Bewitching Chinese 1,299m
35 Countries speakers
The macrolanguage ‘Chinese’, also known as Sinitic, is a SinoTibetan language consisting of hundreds of local varieties. Many of the varieties, or ‘dialects’, are mutually unintelligible, and are organised into seven major classifications, the largest of which are Mandarin, Wu, Min and Yue. The other classifications are Gan, Xiang and Hakka.
Mandarin, spoken in northern and southwestern China, has the most speakers. This group includes the Beijing dialect, which forms the basis for Standard Chinese, called Putonghua or Guoyu.
Wu is spoken in in the Yangtze Delta and coastal areas around Shanghai. The group includes the Shanghainese dialect, and comprises hundreds of distinct spoken forms, many mutually unintelligible.
Min varieties – like Taiwanese Hokkien – are spoken in Shanghai, most of Zhejiang and the southern parts of Jiangsu and Anhui. The group comprises hundreds of distinct spoken forms, many of which are not mutually intelligible.
Yue is spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau. The most common dialect is Cantonese, from Guangzhou. Yue dialects have been brought to Southeast Asia and many other parts of the world by immigrants. BACKGROUND Mandarin is the official language of China and Taiwan as well as one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, under the name ‘Chinese’. Mandarin is often divided into four subgroups: northern Mandarin, northwestern Mandarin, southwestern Mandarin, and southern, or lower Yangtze, Mandarin.
It emerged in China during the later part of the Ming Dynasty and subsequently became the official language of the court during the Manchu-ruling Qing Dynasty. From the 17th century onwards, the empire established specialised institutions that aimed at conforming local pronunciations to the Beijing standard, so that the emperor could communicate with all his officials directly.
‘Mandarin’ is the term used through much of the Western world, but the Chinese themselves refer to the language as Putonghua, Guoyu or Huayu. Putonghua literally means ‘common language’ and is the term used in mainland China. The Taiwanese call it Guoyu (national language), while in Singapore, it is referred to as Huayu (Chinese language). Almost every city in China has its own variation of standard Mandarin, and each of these could qualify as a Mandarin dialect. Besides Mandarin, there are many other forms of the Chinese language. Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Shanghainese are just some of the many languages spoken in the Chinese region and by people of Chinese descent. These languages are not really considered dialects because they are not mutually comprehensible. There may be some similarities due to the common root of these languages, but speakers of Hokkien and Cantonese, for instance, will not be able to communicate easily with each other.
WRITTEN SCRIPT Objects were originally represented with pictographs and gradually became more stylised, representing not only objects, but ideas as well. The earliest form of Chinese writing is called ‘oracle bone’ script, used from 1500 to 1000 BC. The Great Seal
Mandarin is the official language of China and Taiwan as well as one of the four official languages of Singapore