Shandong lisp

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Nick Kaldis writes:

I am wondering if your collective knowledge of Gaomi Shandongese and dialectology can clear something up for me. My late beloved father-in-law, Tóng Jìguāng 佟繼侊, from Gaomi county, would pronounce something like an thi sandong len for “俺是山東人“ [VHM:  MSM pron. ǎn shì Shāndōng rén (“I’m a Shandongese”)]. My question is: is the lisp in 是 common in Shandongese? And, is there a specific word for “lisp[ing]” (of the letter/sound “s”) in Chinese?
I replied:

My in-laws were from Shandong (from Changyi, not too far from Gaomi), and I’ve been to Shandong countless times, but I can’t recall hearing shi 是 pronounced as thi.

Jonathan Smith (whose in-laws are also from Shandong and who lived there for several years) observes:

I am racking my brain but don’t think I can conjure a memory of shi4 是 > “thi4” exactly. If anything there seems to be free variation between z-c-s and the equivalent interdentals (th, etc.) at times; perhaps when zcs and zhchsh merge we could hear both series as interdental? Also interesting that your correspondent writes th- in 是 but s- in 山; maybe this an allophonic effect of some kind related to the nature of the zcs<>zhchsh merger, but if so one I’m not familiar with.

Aside from th etc. for s etc. one often hears frication in w- (as in many other Mandarin dialects) and more distinctively in shu- (> fu-) and zhu- > (vu-); one would think this would also apply to ch- but my impression here is less clear. Some quotes:

马 凤如, 山东方言的文化特征及其演变 ─ 与小木裕文先生对谈

“如沂南、莒南方言中,就比普通话多出齿间音 [tθ tθʰ θ] 和舌叶音 [tʃ tʃʰ ʃ] 两组声母。另在枣庄、苍山等方言里则有 [pf pfʰ f v] 一整套唇齿音声母。”

wiki 济南话

“普 通话零声母合口呼字(如:五、袜),济南话有 /v, ʋ, Ø/ 三 种读音。普 通话 /ʦ, ʦʰ, s/ 声 母字,在济南话中有 /ʦ, ʦʰ, s/ 和 /tθ, tθʰ, θ/ 两 种读音。读后者的人多为年轻男性,发音时舌尖外露程度不一。”

baidu 山东方言

“以西,特别是鲁西南地区(枣庄市、济宁市、菏泽市、聊城市、泰安市、临沂市的费县、平邑县)“shu”音发为“f”,例如 “水”、“睡觉”、“说话”、“树”等发音为“非”、“费觉”、“佛话”、“富””

Nick responded:

My father-in-law never lost a smidgeon of his Gaomi county Shandong accent, to his passing some 50+ years after arriving in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

I’ve imitated his lisp to other Shandongese I’ve met, mostly students, and some of them have commented that I’ve nailed the accent –I assume they’re referring to the lisp. I’ll ask my wife, b/c he probably also lisped the s- in 山 as well.

From Matt Smith:

I don’t think it’s particularly surprising (though certainly amusing) that ‘sh’ might be at least perceived as ’th’. Mandarin ’s’ is usually dental and, where ’s’ and ‘sh’ merge, I imagine they might both well be realised with the tongue tip against the back of the incisors. The charming Shenyang accent seems to have a rather rougher, or more forceful, s/sh sound, which I don’t recall ever mistaking for ‘th’, but the difficulty many Chinese speakers seem to have in distinguishing ’th’ and ’s’ in English is, I’m convinced, as much due to the dental articulation of ’s’ as due to the absence of ‘th’ in Mandarin.

I’m waiting to learn if Nick’s father-in-law also said “Thandong” instead of “Shandong”.

If you’re wondering what Gaomi speech sounds like, here’s a recording posted on Phonemica.

For those who are familiar with standard Mandarin, you will immediately realize how very different Gaomi is.  Mind you, Gaomi is a form of Sinitic classified as Mandarin that is spoken in an area only 300 miles southeast from Beijing, on a line running through Tianjin (very much in the news last year [massive explosions]) toward the great coastal city of Qingdao (Tsingtao).  Gaomi is the hometown of the author Mo Yan, laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012; some of his stories were set in the region.

And here is a recording of speech from near Yantai, which is about a three hour drive to the northeast from Gaomi on the northern shore of the Shandong Peninsula.


  1. Brendan said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 9:18 pm

    He’s speaking Standard Mandarin in a formal context, but this video of Mo Yan’s Nobel lecture might be of interest. His 是 shì and sh- sounds all sound pretty normal to me on a very quick listen, but there does seem to be a bit of a lisp in his s- and z- sounds (and maybe his c- sounds, as Jonathan Smith predicted might be the case). Check out the sentence beginning around 11:16 in the video to hear how he pronounces 我們一年也吃不了幾次餃子 (MSM Wǒmen yì nián yě chībuliǎo jǐ cì jiǎozi).

  2. Victor Mair said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 9:57 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    After reading this post on the topic of Shandong initial “sh-” pronounced as the interdental fricative “th-“, I remembered from 30+ years ago when I was teaching at Wuhan Univ. some fieldwork I had done with a young male student from Beijing. One sound he used that made a deep impression on me was his consistent pronunciation of the suffix “子 zi” as “thi” (where vowel “-i” represents the superhigh central vowel). I do recall thinking at the time that it sounded like a kind of lisp; however, I suspect this is actually a feature of some northern Mandarin varieties.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 10:31 pm

    From Zhengsheng Zhang:

    I recall the lisp-like feature from people around Beijing. The word that comes to mind is zi.

  4. John said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 5:09 am

    Jonathan Smith: “one often hears frication in w- (as in many other Mandarin dialects)”

    Not just Mandarin. My grandmother spoke Cantonese (Shunde >> Hong Kong >> Canada) and she always answered the phone with a very obvious “vei???” Listening carefully would reveal this sound change in all of her speech.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 7:39 am

    As Brendan pointed out, in his Nobel speech Mo Yan was speaking formal MSM, but even so perhaps a tiny bit of Gaomi peeks through. I suspect that Nick’s father-in-law, when he was talking to non-Gaomi folk, altered his speech a great deal to make it seem more like MSM. This was certainly the case with my father-in-law and mother-in-law. When they were in MSM (in their case guoyu) mode, I could understand about 85% or more, depending upon how careful they were being to modify their speech and how closely I was listening. But when they were only with other Changyi speakers, it immediately became much more difficult for me to follow the conversation. And when I went to Changyi itself and was immersed in unadulterated local speech, I had to strain very hard to understand much of what people were saying. My understanding probably dropped to below 50%.

  6. michaelyus said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 11:47 am

    This change of Middle Chinese /s/ to [θ] is progressing with much gusto in Fuqing, Fujian. Whereas most of the Min Dong area has merged Middle Chinese’s palatal and alveolar fricatives into /s/, Fuqing is distinctive in the region for its particularly interdental realisation of the phoneme. There are even some indications (on the iSpeakMin forum) that it may even be progressing to [f], finally introducing this phone into a historically [f]-less region.


  7. michaelyus said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

    I should add that the /s/ > [θ] is attested in many areas in the Min Dong linguistic region. Luoyuan, even in the metropolitan region of Fuzhou; but in Fuqing it is so far gone as to have become the majority realisation. Interestingly, compared to Jinan’s situation, it’s appears to be more common among young women than young men.

  8. Jichang Lulu said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 5:30 pm

    Another Shandong topolect that can feature dental fricatives and affricates is Tai’an 泰安, articulated here by Obama.

    Notice what happens to English /θ/ and /tʃ/ towards the end of the video.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

    From Nick Kaldis:

    Finally remembered over breakfast today to ask Shu-Min about her dad: Yes, he did lisp both “S” sounds in 是 and 山東; she also noted that the lisp was slight, and contrasted her father’s “less-stressed/accentuated pronunciation, as compared to a Beijing accent”.

  10. Neil Dolinger said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 8:48 pm


    How is 你是食什乇 pronounced in Mindong? Is this the equivalent of MSM 你吃了吗?

  11. michaelyus said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

    @ Neil Dolinger:

    Not really; 你食完未? (although its most common online incarnation seems to be 汝食盲昧?, which is a rendition that I’m not familiar with) would be the Min Dong equivalent of Mandarin 你吃了吗?.

    In “traditional” Fuzhounese 你是食什乇 has the Foochow Romanized spelling “Nṳ̄ sê siĕh sié-nó̤h?”, which would have the citation pre-sandhi pre-assimilation IPA /ny˧ sɛi˨˦˨ sieʔ˥ sie˨˩ nɔʔ˨˦/. But the tones and vowels vary widely. I suppose Mandarin would 你是想吃什么 or even a straightforward 你[是]吃什么[的] … but I gave it as an example of those /s/ phonemes in quick succession in a casual setting.

  12. Jerry Packard said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 10:07 pm

    Rather than being a lisp, I think (in Beijing at least) it is an example of (sub-)conscious sociolinguistic variation. Qing Zhang (A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity. Language in Society 34, (2005) 431–466) offers an excellent sociolinguistic analysis of z > tθ , c > t’θ , s > θ among a group she calls 胡同串子 hútòngchuànzi or “alley saunterers” in Beijing Mandarin.

  13. Liriel said,

    January 24, 2016 @ 3:48 pm

    @John re: Cantonese

    This is very interesting because the w to v is pretty common in Siyi 四邑 variants of Cantonese (more commonly referred to as Taishanese), but Shunde is a Sanyi 三邑 region!

    I’m much less familiar with Sanyi so would you kindly confirm if this is a feature that Sanyi shares with Siyi or if your grandmother is actually a Siyi speaker from outside of Siyi?

  14. John said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 3:59 pm


    Well, my grandmother was born in Shunde and moved to Guangzhou as an adult for a few years before going to HK. It’s too late to ask whether her parents came from somewhere else (but maybe my dad knows).

    However, one of my uncles often remarks on people’s Cantonese variations and he has described her speech as typically Shunde, while describing other people’s speech as typically Taishan.

    Anyway I am not sure whether today’s Cantonese dialects are the same, as my family and everyone they associated with in Canada were staunch Nationalists and nobody ever went back to the mainland after 1949, so the accents would be preserved for 40-50 years – but most of that generation is no longer around and the old people all speak English and standard HK Cantonese.

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