Suzhou dialect

蘇州閒話 / 苏州闲话
sou˥ tseu˨˩ he˩˧ ho˧
Native to China
Region Suzhou and southeast Jiangsu province
Native speakers
approx. 5-7 million (date missing)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6 suji
Linguist list
Glottolog None
Suzhou dialect
Traditional Chinese 蘇州話
Simplified Chinese 苏州话
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 蘇州閒話

The Suzhou dialect (simplified Chinese: 苏州话; traditional Chinese: 蘇州話; pinyin: Sūzhōu huà; Suzhounese: Sou-tsøʏ ghé-ghô 蘇州閒話), also known as Suzhounese, is the variety of Chinese traditionally spoken in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, China. Suzhounese is a variety of Wu Chinese, and was traditionally considered the Wu Chinese prestige dialect. Considered one of the most flowing and elegant languages of China, it is rich in vowels and conservative in having many initials.


Suzhounese is spoken within the city itself and the surrounding area, including migrants living in nearby Shanghai. There is also an increasing number of Suzhounese speakers in New York City in the United States.

The Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in its satellite cities such as Kunshan, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, as well as those spoken in its former satellites Wuxi and Shanghai. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in other areas of the Wu cultural sphere such as Hangzhou and Ningbo. However, it is not mutually intelligible with modern Mandarin or Cantonese; but, as all public schools and most broadcast communication in Suzhou use Mandarin exclusively, nearly all speakers of the dialect are at least bilingual. Owing to migration within China, many residents of the city cannot speak the local dialect but can usually understand it after a few months or years in the area.


A "ballad–narrative" (說晿詞話) known as "The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao" (薛仁貴跨海征遼故事), which is about the Tang dynasty hero Xue Rengui[1] is believed to have been written in the Suzhou dialect.[2]

Plural pronouns

Second- and third-person pronouns are suffixed with [toʔ] for the plural. The first-person plural is a separate root, [ni].[3]


Some non native speakers of Suzhou dialect speak Suzhou dialect in a "stylized variety" to tell tales.[4]



Initials of Suzhou dialect
  Labial Dental/Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive tenuis p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate tenuis ts
aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ɕ h
voiced v z f
Lateral l

Suzhou dialect has a set of voiced initials and exhibits unvoiced unaspirated and aspirated stops, there are unvoiced and voiced fricatives sets. Moreover, palatized initials also feature.


Finals of Suzhou dialect[5]
Open Nasal coda Glottal stop coda
Medial jw jw jwɥ
Nucleus ʊ ʊ  joŋ  joʔ  
ɵ ɵ         
ɑ ɑ ɑ̃jɑ̃wɑ̃ ɑʔjɑʔ  
æ æ  ã jaʔwaʔɥaʔ
ɛ ɛ  ən wən əʔjəʔwəʔɥəʔ
øʏ øʏ           
ɪ ɪ   ɪn       
ʏ ʏ   ʏn       
i i           
y y           
Syllabic continuants: [z̩] [z̩ʷ] [β̩~v̩] [m̩] [ŋ̩] [l̩]

The Suzhou dialect has a rare contrast between "fricative vowels" [i, y] and ordinary vowels [ɪ, ʏ]. As with Shanghainese, Middle Chinese entering tone characters which end in [p t k] end as a glottal stop [ʔ] in Suzhou, while Middle Chinese nasal endings [m n ŋ] have become a nasalized vowel or [n ŋ].


Suzhou is considered to have seven tones. However, since the tone split dating from Middle Chinese still depends on the voicing of the initial consonant, these constitute just three phonemic tones: ping, shang, and qu. (Ru syllables are phonemically toneless.)

Tone chart of Suzhou dialect
Tone number Tone name Tone letters Description
1 yin ping (陰平) æ (44) high
2 yang ping (陽平) ˨˨˦ (224) level-rising
3 shang (上) ˥˨ (52) high falling
4 yin qu (陰去) ˦˩˨ (412) dipping
5 yang qu (陽去) ˨˧˩ (231) rising-falling
6 yin ru (陰入) ˦ʔ (4) high checked
7 yang ru (陽入) ˨˧ʔ (23) rising checked

In Suzhou, the Middle Chinese Shang tone has partially merged with the modern yin qu tone.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Suzhou dialect.


  1. Boudewijn Walraven; Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 341. ISBN 9057891530. Retrieved 2012-03-10. A prosimetrical rendition, entitled Xue Rengui kuahai zheng Liao gushi 薛仁貴跨海征遼故事 (The story of Xue Rengui crossing the sea and Pacifying Liao), which shares its opening prose paragraph with the Xue Rengui zheng Liao shilüe, is preserved in a printing of 1471; it is one of the shuochang cihua 說晿詞話 (ballad-narratives
  2. Boudewijn Walraven; Remco E. Breuker (2007). Remco E. Breuker, ed. Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Volume 153 of CNWS publications (illustrated ed.). CNWS Publications. p. 342. ISBN 9057891530. Retrieved 2012-03-10. for telling and singing) which were discovered in the suburbs of Shanghai in 1967. While these shuochang cihua had been printed in modern-day Beijing, their language suggests that they had been composed in the Wu Chinese area of Suzhou and surroundings,
  3. Graham Thurgood; Randy J. LaPolla (2003). Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla, ed. The Sino-Tibetan languages. Volume 3 of Routledge language family series (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 86. ISBN 0700711295. Retrieved 2012-03-10.
  4. George Melville Bolling; Linguistic Society of America; Bernard Bloch; Project Muse (2000). Language, Volume 76, Issues 1-2. Linguistic Society of America. p. 160. Retrieved 2012-03-10. She also examines a stylized variety of Suzhou Wu as used to tell stories by native speakers of another dialect.(Original from the University of Michigan)(Digitized Dec 17, 2010)
  5. Ling, Feng (2009). A phonetic study of the vowel system in Suzhou Chinese (Thesis). City University of Hong Kong.
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