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    Jin Language Classification
    By James Campbell

    Jin is an individual Sinitic language spoken in northern China west of Beijing. The Jin language covers a vast area spoken in five provinces: Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Henan. Not one of these provinces is completely Jin speaking, as I will explain below.

  • Sinitic
  • In Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing city, the Jin-speaking area is confined to the foothills and mountains of the western border of Hebei. Most of Hebei northwest of Beijing is Jin-speaking. In fact, one only need to go to Guanting Reservoir in northwest Beijing, just beyond Badaling where tourists can visit the Great Wall, and just to the north and west of this reservoir at Huailai, only about 20 kilometers outside of Beijing administrative region, one finds a Jin-speaking city (Zhanghu dialect).
    The Huanghe (Yellow River) is the most prominent geographical southern boundary of the Jin dialects within Henan province, however at the southernmost tip of Shanxi, the border of which is delineated by the river and where there is a major bend in the Huanghe, a valley extends northwards towards the foothills and mountains in south-central Shanxi. It is the language spoken in this valley that has been identified as a non-Jin dialect, belonging to Mandarin, perhaps either by migration from the south or a slow influx of vocabulary and mixture with Mandarin of what used to be a predominantly Jin-speaking area. Otherwise, all the rest of Shanxi is Jin-speaking with one exception in the north where Mandarin extends from Beijing in the east, the city and county of Guangling. Jin is spoken along the valleys of the Huanghe starting from its northward exit out of Ningxia, turning east in Inner Mongolia and then south forming the border between Shaanxi and Shanxi. The desert area between the bends in the river, that is between Ningxia and Shanxi are also predominantly Jin-speaking.
    The Jin-speaking area is basically centered on Shanxi province, so Jin is often identified as the language of Shanxi. The name of the language comes from the abbreviated name for Shanxi province, Jin (晉/晋). There are approximately 45 million speakers and according to Ethnologue data, is ranked 22nd in size by number of speakers–more speakers than Polish or Italian by comparison.
    The Jin language can be separated into eight dialects, two of which each have two subdialects, for a total of ten divisions. The map on this page is marked with the main urban areas where each dialect is spoken. Each dialect is also spoken in the areas surrounding each of these markers. If you follow the links in the classification down to the county and city level, you can find further information on individual dialect locations. A location (for example, Taiyuan or Pingyao) should not be considered the name of the dialect, but rather a location within a dialect area which may have its own peculiar features. You may follow the links on to the individual dialect locale page describing the varieties of these dialects in further detail. The most complete data on this site is for the Taiyuan and Pingyao locales, both representative of the Bingzhou dialect.
    The Jin language was not discovered as a separate language from Mandarin until quite a lot of research in Chinese dialectology had already been undertaken. One of the main reasons for this is that during the early 20th century when Bernhard Karlgren was collecting data around China for phonological reconstruction of Ancient Chinese, he overlooked (i.e., didn't record) an important feature prevalent in all Jin dialects: the final glottal stop. The importance of the glottal stop means that the tonal system differs greatly from that of Mandarin. All occlusive endings in Ancient Chinese collapsed into a glottal stop in the Jin dialects, similar to what has happened in Wu dialects, but have all disappeared in Modern Mandarin. So the Ru-tone is still pronounced in Jin dialects, and so there tends to be on average 5 tones among all of the Jin dialects.
    Unlike Mandarin, Jin also has a highly complex tone sandhi system based on lexical and semantic features. There is an in-depth overview of this complexity featured on the Pingyao dialect page.
    Phonologically, disregarding the glottal stop ending, Jin does appear similar to Mandarin, and since Karlgren was primarily concerned with phonology, erroneously identified this area as Mandarin-speaking.

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