Minnan hua or Southern Min (閩南話 bân-lâm-ōe) is the Chinese dialect of the Southern part of Fujian province, the area around Xiamen and Quanzhou. A variant is widely spoken in Taiwan where it is referred to as Taiwanese (臺彎話 tâi-oan-ōe). Another variant is also spoken widely in the Philippines where it is referred to as Lan Nang Oe (咱人話 lán-lâng-ōe). In Singapore, Malaysia and Medan, the Minnan dialects excluding Teochew are called Hokkien (福建話 hok-kiàn-ōe), the Minnan pronunciation of 'Fujian'.
Note that this list is based on the Xiamen version of Minnan. The dialects spoken in Taiwan, other parts of mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Medan and other Chinese communities have some differences, due to borrowing of words from different languages and sometimes language evolution due to relative isolation. Most notably, Minnan spoken in Taiwan has borrowed some words from Japanese, so "uncle" could be said as "ojisan" in Taiwan instead of 阿伯 "a-pek" (father's elder brother), 阿叔 "a-chek" or 阿舅 "a-kū" (mother's brother) as in Xiamen. The variant spoken in Zhangzhou, Fujian province has some subtle differences from the Xiamen varient but is largely mutually intelligible (eg. kiam nui instead of kiam neng for salted egg). Yet another well known variant is the Teochew dialect spoken around Chaozhou and Shantou in Guangdong, and by large foreign Chinese Teochew communities around the world including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and France which is significantly different (eg. chı̍t-kâi-nâng instead of chı̍t-ê-lâng for '一個人') but is still mutually intelligible with the Xiamen variant to a small degree. The variants spoken in Singapore and Malaysia are also known to have extensive borrowing from Malay and to a lesser extent Cantonese and English.
While the Hainanese dialect spoken on the island of Hainan is grouped under Minnan by many linguists, it differs more significantly and is not mutually intelligible with any of the other variants of Minnan.
It can be said to be mutually unintelligible with standard Mandarin and other dialects not only due to the pronunciation differences but also because of the irregular word/character conversion i.e. a non-native Minnan speaker can only understand the dialect to a small extent even when it is presented in written form (e.g. "吃甲尚好驚血壓高,水姆兌人走" : 《陳雷.歡喜就好》) It is also not mutually intelligible with the other branches of the Min dialect family such as Mindong, Minbei and Puxian.
Like all other Chinese languages and their dialects, Minnan uses Chinese characters but employs its own 'unique' pronunciation. However, it should be noted that similar to Japanese kanji, most characters have two or more pronunciations in Minnan, which means that many characters would be pronounced differently depending on context, even if their Mandarin pronunciation remains the same in both instances.
This is partly due to the fact that, because standard written Chinese is based on Mandarin, many words in Minnan are written with characters of the same meaning in standard written Chinese.
For example, the words ài and beh both roughly mean 'want', so they are usually written with the character 要 (although they are also written with 愛 and 欲 respectively). Consequently, the pronuncation of the character 要 can change between ài, beh and iàu depending on context.
The ordinary word for person, lâng, is usually written with the character 人, which also has the reading jı̂n or lîn. The character 生 is is pronounced seⁿ or siⁿ as a verb used alone, but the word 人生 is pronounced lı̂n-seng.
Also, note how the words m̄ (is not, does not) and bē/bōe (cannot) are all often written with 不, so while 不要 might be read as m̄-ài or m̄-beh, 不能/不可 can be read as bē-sái or bōe-sái.
For referring to oneself, 我 góa is used in more informal context while 阮 gún is more formal and 恁爸 lı́n-pē is very derogatory but used very commonly. (No cognates exist in Mandarin or Cantonese although phrases with the same meaning do.) Similar to Malay, there are two equivalents of the English word "we", with lan-nang including the listener in the group, and goa-nang used to exclude the listener from the group.
Pronunciation varies from region to region (e.g. 你 (you) can be either lı́ and lú). This can make comprehension difficult sometimes even between 'native' speakers from different regions. It should also be kept in mind that most speakers of the dialect often mix Mandarin phrases into their speech due to the influence of Standard Mandarin.
Like other varieties of Chinese, Minnan is tonal; tones must be correct in order to convey the correct meaning. Tone sandhi is particularly common and non-standardised in Minnan, which makes it a little harder to learn than Mandarin, where tone sandhi is standardised, and Cantonese, where tone sandhi is used sparingly.
The following table shows the values of the different tones in some places, and does not show the pronunciation of the tones or tone sandhi of many areas, but may give an idea of the approximate values.
Minnan has many different consonants, even more so than standard Mandarin or Cantonese, and pronouncing them all correctly is a challenge for English speakers. While Mandarin only distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated (unvoiced) consonants, and English only distinguishes between voiced and unvoiced consonants meaning-wise, Minnan makes a distinction in both cases. This means that aspirated unvoiced (pʰ, tʰ, kʰ), unaspirated unvoiced (p, t, k), and unaspirated voiced (b, d, g) are all separate phonemic consonants in Minnan.
To highlight the distinction, the words for "open" (開) and "close" (關), in some pronunciations (khui and kui respectively) sound almost identical to a native English speaker, only difference being that "open" uses an aspirated initial k while "close" uses an unaspirated initial k! The j sound in English is also used along with the j sound in Mandarin hanyu pinyin. Labial initials such as the m sound are also present. However, unlike in Mandarin, there is no "tongue rolling" (pinyin r) initial consonant.
Initial consonanats of POJ
voiced pinyin 'b'
voiced pinyin 'z'
pinyin 'z' or 'j'
pinyin 'c' or 'q'
pinyin 's' or 'x'
goiced pinyin 'g'
Like Cantonese but unlike Mandarin, Minnan retains all the final consonants (m, n, ŋ, p, t, and k) of Middle Chinese. In POJ, the nasal consonants m, n and ng are pronounced the same as English, but the others are different.
The stop consonants p, t and k are unreleased. This means that the mouth moves into the position of making the consonant, but no burst of air is released.
Furthermore, an h at the end of a syllable in POJ represents a glottal stop (ʔ); this is the sound in the middle of the English word 'uh-oh'.
The vowels a, e, i, o, u are pronounced as they are in many languages, such as Spanish. Minnan also has the vowel [ɔ] written as o͘ (with a dot) or oo.
Vowels of POJ
also written 'oo'
Vowels in Minnan can be nasalized, and in POJ this is indicated with a superscript n 'ⁿ' after the vowel. It can also be indicated with a capital n (N) or a double n (nn). IPA notes this with a tilde (~) above the last vowel.
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Phrases in this section are not consistently transcribed with Pe̍h-ōe-jī and Wikitravel's romanization guidelines. If you are familiar with the language, please help fix them up!
For some of the following phrases, there is an unconventional romanization shown in parentheses and this does not describe tones, but just tries to be phonetically accurate from an (American) English speaking standpoint. Goal is to have an English speaker's first try be fairly close, without reading a bunch of rules for phonetization nor trying to distinguish between the 7 tones in Taiwanese. Unfortunately, it is difficult to cover all tones this way, especially nasal and breath differences, and thus cannot be completely accurate.
Asterisks precede words that are very hard to phonetize. It would be nice to get some audio on here for these.
Also to note is the sound of "l" used below. Linguists call this sound a "flap": it is similar to the "tt" sound in Standard American pronunciation of "butter". It is also similar to the Japanese "r" and the Spanish "single-r" sounds.
Numbers in Minnan are basically the same as numbers in other varieties of Chinese.
Please note the rules about when to use the two different words for 2 (nn̄g and jī). Jī is used in the ones, tens and hundreds place, whereas nn̄g is used for multiples of numbers 100 and greater. This is analogous to the use of 兩 and 二 in mandarin.