The Subgrouping of the Min Dialects


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Zhijun ZHENG

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
  • Bit Chee KWOK (Supervisor)
Award date15 Jun 2016


The Min dialect group is easily characterized compared with other dialect groups in China. At the same time, however, Min varieties exhibit a considerable degree of diversity. The internal relationship among these Min dialects has remained a long-term puzzle. A number of scholars (Pan 1963; Zhang 1985; Norman 1991) have made attempts to classify the Min varieties. Among these classifications, the most well-known is the one described in Language Atlas of China (1987), which divided Min into the following subgroups: Eastern Min 閩東, Northern Min 閩北, Southern Min 閩南, Central Min 閩中, Pu-Xian 莆仙 and Qiong-Wen 瓊文. However, this classification does not articulate the internal relationship among these Min varieties. The study of Min classification is still considered one of the most challenging tasks of Chinese dialectology.
The present dissertation applies a new approach, subgrouping, to solve the problem of classifying the 21 representative Min dialects. The study begins with a review of Norman’s (1973, 1974 and 1981) Proto-Min system and revises this system based on more comprehensive data. This revised Proto-Min system is then compared with the modern Min dialects to arrive at 43 shared innovations that constitute criteria for subgrouping. A phylogenetic tree model processed by PENNY (from PHYLIP, a package of computer programs for inferring phylogenies) displays the result of Min subgrouping based on maximum parsimony. The phylogenetic results derived through this method are shown to differ significantly from the traditional classification of Min.
No comprehensive subgrouping of the Min family has yet been made. The Min phylogeny in this study takes an important step toward this goal by clarifying the genetic relationship among the different Min varieties. The model also pinpoints the position of some controversial dialects within the Min family. The present study sheds new light on the methodology of the classification of Chinese languages and dialects.
Chapter 1 provides a comprehensive background survey of Min dialects and lays out the methodological foundation of the study.
Chapter 2 presents a detailed review on the Proto-Min system developed by Norman (1973, 1974 and 1981) and proposes some minor refinements to this system.
Chapter 3 lists 43 shared innovations among the Min dialects identified on the basis of a comparison between the Proto-Min system and 21 modern Min varieties. The shared innovations include 33 phonological mergers and 10 lexical replacements in the basic vocabulary. This chapter is the main body of the dissertation.
Chapter 4 constructs a tentative phylogenetic tree model for the Min family and provides a detailed description of the results. When the shared innovations are input into PENNY, more than one tree is produced. These trees are almost identical except in the Southern Min branch; a discussion of the internal relatedness of Southern Min is offered.
Chapter 5 draws conclusions and addresses the implications of this study.