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Hakka, Cantonese and Japanese
I read your questions on the Hakka forum and I want to answer some of your
First, the relationship of Cantonese to Hakka was not well studied in the
past. Usually the cantonese speaking peole are considered early arrivers to
Guangdong, say, before the Tang Dynasty about 1500 years ago. Hakkas, on the
other hand, are viewed as late comers, say at the end of the some Dynasty
about 800 years ago. Therefore, Hakkas are called by Cantonese as guest.
However, this model does not fit the linguistic and ethnical observations. I
find out in the past two years that Hakka and Cantonese dialects could have
been originated from a common dialect ancestor about a 1000 years ago. I am
spending my time to see how they diverged from each other. Moreover, both
Hakka and Cantonese tell that their ancestor came more or less
simultaneously to Guangdong about 800 years ago.
Therefore, the similarities between Hakka and Cantonese are not language
borrowing like English borrowing French, but of the same dialect family like
English and Dutch.
Hakka and Cantonese became rivals only recently, and the name "Hakka" could
have been a quite recent one. In my opinion, it did not appear more than 300
years. The term "Hakka" to denote a dialect or a group of people was not
seen in book older than 300 years.
This hypothesis explain why Cantonese are not called "Hakka" even if they
came only 800 years ago to Guangdong, and why Cantonese is more similar to
Hakka than other dialects.
You can read my passage on Hakka/Cantonese linguistics I posted on 2.1.98
for more details of the dialect comparisons.
Japanese has borrowed a lot of Chinese just like English borrowing French
and Latin, but Japanese is even less realted to Chinese than English to the
Latin languages. When Japanese borrow Chinese expressions, they modify their
pronounciation to fit their phonolgical systems.
Interestingly, the vowels of modern Japanese are reduced to a, i, u, e, o;
which are exactly the case of the Hakka variant spoken in Hong Kong and
nearby areas. Therefore, when Chinese words (Kanji in Japanese) are
pronounced in hakka or Japanese, they give very similar sounds. However,
this is only viewed as a coincidence because ancient Japanese or Hakka of
other regions are not that similar. If one want to know that two languages
are similar if they are related or the result of borrowing, one can compare
the most basic words like body parts, natural object in the surrounding,
etc. then we can see that japanese is very different from any of the Chinese
Among the Chinese dialects, comparison of 200 basic words by Xu Tongqiang in
his book "Historical Linguistics" (in Chinese "Lishi Yuyanxue", Shangwu
Yinshuguan, Beijing, 1991) shows that Hakka is most similar to Cantonese.
The result of his comparison of cognates is given as following in
percentages (page 422 of the book):
MEIXIAN GUANGZHOU NANCHANG CHANGSHA SUZHOU BEIJING
XIAMEN 68 63 64 61 59 56
MEIXIAN 79 77 72 73 69
GUANGZHOU 78 76 77 74
NANCHANG 83 84 76
CHANGSHA 86 79
Moreover, we can see that Cantonese is more similar to Mandarin compared
with Hakka (Meixian) and Minnan (Xiamen). This also clarify that Cantonese
is not quite "old" as other think.