Chinese Language

Mandarin is commonly referred to as "Chinese", but in fact it is just one Chinese language of many.

Mandarin is the most common Chinese language, and is also the official language of Mainland China, Taiwan, and one of the official languages of Singapore.

What Is The Chinese Language?

The Chinese language known as Mandarin is the most common language in the world. But there are many other languages spoken in China, including Wu, Hunanese, Jiangxinese, Hakka, Yue (including Cantonese-Taishanese), Ping, Shaojiang, and Min.

These Chinese languages are often classified as dialects, but are mutually unintelligible, so on that basis could be designated as languages. On the other hand, the fact that they share a common writing system (Chinese characters), and have a common cultural background, supports the argument that they are dialects of the official Chinese language – Mandarin.

It is interesting, though, that Mandarin itself is broken up into dialects from the various regions of China. Each region has its own particular style of Mandarin, including variations in pronunciation and grammar. Standard Mandarin, the official Chinese language, is based on the Beijing dialect.

Chinese Language Tones

Almost all Chinese languages have a tonal system, which is used to differentiate homonyms. Mandarin Chinese has four tones, but other Chinese languages have more. Yue (Cantonese), for example, has 9 tones.

Written Chinese Language

Chinese characters have a history dating back more than two thousand years.

The early forms of Chinese characters were pictographs (graphic representations of real objects), but characters became more stylized and came to represent ideas as well as objects.

Each Chinese character represents a syllable of the spoken language. Characters represent words and meanings, but not every character is used independently.

In an attempt to improve literacy, the Chinese government began simplifying characters in the 1950’s. These simplified characters are used in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, while Taiwan and Hong Kong still use the traditional characters.