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bhchao

Wenzhou dialect being used in secret communications

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bhchao

There is a famous Chinese rhyme that goes "天不怕,地不怕,就怕温州人説温州話"

Wenzhouhua is reputed to be the most difficult dialect to learn in China. It is viewed as a foreign language by 99.9% of the population, including Zhejiang people.

During the Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese government used Wenzhou speakers as windtalkers for wartime communications because it was confident no one in Japan can understand Wenzhouhua.

Wenzhou speakers can potentially use it openly in business to satisfy their own self-interests at the expense of customers or clients since very few people understand it.

Can anyone in this forum understand even a few words of Wenzhouhua? I would worship that individual like an idol if so. B)

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David Wong

All of them sound foreign to me.

What makes Wenzhouhua more difficult than say Fuzhouhua to a non-native?

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bhchao

I guess Wenzhouhua has its strange grammar patterns, unique vocabulary, and pronunciation that make it incomprehensible and mutually unintelligible to speakers of other Wu dialects, including Shanghainese and Hangzhou, Min, and Cantonese.

Wenzhou windtalkers were even used during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war.

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xiaocai

A few words? I can do that. My friend has been living in Wenzhou for about 10 years now and she married a Wenzhou guy. Apparently her Wenzhouhua is not too bad for someone who is not of Wenzhou background. And there are at least 5 million native speakers of various Wenzhou dialects, almost the same number as native Finnish speakers, which hardly makes it a good choice of secure communication...

And from a non-native speaker's point of view, Whenzhouhua and Fuzhouhua are equally unintelligible to me, despite that I do know a few words of both.

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bhchao

I have a colleague from Taiwan whose mother is Wenzhounese. Her older brother and mother can speak and understand Wenzhou dialect, but she cannot understand or speak Wenzhouhua despite growing up in the same household.

I heard that there are different variants of Wenzhouhua depending on the locality.

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xiaocai

This is the case true with almost all Chinese dialects. As a non-native speaker my friend finds that it is hard for her to understand accents from outside of the city, but she also reckons the level of mutual intelligibility is considerably high among native speakers of various Wenzhouhua dialects.

Any language can be learnt. But the person must be willing to learn and there are native speakers who are willing to teach them. Of course how efficient the learning process is depends heavily on the methods, but there must certain level of achievement if any of these methods has actually been carried out. I have met quite a few families with older children speaking their parents' mother tongues whereas the younger ones not, be it Cantonese, Hakka or Sozhouhua. One of the reason I can remember is that the older ones were brought up by grand parents who prefer dialect over Mandarin, and the younger ones were brought up by their parents from different dialectic backgrounds and Mandarin is the only common language among the nuclear family members. Of course these are just some random cases which have no significance in proving that it is equally difficult to learn those dialects aforementioned. But on the other hand, random cases like this can not prove it is not the case, either.

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bhchao
Any language can be learnt. But the person must be willing to learn and there are native speakers who are willing to teach them. Of course how efficient the learning process is depends heavily on the methods, but there must certain level of achievement if any of these methods has actually been carried out. I have met quite a few families with older children speaking their parents' mother tongues whereas the younger ones not, be it Cantonese, Hakka or Sozhouhua. One of the reason I can remember is that the older ones were brought up by grand parents who prefer dialect over Mandarin, and the younger ones were brought up by their parents from different dialectic backgrounds and Mandarin is the only common language among the nuclear family members. Of course these are just some random cases which have no significance in proving that it is equally difficult to learn those dialects aforementioned. But on the other hand, random cases like this can not prove it is not the case, either.

Also the amount of learning materials available is a factor. There are scant resources available for Wenzhouhua other than learning from a native speaker. Far more difficult to obtain than Shanghainese.

You raised a good point about exposure to the language within the household. One of my grandfather's Shanghainese friends has a Korean wife who can speak and understand Shanghainese and Mandarin. It was easy for her to learn Mandarin after moving to Taiwan with her husband. But she was able to be fluent in Shanghainese in Taiwan because she had a lot of daily exposure with her mother-in-law, who speaks entirely Shanghainese. It didn't hurt either that her husband also spoke Shanghainese with her.

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David Wong

Do we know how successful was the use of Wenzhou windtalkers during the war? According to the guy in this

, some aspects of Wenzhouhua have more in common with Japanese than Mandarin. Ooops!!

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pingping1234

though wenzhou dialect maybe a difficult language for individuals,it seems common for the person living in this environment.i live near wenzhou,in spite of can not speak it myself,i can realize mostly of these meanings because my families all speak wenzhou hua.But it seems quite strange that i speak Minnan dialect~~~

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xiaocai

Agreed with the point on availability of learning resources. Cantonese and Hokkien are also good examples.

I've heard Wenzhouhua quite a few times before under various circumstances. I could probably guess a few words and even one or two full sentences if the topic of the conversation was explicit. Any random conversation in it would just sound completely foreign to me.

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carlo

Wenzhou dialect may not be a good choice now, given all the Wenzhou expats that have migrated to other countries (Japan, Europe and so on). Same is true of Cantonese and Hokkien. It shouldn't be that hard to find ONE person to train code breakers. Navajo had 100,000 speakers or so and none was in Japan, I guess.

What would be an alternative today? A minority language with only a few native speakers left maybe?

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Hofmann

There are plenty of languages with less than 2 speakers. One language dies every two weeks (K. David Harrison. (2008). The linguists [Motion picture]. United States: Ironbound Films.).

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jbradfor
What would be an alternative today?

I would think a well-designed computer-based cipher would suffice today.

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carlo

Well, I just read on Wikipedia that a Navajo sergeant *was* captured by the Japanese during the war although it was not enough to decode the messages. I suppose the advantages of using this strategy in the modern world as opposed to a computer cipher would include no need for equipment or training (assuming your code talkers are bilingual already) and the ability native speakers have to filter authentic messages from fake ones, which is really hard to deceive (eg TTS software). Sure an army of less than two speakers wouldn't be much of a threat, though. One heart attack would wipe out all your coding efforts. The right balance should be found between lack of documentation, number of native speakers, loyalty thereof, and so on....

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bhchao
According to the guy in this video, some aspects of Wenzhouhua have more in common with Japanese than Mandarin. Ooops!!

Maybe one reason is because Wenzhouhua has a high occurrence of SOV like many Wu dialects. Cantonese, Hokkien, and Mandarin in contrast are SVO.

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Lu

There are a lot of Wenzhounese huaqiao in Holland. The funny thing is, while Cantonese huaqiao often like to speak Cantonese to each other, Wenzhounese speak Dutch. Once I overheard two Wenzhounese speakers of different villages (but not too far away, I think they were even distantly related) compare their dialects: apparently there were a lot of differences. I suppose that would also make Wenzhounese hard to learn and to understand.

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xiaocai

It does sound a tad like Shanghainese especially when he say 鱼 and 水. Well maybe someone who can actually speak Shanghainese will be able to confirm that and identify more. and to Lu, this is extremely common from southern Jiangsu to northern Fujian. There is a saying 十里不同音, and that is how different the accents of two nearby villages can be.

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bhchao
There are a lot of Wenzhounese huaqiao in Holland. The funny thing is, while Cantonese huaqiao often like to speak Cantonese to each other, Wenzhounese speak Dutch. Once I overheard two Wenzhounese speakers of different villages (but not too far away, I think they were even distantly related) compare their dialects: apparently there were a lot of differences. I suppose that would also make Wenzhounese hard to learn and to understand.

There are a lot of Wenzhounese in Flushing, NY too. Many of the sidewalk markets, restaurants, and Internet cafes in Flushing are owned by Wenzhounese. You can get good deals at the markets because of the cheap prices. Their profit margin is small, but they still make money because of the high volume turnover.

Wenzhounese does sound a bit like Shanghainese. I once incorrectly assumed a business owner to be speaking Shanghainese when actually he was speaking Wenzhounese. Yet it's strange that Shanghainese and Wenzhounese are mutually unintelligible.

There is a popular saying in China that refers to Wenzhounese as "中國的猶太人".

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