The Language of the Tang Dynasty

Posted by M ws On Friday, June 8, 2012 5 comments
Did you know that the Hokkien dialect was the language of the Tang Dynasty? My dad was a Hokkien gentleman whereas my mom was from Taishanese from Taishan who spoke Xinning/Taishanese.

According to Wikipedia:

Hokkien is a group of mutually intelligible Min Nan Chinese dialects spoken by many overseas Chinese throughout Southeast Asia. Its originated from the same dialect in southern Fujian and is mutually intelligible with the Hokkien in Taiwan. It is closely related to Teochew, though mutual comprehension is difficult, and somewhat more distantly related to Hainanese. The Amoy and Taiwanese prestige dialect (based on Tainan variant are considered standards.


Variants of Hokkien dialects can be traced to two sources of origin: Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Both Amoy and Taiwanese are based on a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects, while the rest of the Hokkien dialects spoken in South East Asia are either derived from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, or based on a mixture of both dialects.


During the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, there was constant warfare occurring in the Central Plain of China. Northerners began to enter into Fujian region, causing the region to incorporate parts of northern Chinese dialects. However, the massive migration of northern Han Chinese into Fujian region mainly occurred after the Disaster of Yongjia. The Jìn court fled from the north to the south, causing large numbers of northern Han Chinese to move into Fujian region. They brought the old Chinese — spoken in Central Plain of China from prehistoric era to 3rd century AD — into Fujian. This then gradually evolved into the Quanzhou dialect.

In 677 (during the reign of Emperor Gaozong), Chen Zheng, together with his son Chen Yuanguang , led a military expedition to pacify the rebellion in Fujian. They settled in Zhangzhou and brought the Middle Chinese phonology of northern China during the 7th century into Zhangzhou; In 885 AD (during the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang), the two brothers Wang Chao and Wang Shenzhi, led a military expedition force to pacify the Huang Chao rebellion. They brought the Middle Chinese phonology commonly spoken in Northern China into Zhangzhou. These two waves of migrations from the north generally brought the northern Middle Chinese languages into Fujian region. This then gradually evolved into the Zhangzhou dialect.

Xiamen dialect, sometimes known as Amoy, is the main dialect spoken in the Chinese city of Xiamen and its surrounding regions of Tong'an and Xiang'an, both of which are now included in the Greater Xiamen area. This dialect developed in the late Ming dynasty when Xiamen was increasingly taking over Quanzhou's position as the main port of trade in southeastern China. Quanzhou traders began travelling southwards to Xiamen to carry on their businesses while Zhangzhou peasants began traveling northwards to Xiamen in search of job opportunities. It is at this time when a need for a common language arose. The Quanzhou and Zhangzhou varieties are similar in many ways (as can be seen from the common place of Henan Luoyang where they originated), but due to differences in accents, communication can be a problem. Quanzhou businessmen considered their speech to be the prestige accent and considered Zhangzhou's to be a village dialect. Over the centuries, dialect leveling occurred and the two speeches mixed to produce the Amoy dialect. READ MORE HERE.

The following part of this post is from an old email that was circulating in the net a few years ago. I have no idea who is the author:

Hokkien (Fujian/Minnan Hua) is :

1. The surviving language of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), China's golden age of culture. (Note: The Hokkien we hear today may have 'evolved' from its original form 2,000 years ago but it still retains the main elements of the Tang Dynasty language.)

2. Hokkiens are the surviving descendants of the tang Dynasty. When the Tang Dynasty collapsed, the people of the tang Dynasty fled south and sought refuge in the Hokkien (Fujian) province. Hence Hokkiens called themselves Tng-lang (Tang ren or people of the Tang Dynasty) instead Hua lang (Hua ren).

3. Hokkien has eight tones whilst Mandarin has only four.. Linguists claim that ancient languages tend to have more complex tones.

4. Hokkien retains the ancient Chinese pronounciation of "K-sounding" endings for instance hak seng (student), tua ok (university), thak chek (read a book, study). Note that the "k-sounding" ending is not found in Mandarin.

5. The collection of the famous "Three hundred Tang Dynasty Poems" sounds better when recited in Hokkien/Teochew as compared to Mandarin.

6.Consider this for a moment. Today the Hokkien Nam Yim orchestral performance still has its roots in ancient Tang Dynasty music. Here's the proof. The formation of today's Nam Yim ensemble is typically seen in Tang Dynasty paintings of musicians.

Hokkiens, Koreans and Japanese share many similar words which are different from Mandarin. That's because Hokkien was the official language of the Tang Dynasty whose influence and language spread to Japan and Korea (just like Latin where many words were borrowed by the English, French, Italian, etc.)

Here are a few words in Hokkien, Korean and Japanese for your comparison.

English - Hokkien - Korean - Japanese
news - sin boon - sin mun - shinbun (newspaper)
government - cheng hu - chong bu - none
room - pang - pang - none
car/vehicle - chhia - ch'a - none
door - mui/m'ng - mun - none
ticket - p'hio - p'yo - none
eternal - eng wan - yong won - none
book - chaek - ch'ae - none
flag - ki - ki - ki
river - kang - gang/kang - none
insurance - poh hiam - poh ham - none
caution - sio sim - cho sim - none
attend/join/mix - cham - ch'am sok - none
simple - kantan - gan dan - none
new world - sin sei kai - shin sae gae - none
nation - kok ka - kuk kka - none
elder brother - hya - hyaeng - none
prepare - choon pi - jun bi - none
time - si kan - si kan - none
emotion, feeling - kam tong - kam jong - kanjoo
gratitude, thanks - kamsia - kam sa - kansha
marriage - keat hoon - kyol hon - kekkon
exercise - oon tong - undong - undoo
university - Tua ok - tae hak - daigaku
safety - aun chuan - an jon - an zen
satisfaction - mua chiok - man jok - manzoku
success - seng kong - song kong - seikoo
suicide - chhui sat - cha sal - jisatsu
grapes - pu do - p'o d'o - budoo
progress - chin por - chin bo - shinpo

To all the Hokkien lang out there, be proud of your Hokkien heritage and language! Speak it loud and clear lest it fades away.

To those of you who don't speak Hokkien, it is easy to learn this dialect. There are guide books that are sold in bookshops teaching colloquial Hokkien.

Have a nice day!

CLICK HERE if you want to know more about Penang Hokkien.
Take care and have a great day!

5 comments to The Language of the Tang Dynasty

  1. says:

    Chrono13 Why are there so many 'none's on the Japanese side? In fact, for example, simple is 'kantan' in jap, new world is 'shin se kai' and time is 'ji kan'

    Still a very interesting article on the hokkien language. Too bad I'm Hakka instead :(

  1. says:

    cin2tan fyi : the Malay words 'diam-diam, sabun, batu ...' are Hokkien lah !

  1. says:

    Daniel Boey Diam, Sabun & Duit were thought to be Malay words that had been bastardised into local Hokkien. Actually the contrary is true. "Batu", however, is Malay. "Tang" people or "t'ng lang" is not exclusive to the hokkiens; all southern Chinese refer to themselves as Tang People whereas northern Chinese refer to themselves as "Han ren", not "hua ren". They identify themselves more with the Han Dynasty. "Hua ren" is used in Malaysia to refer to the local Chinese whereas, in China, the Chinese are Zhongguo Ren. Ethnic Chinese are Han ren.

  1. says:

    masterwordsmith Dear Daniel

    Thanks for sharing your response. Yes, you are right. Etymologically, 'batu' is from Proto-Malayo-Polynesian. One of the greatest regrets in my life is dropping out of Mandarin lessons in school for otherwise, I believe I could appreciate more of my heritage. I can speak Mandarin fluently but am hopeless in the written form.

    Here's wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year!

    God bless.


  1. says:

    masterwordsmith Dear Chrono 13

    Sorry for this late response. I found it extremely difficult to learn Japanese because I do not know Mandarin as both have some similarities. Anyway, thank you for sharing. Take care and hope you will keep in touch. Merry Christmas and happy new year!


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