Writing Teochew

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Teochew (MSM Cháozhōu huà 潮州話) is a Southern Min topolect "that is spoken by the Teochew people in the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong and by their diaspora around the world. It is sometimes referred to as Chiuchow, its Cantonese rendering, due to the English romanisation by colonial officials and explorers. It is closely related to some dialects of Hokkien, as it shares some cognates and phonology with Hokkien. The two are relatively mutually intelligible. Although the two are far from the exact same language, it is possible for Hokkien and Teochow speakers to converse relatively easily." (source)

Teochew is the second-most spoken Sinitic topolect in Singapore.  Its speakers constitute the second-largest Sinitic topolect group in Singapore, comprising 21% of the Chinese population. Consequently, they play a significant role in the commerce and politics of Singapore. (source)

Here's a similar treatment for Taiwanese:


And here's a tweet stream that amounts to a small treatise on Taiwanese.


Selected readings


[h.t. Charles Belov]


  1. Neil Kubler said,

    February 24, 2022 @ 2:14 pm

    This language has been known in English by many names: Chaozhou, Teochew, Chiuchow, Swatow (from 汕头/汕頭 Shàntóu “Swatow,” the other large city where it is spoken about 35 miles away), or Chao-Shan, a name that combines the first syllables of Chaozhou and Shantou. The ancestors of the Teochew people immigrated to southeastern Guangdong from Putian and Zhangzhou in southern Fujian in the 13th century to escape from Mongol invaders. Geographical isolation and the passage of time resulted in modern Teochew becoming quite distinct from the Southern Min of Xiamen or Taiwan, with which it has only about 50% intelligibility, by my estimate. Because of large-scale migration from coastal Guangdong to Southeast Asia in the 19th century, many overseas Chinese communities are Teochew-speaking, including in Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, where Teochew speakers form the largest Sinitic language group. As regards the writing of Teochew, all the romanizations for Taiwanese/Southern Min can be used to write Teochew, as the sound systems are similar enough to allow this. Unlike in some other areas, Chaozhou Min seems to be holding its own. On a week-long research trip in spring 2018, I was able to confirm that in kindergartens there the local language is the primary medium of instruction. In elementary school, Mandarin gradually becomes the sole language of instruction but, when not in school, many children still speak to each other in their native language. Adults speak Mandarin as well as Teochew and may also understand Cantonese, but the elderly are usually monolingual in Teochew. Chaozhou people still take pride in speaking their native language in a wide variety of daily life situations and speak Mandarin only with outsiders.

  2. Jerry Packard said,

    February 24, 2022 @ 2:29 pm

    Thank you Neil!!

  3. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2022 @ 5:06 pm

    Invaluable, virtuoso response, Neil!

  4. Terpomo11 said,

    February 26, 2022 @ 2:12 pm

    Why are etymological characters lawful evil?

  5. Vampyricon said,

    February 26, 2022 @ 3:15 pm

    Interesting post, as well as the tweet thread about Hokkien. I'm trying to learn Taiwanese Hokkien and I prefer Chinese characters, but at least now I understand the resistance to government standardization.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    February 26, 2022 @ 6:04 pm

    What's the subset sign doing in the etymological transcription?

    For the Taiwanese one, I have the same question as Vampyricon – why is a negative particle "m" being represented as 不 instead of 唔?

  7. John Rohsenow said,

    February 27, 2022 @ 1:54 am

    "As regards the writing of Teochew, all the romanizations for Taiwanese
    /Southern Min can be used to write Teochew, as the sound systems are similar enough to allow this."
    I seem to remember that way back in the day, i.e. late 1960s at the IUP /Stanford Center, we used a Taiwanese language text by one of the teachers there adapted from a Hokkien text that Nicolas Bodman had developed earlier in Malaya (during WW II?). Later the Taipei Language Institute developed their own materials, based on a missionary romanization system.

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