Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hokkien, old Chinese and Sino-Tibetan

In the below article Hokkien is used interchangeably with Minnan. Minnan is the scholastic term for Hokkien languages.

Fossil sinitic language 
Hokkien is the oldest Sinitic language alive today. It provides an invaluable resource for scholars of ancient Chinese as well as comparative Sino-Tibetan.

Below shows the relationship between various Sino-Tibetan languages. Click the below diagram to enlarge

The main branch of Sino-Tibetan languages are Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman. Other than Sinitic languages, standard Burmese and standard Tibetan languages have quite a large number of speakers.

Mandarin offers little help to scholars of Sino-Tibetan languages. Mandarin is the outcome after Northern China was taken over by Mongolic, Turkic and Tungusic invaders. Its linguistic distance from old Sinitic is further apart. In comparison, the most direct descendant of old Chinese is Hokkien.

From the above diagram, Hokkien and the Wu (more common known as Shanghai-nese) are the only direct descendant of old Chinese. However, Hokkien has preserved far greater features of old Sinitic than Wu or other Min languages.

The Mandarin and other Chinese lects such as Cantonese gone through the "middle Chinese" phase. Hokkien did not. She is a direct descendant of old Chinese.

Comparative Sino-Tibetan

Hokkien provides a good tool for phonetic discovery of old Chinese. Phonetic information are easily lost in Chinese writings. Unlike the European language where sounds are preserved in combinations of alphabets, Chinese characters are logograms that do not preserve sound well.

Pronunciation of Chinese characters in Min Nan helps to give scholars what a certain Chinese character sounds thousands of years ago. Hokkien sounds surprising close to other Sino-Tibetan languages for related words. For example, in numerals,



The numerals in Hokkien is

chig (1), ni (2), sa (3), si (4), ngo (5).

Numerals in Mandarin it will be
yi (1), er (2), San (3), si (4), wu (5)

Hokkien has shown to be close phonetically to other Sino-Tibetan languages compared to Mandarin.

Other word comparison

Wo (我)

Gwa (吾)



ri 日

jit 日



And many others...etc


Anonymous said...

your writings have inspired me to read history books again. Visited a few library here, unfortunately very limited meaningful history books. Also , i am becoming curious about my ancestors from Hokkien. Why did my grandfather choose Singapore of all places ?

thank you for writing and sharing.

Veritas said...

Thanks for your comments. Its such warm comment who keep me writing.

I have one wish for my readers. Please try to tell others about our heritage.

Kuan Yew hates Chinese culture. We must not be a banana who hate our ancesters like Kuan Yew and all those westernize Chinese.

I am literate Mandarin, English, French, Spanish and Japs. I speak Cantonese and understand some German.

My favorite language is
1) Hokkien
2) Hokkien
3) Hokkien
4) Hokkien
5) Hokkien
6) Hokkien


Whenever I see my relatives despise Hokkien and speak to their toddlers in Mandarin or English, I feel very painful.

Anonymous said...

When i was young, i used to watch hokkien opera tv show, and it was such a beautiful lang. and equally fantastic to hear the thugs swear in hokkien in the olden days, not the same as the current swearing.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Veritas, you have done a lot of reading on cultures. Good for you.

Hokien was, I read somewhere, a court language. Think it was called Nam Yim or something like that.

Veritas said...


Thanks for your compliment.

The more I studied foreign languages, I more I love hokkien. Those banana are really idiots.

I am into more western cultural than most them, and I play piano.

Not one time I despise Chinese culture.

Anonymous said...

stupid fucktard. you deleted comments. eh, you cant take the heat, stop typing shit.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. However I find that Middle Chinese has significant impact on Gan/Hakka just as much as Cantonese, and possibly on the Wu and Xiang languages too. Min is particularly isolated due to the mountains which surrounded Fujian.