Wenzhounese is acknowledged as the “devil’s language” because it is the least understandable dialect in China. When I was researching my dialect, I gradually understood why it is so unique based on its history as well as its special points of the vocabulary, grammar and sounds. Although I couldn’t find out concrete evidences to prove that Wenzhounese’s uniqueness can be explained by Diamond’s geography based theory, I would like to form a hypothesis that Wenzhou’s topography makes it “the living fossil”.
Wenzhounese is a variety of Wu Chinese, which is spoken by Auish in Wenzhou. Now, there are five million people can speak this dialect.
Wenzhounese has a long history which origins from Pre-Qin period, the classical era. In the classical era, original residences who lived in Dong Ou and Yue people who came from Tai Hu Lack Basin merged together. Two groups people formed Ou Yue.
【Ou People + Yue People = Ou Yue】
At that time, the language used in daily life within Ou Yue belongs to Tai-kadai Languages instead of Han Language.
【Language used in Ou Yue → Tai-Kaidai Language 】
On 333 B.C.(during the classical era), Country Chu defeated Country Yue and enhanced Chu’s control over Ou Yue. Because of Country Chu’s power and influential effect, Chu’s dialect merged with Ou Yue’s dialect and formed a new language called Jiang Dong Dialect.
【Chu Dialect + Ou Yue Dialect = Jiang Dong Dialect】
Jiang Dong Dialect is the direct origin of Wu Chinese. In other words, it can be considered as the direct origin of Wenzhounese. In fact, some old vocabularies which exists in today’s Wenzhounese are passed down from Jiang Dong Dialect. Also, Jiang Dong dialect offered Wenzhounese original sounds.
【Jiang Dong Dialect: origin of Wenzhounese (vocabulary + sounds)】
During Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty, Han people started conquering Wu Yue Area. However, Yue people still controlled Fujian and southern part of Zhejiang. During this period, Wu Chinese (including Wenzhounese) borrowed vocabularies from Han Language.
【Qin & Han: Wenzhounese borrowed vocabularies from Han Language】
During Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty, there were several waves of immigration. Especially when Song Dynasty moved its capital city to Hangzhou, Han people who came from central plains brought their dialect (Central Plains Dialect) to Wenzhou. Central Plains Dialect gave Wnzhounese new sounds. Thus, some characters/vocabularies in Wenzhounese have two sounds. One is the original sound which origins from Jiang Dong Dialect and another one is the new sound emerged from Central Plains Dialect.
【Sounds of some Wenzhounese vocab.: original sounds (Jiang Dong) & new sounds(Central Plain)】
What surprised me is that although Han languages in northern part of China changed for several times, Wenzhounese kept many traditional characteristics of Han language. Also, this trait made me wonder if it is related to Diamond theory.
During 19th century, Christian missionaries developed a writing system for Wenzhounese. In 2004, Shen Jia and Shen Kecheng established a thorough Wenzhounese sound system.
Wenzhounese is special in many ways.
First, it contains vocabularies from the classical era and the Classical Chinese. Also, Wenzhounese preserved grammar of ancient Chinese. Wenzhounese put noun before adjective, let verb be in front of adjective and place adverb behind adjective. Besides, sound changes in Wnzhounese will confuse many non-native speakers.
Although I couldn’t find out concrete evidences to prove that Wenzhounese’s uniqueness can be explained by Diamond’s geography based theory, I would like to form a hypothesis that Wenzhou’s topography makes it “the living fossil”.
Based on previous introduction of Wenzhounese’s history, we may find that Wenzhounese didn’t go though great changes and preserved many ancient language features until today. I think it is because Wenzhou is surrounded by mountains, rivers and forests. Thus, it is hard for militarys to invade in Wenzhou. Also, since Wenzhou was lack of fertile plains for cultivating crops so that it was always ignored by government. During ancient time, Wenzhou and surrounding areas were called “place of nowhere”. Without constant interruptions, Wenzhounese becomes the dialect which is called “the living fossil”.