Be­witch­ing Chi­nese 1,299m

35 Coun­tries speak­ers

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment - 14 coun­tries 1 coun­try

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

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