and the Gan be established as two independent dialect groups? Realizing the history of the Hakka

people do not usually view them as Han Chinese. Mixed blood has changed their outlook, but they still speak a variety of Chinese. This is the reason why the Hakka people all over south China obey their family precept that the hakka offspring must defend the Hakka dialect at any cost. Conceivably, only by speaking the language their ancestors brought from north China could they show their Han identity. So, the question addressed above is not so much a linguistic one, the answer must be provided by anthropological study.

    After the Hakka people settled on the Shé land, they became more conservative in keeping their ancestors’language while their‘relatives’in

the Gan area have been influenced by northern dialects of later periods. In my opinion, the varying degree of northern influence is much more significant in differentiating the Hakka and the Gan dialects.

    It would be a mistake to hold that the Hakka dialects had their roots in the hypothetical old southern Chinese. The Hakka dialects indeed preserve some archaic Chinese elements, but those were brought south by the western Central Plain migrants beginning with the 4th century.




Author: Kuang-yu Chang
Genre: Article
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