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Chinese ( or also , especially for the written language) is a group of
language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing system composed of glyphs to inscribe the original soun ...

language
s that form the Sinitic branch of the
Sino-Tibetan languages Sino-Tibetan, also known as Trans-Himalayan in a few sources, is a family of more than 400 languages, second only to Indo-European in number of native speakers. The vast majority of these are the 1.3 billion native speakers of Chinese languages ...

Sino-Tibetan languages
, spoken by the ethnic
Han Chinese The Han Chinese,
. Huayuqiao.org. Retrieved on 2013-04-26.
Hanzu, or Han peopleGreater China "Greater China" is an informal geographical area that shares commercial and cultural ties with the Han Chinese, The notion of "Greater China" refers to the area that usually encompasses mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan in East Asia. ...

Greater China
. About 1.3 billion people (or approximately 16% of the world's population) speak a variety of Chinese as their
first language A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language that a person has been exposed to from birth or within the critical period hypothesis, critical period. In so ...
. The spoken varieties of Chinese are usually considered by native speakers to be variants of a single language. Due to their lack of
mutual intelligibility In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related Variety (linguistics), varieties can readily understand each other without prior familiarity or special effort. It is ...
, however, they are classified as separate languages in a
family In human society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territory, typically subject to the same Politics, ...
by linguists, who note that the varieties are as divergent as the
Romance languages The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) ...

Romance languages
. Investigation of the historical relationships among the varieties of Chinese is just starting. Currently, most classifications posit 7 to 13 main regional groups based on phonetic developments from
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
, of which the most spoken by far is
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
(with about 800 million speakers, or 66%), followed by Min (75 million, e.g.
Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy ...
), Wu (74 million, e.g.
Shanghainese Shanghainese (rarely "Shanghaiese", without second "n"), also known as the Shanghai dialect, Hu language or Hu dialect, is a variety of Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically ...
), and Yue (68 million, e.g.
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
). These branches are unintelligible to each other, and many of their subgroups are unintelligible with the other varieties within the same branch (e.g. Southern Min). There are, however, transitional areas where varieties from different branches share enough features for some limited intelligibility, including New Xiang with Southwest Mandarin, Xuanzhou Wu with
Lower Yangtze Mandarin Lower Yangtze Mandarin () is one of the most divergent and least mutually-intelligible of the Mandarin languages, as it neighbours the Wu, Hui, and Gan groups of Sinitic languages. It is also known as Jiang–Huai Mandarin (), named after th ...
, Jin with
Central Plains Mandarin start=72, A native of Tanghe County, Henan. Central Plains Mandarin, or ''Zhongyuan'' Mandarin (), is a variety of Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages spoken across most of northern and southwestern Chi ...
and certain divergent dialects of
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese Han Chinese subgroups, subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka Chinese, Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Gu ...
with
Gan Gallium nitride () is a binary III/ V direct bandgap semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metal ...
(though these are unintelligible with mainstream Hakka). All varieties of Chinese are
tonal Tonal may refer to: * Tonal (mythology), a concept in the belief systems and traditions of Mesoamerican cultures, involving a spiritual link between a person and an animal * Tonal language, a type of language in which pitch is used to make phonemic ...
to at least some degree, and are largely analytic. The earliest Chinese written records are
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. ...

Shang dynasty
-era
oracle bone inscriptions Oracle bone script () was an ancestor of modern Chinese characters engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or Turtle shell#Plastron, turtle plastrons used in pyromancy, pyromantic divinationin the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest known fo ...
, which can be dated to 1250 BCE. The phonetic categories of
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 125 ...
can be reconstructed from the rhymes of ancient poetry. During the
Northern and Southern dynasties The Northern and Southern dynasties () was a period in the history of China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the king Wu Ding ...
period, Middle Chinese went through several
sound changes A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language over time. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called p ...
and split into several varieties following prolonged geographic and political separation. ''
Qieyun The ''Qieyun'' () is a Chinese rhyme dictionary, published in 601 during the Sui dynasty. The book was a guide to proper reading of classical texts, using the '' fanqie'' method to indicate the pronunciation of Chinese characters. The ''Qieyun'' ...
'', a
rime dictionary A rime dictionary, rhyme dictionary, or rime book () is an ancient type of Chinese dictionary Chinese dictionaries date back over two millennia to the Han Dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dy ...
, recorded a compromise between the pronunciations of different regions. The royal courts of the Ming and early
Qing dynasties The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last History of China#Imperial China, imperial Dynasties in Chinese history, dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by th ...
operated using a
koiné language In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
( Guanhua) based on
Nanjing dialect Nanjing dialect, also known as Nankinese, or Nanjing Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Nanjing Nanjing ( ), Postal Map Romanization, formerly romanized as Nanking, is the capital of Jiangsu province of the China, People's ...
of
Lower Yangtze Mandarin Lower Yangtze Mandarin () is one of the most divergent and least mutually-intelligible of the Mandarin languages, as it neighbours the Wu, Hui, and Gan groups of Sinitic languages. It is also known as Jiang–Huai Mandarin (), named after th ...
.
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
(Standard Mandarin), based on the
Beijing dialect The Beijing dialect (), also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin spoken in the urban area An urban area, or built-up area, is a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Ur ...
of Mandarin, was adopted in the 1930s and is now an official language of both the
People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population of more than 1.4 billion ...

People's Republic of China
and the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and No ...

Republic of China
(Taiwan), one of the four official languages of Singapore, and one of the six
official languages of the United Nations The official languages of the United Nations are the six languages that are used in UN meetings and in which all official UN documents are written. In alphabetical order, they are: * Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic) * Chinese language, Chinese (Man ...
. The written form, using the
logograms In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will pick up spoken language or sign la ...
known as
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system The modern Jap ...
, is shared by literate speakers of mutually unintelligible dialects. Since the 1950s,
simplified Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in Mainland China and Singapore, as prescribed by the ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters''. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two sta ...
have been promoted for use by the government of the People's Republic of China, while Singapore officially adopted simplified characters in 1976.
Traditional characters Traditional Chinese characters ( zh, s=/, t=/, first=t, Pinyin: ) are Chinese characters, of any character set. The traditional characters mostly remained in the form they took at the introduction of the regular script in the 2nd century. Over ...
remain in use in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other countries with significant overseas Chinese speaking communities such as Malaysia (which although adopted simplified characters as the ''de facto'' standard in the 1980s, traditional characters still remain in widespread use).


Classification

Linguists classify all varieties of Chinese as part of the
Sino-Tibetan language family Sino-Tibetan, also known as Trans-Himalayan in a few sources, is a family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationsh ...

Sino-Tibetan language family
, together with Burmese,
Tibetan Tibetan may mean: * of, from, or related to Tibet * Tibetan people, an ethnic group * Tibetan language: ** Classical Tibetan, the classical language used also as a contemporary written standard ** Standard Tibetan, the most widely used spoken dialec ...
and many other languages spoken in the
Himalayas The Himalayas, or Himalaya (; Sanskrit Sanskrit (, attributively , ''saṃskṛta-'', nominalization, nominally , ''saṃskṛtam'') is a classical language of South Asia belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Ind ...

Himalayas
and the
Southeast Asian Massif The term Southeast Asian Massif was proposed in 1997 by anthropologist Jean Michaud to discuss the human societies inhabiting the lands above approximately in the southeastern portion of the Asian landmass, thus not merely in the uplands of convent ...
. Although the relationship was first proposed in the early 19th century and is now broadly accepted, reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan is much less developed than that of families such as
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing ...
or
Austroasiatic The Austroasiatic languages , also known as Mon–Khmer , are a large language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and wri ...
. Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical obj ...
in many of them, and the effects of language contact. In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in mountainous areas that are difficult to reach and are often also sensitive
border zone Border control is the measures taken by a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper) ...
s. Without a secure reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan, the higher-level structure of the family remains unclear. A top-level branching into Chinese and
Tibeto-Burman languages The Tibeto-Burman languages are the non-Sinitic languages, Sinitic members of the Sino-Tibetan languages, Sino-Tibetan language family, over 400 of which are spoken throughout the highlands of Southeast Asia as well as certain parts of East Asia a ...
is often assumed, but has not been convincingly demonstrated.


History

The first written records appeared over 3,000 years ago during the
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. ...

Shang dynasty
. As the language evolved over this period, the various local varieties became mutually unintelligible. In reaction, central governments have repeatedly sought to promulgate a unified standard.


Old and Middle Chinese

The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on
oracle bone Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula and turtle plastron, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. ''Scapulimancy'' is the correct term if ox scapulae were used for the ...

oracle bone
s from around 1250 BCE in the late
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. ...

Shang dynasty
.
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 125 ...
was the language of the
Western Zhou The Western Zhou ( zh, c=, p=Xīzhōu; c. 1045 BC – 771 BC) was the first half of the Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ) was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin d ...
period (1046–771 BCE), recorded in inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the ''
Classic of Poetry The ''Classic of Poetry'', also ''Shijing'' or ''Shih-ching'' (), translated variously as the ''Book of Songs'', ''Book of Odes'' or simply known as the ''Odes'' or ''Poetry'' (), is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising ...
'' and portions of the ''
Book of Documents The ''Book of Documents'' (''Shūjīng'', earlier ''Shu King'') or ''Classic of History'', also known as the ''Shangshu'' ("Esteemed Documents"), is one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature. It is a collection of rhetorical pros ...
'' and ''
I Ching The ''I Ching'' or ''Yi Jing'' (, ), usually translated as ''Book of Changes'' or ''Classic of Changes'', is an ancient Chinese divination text and among the oldest of the Chinese classics. Originally a divination manual in the Western Zhou ...
''. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the
phonology of Old Chinese Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the phonology of Old Chinese from documentary evidence. Although the writing system does not describe sounds directly, shared phono-semantic, phonetic components of the most ancient Chinese characters are bel ...
by comparing later varieties of Chinese with the rhyming practice of the ''Classic of Poetry'' and the phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters. Although many of the finer details remain unclear, most scholars agree that Old Chinese differs from Middle Chinese in lacking retroflex and palatal obstruents but having initial
consonant cluster In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
s of some sort, and in having voiceless nasals and liquids. Most recent reconstructions also describe an atonal language with consonant clusters at the end of the syllable, developing into
tone Tone may refer to: Color-related * Tone, mix of tint and shade, in painting and color theory * Tone, the lightness In colorimetry and color theory, lightness, also known as value or tone, is a representation of a color's brightness. It is ...
distinctions in Middle Chinese. Several derivational affixes have also been identified, but the language lacks
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical obj ...
, and indicated grammatical relationships using word order and
grammatical particle In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as we ...
s.
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
was the language used during
Northern and Southern dynasties The Northern and Southern dynasties () was a period in the history of China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the king Wu Ding ...
and the Sui, Tang, and
Song A song is a musical composition intended to be performed by the human voice. This is often done at melody, distinct and fixed pitches (melodies) using patterns of sound and silence. Songs contain various song form, forms, such as those includi ...
dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE). It can be divided into an early period, reflected by the ''
Qieyun The ''Qieyun'' () is a Chinese rhyme dictionary, published in 601 during the Sui dynasty. The book was a guide to proper reading of classical texts, using the '' fanqie'' method to indicate the pronunciation of Chinese characters. The ''Qieyun'' ...
'' rime book (601 CE), and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by
rhyme tableA rime table or rhyme table () is a Chinese phonology, phonological model, tabulating the syllables of the series of rime dictionaries beginning with the ''Qieyun'' (601) by their syllable onset, onsets, rhyme groups, tone (linguistics), tones and ot ...
s such as the ''
Yunjing The ''Yunjing'' () is one of the two oldest existing examples of a Chinese rhyme table – a series of charts which arrange Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of ...

Yunjing
'' constructed by ancient Chinese philologists as a guide to the ''Qieyun'' system. These works define phonological categories, but with little hint of what sounds they represent. Linguists have identified these sounds by comparing the categories with pronunciations in modern
varieties of Chinese Variety may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Algebraic variety Algebraic varieties are the central objects of study in algebraic geometry Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics, classically studying zero of a function ...
, borrowed Chinese words in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean, and transcription evidence. The resulting system is very complex, with a large number of consonants and vowels, but they are probably not all distinguished in any single dialect. Most linguists now believe it represents a
diasystem In the field of dialectologyDialectology (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its populati ...
encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading the classics.


Classical and literary forms

The relationship between spoken and written Chinese is rather complex ("
diglossia In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
"). Its spoken varieties have evolved at different rates, while written Chinese itself has changed much less.
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent centuries, the definition has expand ...

literature
began in the
Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the king Wu Ding's reign, who was men ...
.


Rise of northern dialects

After the fall of the
Northern Song The Northern Song (北宋; 4 February 960 – 20 March 1127) is an era during the Song dynasty, Song Dynasty. It came to an end when its capital city, the city of Kaifeng, was conquered by enemies from the north. Later, the provisional capital of ...
dynasty and subsequent reign of the Jin (Jurchen) and Yuan (Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech (now called
Old Mandarin Old Mandarin or Early Mandarin was the speech of northern China during the Jin and Yuan dynasties (12th to 14th centuries). New genres of vernacular literature were based on this language, including verse, drama and story forms, such as the '' q ...
) developed based on the dialects of the
North China Plain 200px, The North China Plain is shown in dark. The Yellow River is shown as "Río Amarillo". The North China Plain () is a large-scale downfaulted rift basin formed in the late Paleogene The Paleogene ( ; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; ...
around the capital. The '' Zhongyuan Yinyun'' (1324) was a dictionary that codified the rhyming conventions of new ''
sanqu ''Sanqu'' () is a fixed-rhythm form of Classical Chinese poetry Classical Chinese poetry is traditional Chinese poetry written in Classical Chinese and typified by certain traditional forms, or modes; traditional genres; and connections with p ...
'' verse form in this language. Together with the slightly later '' Menggu Ziyun'', this dictionary describes a language with many of the features characteristic of modern
Mandarin dialects Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages spoken across most of northern and southwestern China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies ...
. Up to the early 20th century, most Chinese people only spoke their local variety. Thus, as a practical measure, officials of the
Ming#REDIRECT Ming dynasty#REDIRECT Ming dynasty {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from move {{R from other capitalisation ...
{{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from move {{R from other capitalisation ...

Ming
and
Qing The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n.''" Oxford University Press Oxford Univers ...
dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as ''Guānhuà'' (/, literally "language of officials"). For most of this period, this language was a koiné based on dialects spoken in the
Nanjing Nanjing (; , Mandarin pronunciation: ), Postal Map Romanization, alternately romanized as Nanking, is the capital of Jiangsu Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China, a sub-provincial city, a megacity and the List ...

Nanjing
area, though not identical to any single dialect. By the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had become dominant and was essential for any business with the imperial court. In the 1930s, a standard national language, ''Guóyǔ'' (/ ; "national language") was adopted. After much dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an abortive attempt at an artificial pronunciation, the National Language Unification Commission finally settled on the Beijing dialect in 1932. The People's Republic founded in 1949 retained this standard but renamed it ''pǔtōnghuà'' (/; "common speech"). The national language is now used in education, the media, and formal situations in both Mainland China and Taiwan. Because of their colonial and linguistic history, the language used in education, the media, formal speech, and everyday life in
Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the China, People's Repu ...

Hong Kong
and
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a List of cities in China, city and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the Chi ...

Macau
is the local
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
, although the standard language, Mandarin, has become very influential and is being taught in schools.


Influence

Historically, the Chinese language has spread to its neighbors through a variety of means. Northern Vietnam was incorporated into the
Han empire The Han dynasty () was the second imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 1 June 195 BC), born Liu Bang () with courtesy name Ji (季), was the founder and f ...

Han empire
in 111 BCE, marking the beginning of a period of Chinese control that ran almost continuously for a millennium. The
Four Commanderies
Four Commanderies
were established in northern Korea in the first century BCE, but disintegrated in the following centuries.
Chinese Buddhism Chinese Buddhism or Han Buddhism has shaped Chinese culture in a wide variety of areas including art, politics, literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings speci ...

Chinese Buddhism
spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, and with it the study of scriptures and literature in
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (文言文, ''wényánwén'' or 古文, ''gǔwén''), is the language of the classic literature from the end of the Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chine ...
. Later
Korea Korea (officially the "Korean Peninsula") is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been Division of Korea, divided into the two parts which soon became the two sovereign states: North Korea (officially the "Democratic People's Republic of ...

Korea
,
Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of Japan.svg , alt_coat = Golden circle subdiv ...

Japan
, and
Vietnam , image_map = , map_caption = , capital = Hanoi , coordinates = , largest_city = Ho Chi Minh City , languages_type = National language , languages ...

Vietnam
developed strong central governments modeled on Chinese institutions, with Literary Chinese as the language of administration and scholarship, a position it would retain until the late 19th century in
Korea Korea (officially the "Korean Peninsula") is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been Division of Korea, divided into the two parts which soon became the two sovereign states: North Korea (officially the "Democratic People's Republic of ...

Korea
and (to a lesser extent) Japan, and the early 20th century in Vietnam. Scholars from different lands could communicate, albeit only in writing, using Literary Chinese. Although they used Chinese solely for written communication, each country had its own tradition of reading texts aloud, the so-called
Sino-Xenic pronunciations Sino-Xenic or Sinoxenic pronunciations are regular systems for reading Chinese characters in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, originating in medieval times and the source of large-scale borrowings of Chinese words into the Japanese, Korean and Vietnames ...
. Chinese words with these pronunciations were also extensively imported into the
Korean Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, an ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language * Korean alphabet, or Hangul Places * Korean Peninsula, a peninsula in East Asia * Korea, ...
,
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

Japanese
and
Vietnamese Vietnamese may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia ** A citizen of Vietnam. See Demographics of Vietnam. * Vietnamese people, or Kinh people, a Southeast Asian ethnic group native to Vietnam ** Oversea ...
languages, and today comprise over half of their vocabularies. This massive influx led to changes in the phonological structure of the languages, contributing to the development of
mora Mora may refer to: Places * Doctor Mora, city in the Mexican state of Guanajuato * Mora (Cordillera), Bolivia * Mora, Cameroon, a town * Mora (canton), Costa Rica * Mora, Cyprus, a village * Mora, Maharashtra, India, a port near Mumbai * Mora, Port ...
ic structure in Japanese and the disruption of
vowel harmony In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language variety. At one ...
in Korean. Borrowed Chinese morphemes have been used extensively in all these languages to coin compound words for new concepts, in a similar way to the use of
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
and
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Dark Ages () ...
roots in European languages. Many new compounds, or new meanings for old phrases, were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to name Western concepts and artifacts. These coinages, written in shared Chinese characters, have then been borrowed freely between languages. They have even been accepted into Chinese, a language usually resistant to loanwords, because their foreign origin was hidden by their written form. Often different compounds for the same concept were in circulation for some time before a winner emerged, and sometimes the final choice differed between countries. The proportion of vocabulary of Chinese origin thus tends to be greater in technical, abstract, or formal language. For example, in Japan, Sino-Japanese words account for about 35% of the words in entertainment magazines, over half the words in newspapers, and 60% of the words in science magazines. Vietnam, Korea, and Japan each developed writing systems for their own languages, initially based on
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system The modern Jap ...
, but later replaced with the ''
hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is a writing system for the Korean language created by King Sejong the Grea ...

hangul
'' alphabet for Korean and supplemented with ''
kana The are syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae A mora (plural ''morae'' or ''moras''; often symbolized μ) is a unit in phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systemat ...

kana
'' syllabaries for Japanese, while Vietnamese continued to be written with the complex ''
chữ nôm Chữ Nôm (, , literally 'Southern characters') is a logographic In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it mu ...
'' script. However, these were limited to popular literature until the late 19th century. Today Japanese is written with a composite script using both Chinese characters (''
kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. They are used alongside the Japanese language, Japanese syllabic scripts ''hiragana'' and ''katakana''. The Japanese term ''kanji'' for the Chinese ch ...

kanji
'') and kana. Korean is written exclusively with hangul in North Korea (although knowledge of the supplementary Chinese characters - ''
hanja Hanja (; Hanja: , , or Hancha) is the Korean name for a traditional writing system consisting mainly of Chinese characters () that was incorporated and used since the Gojoseon period (400 BC). More specifically, it refers to the C ...

hanja
'' - is still required), and hanja are increasingly rarely used in South Korea. As a result of former
French colonization French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France ** French language, a French language which originated in France, and its various dialects ** French people, a nation and ethnic group identified with F ...
, Vietnamese switched to a Latin-based alphabet. Examples of loan words in English include "
tea Tea is an aromatic beverage prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured or fresh leaves of '' Camellia sinensis'', an evergreen In botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science Science (from ...

tea
", from
Hokkien Hokkien (; , Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ''Hok-kiàn-ōe'', ) or Minnan (閩南語/闽南语), known as Quanzhang or Tsuan-Tsiang (泉漳) in linguistics, is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Standard Chinese, Mandarin pronunciation: ) or Banlam (), ...
(Min Nan) (), "
dim sum Dim sum () is a large range of small dishes that Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages or ...

dim sum
", from Cantonese ''dim2 sam1'' () and "
kumquat Kumquats (or cumquats in Australian English Australian English (AusE,AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to Australia. Australian English is the country's national and '' ...

kumquat
", from Cantonese ''gam1gwat1'' ().


Varieties

Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese. These varieties form a
dialect continuum A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a spread of language variety, language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties differ only slightly, but the differences accumulate over distance so that widely separ ...
, in which differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, though the rate of change varies immensely. Generally, mountainous South China exhibits more linguistic diversity than the
North China Plain 200px, The North China Plain is shown in dark. The Yellow River is shown as "Río Amarillo". The North China Plain () is a large-scale downfaulted rift basin formed in the late Paleogene The Paleogene ( ; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; ...
. In parts of South China, a major city's dialect may only be marginally intelligible to close neighbors. For instance,
Wuzhou Wuzhou (, postal: Wuchow; za, Ngouzcouh / Ŋouƨcouƅ), formerly Ngchow, is a prefecture-level city Image:Yangxin-renmin-huanyin-ni-0022.jpg, A road sign shows distance to the "Huangshi urban area" () rather than simply "Huangshi" (). This is a ...

Wuzhou
is about upstream from
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and Postal romanization, alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital city, capital and most populous city of the Provinces of China, province of Guangdong in South China, southern China. Lo ...

Guangzhou
, but the Yue variety spoken there is more like that of Guangzhou than is that of Taishan, southwest of Guangzhou and separated from it by several rivers. In parts of
Fujian Fujian (; alternately romanized as Fukien or Hokkien) is a province on the southeastern coast of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies b ...

Fujian
the speech of neighboring counties or even villages may be mutually unintelligible. Until the late 20th century, Chinese emigrants to Southeast Asia and North America came from southeast coastal areas, where Min, Hakka, and Yue dialects are spoken. The vast majority of Chinese immigrants to North America up to the mid-20th century spoke the Taishan dialect, from a small coastal area southwest of
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and Postal romanization, alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital city, capital and most populous city of the Provinces of China, province of Guangdong in South China, southern China. Lo ...

Guangzhou
.


Grouping

Local varieties of Chinese are conventionally classified into seven dialect groups, largely on the basis of the different evolution of
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
voiced initials: *
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
, including
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
,
Pekingese The Pekingese (also spelled Pekinese) is a breed A breed is a specific group of domestic animals having homogeneous appearance (phenotype), homogeneous behavior, and/or other characteristics that distinguish it from other organisms of the sam ...
, Sichuanese, and also the
Dungan language Dungan ( or ) is a Sinitic language spoken primarily in Kazakhstan Kazakhstan,, * russian: Казахстан, Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, * russian: Республика Казахстан, Respublika Kazakhstan ...
spoken in
Central Asia Central Asia is a region in Asia which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north, including the former Soviet Union, Soviet republics of the Sovi ...

Central Asia
* Wu, including
Shanghainese Shanghainese (rarely "Shanghaiese", without second "n"), also known as the Shanghai dialect, Hu language or Hu dialect, is a variety of Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically ...
,
Suzhounese The Suzhou dialect (; Suzhounese: ''Sou-tseu ghé-ghô'' ), also known as Suzhounese, is the variety of Chinese traditionally spoken in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, China China, officially the People's Republic of China ( ...
, and
Wenzhounese Wenzhounese (), also known as Oujiang (), Tong Au () or Auish (), is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang Zhejiang (, formerly romanized as Chekiang) is an eastern, coastal Provinces of China, province of th ...
*
Gan Gallium nitride () is a binary III/ V direct bandgap semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metal ...
* Xiang * Min, including
Fuzhounese The Fuzhou dialect (, FR: ), also Foochow, Hokchew, Hok-chiu, or Fuzhounese, is the prestige variety of the Eastern Min branch of Min Chinese spoken mainly in the Mindong region of Eastern Fujian Province. Like many other varieties of Chines ...
,
Hainanese Hainanese ( Hainan Romanised: ', ), also known as Qióngwén () or Qióngyǔ (), is a group of Min Chinese Variety (linguistics), varieties spoken in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan. In the classification of Yuan Jiahua, it was i ...
,
Hokkien Hokkien (; , Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ''Hok-kiàn-ōe'', ) or Minnan (閩南語/闽南语), known as Quanzhang or Tsuan-Tsiang (泉漳) in linguistics, is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Standard Chinese, Mandarin pronunciation: ) or Banlam (), ...
and Teochew *
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese Han Chinese subgroups, subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka Chinese, Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Gu ...
* Yue, including
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
and Taishanese The classification of Li Rong (linguist), Li Rong, which is used in the ''Language Atlas of China'' (1987), distinguishes three further groups: * Jin, previously included in Mandarin. * Huizhou Chinese, Huizhou, previously included in Wu. * Pinghua Chinese, Pinghua, previously included in Yue. Some varieties remain unclassified, including Danzhou dialect (spoken in Danzhou, on Hainan Island), Waxianghua (spoken in western Hunan) and Shaozhou Tuhua (spoken in northern Guangdong).


Standard Chinese

Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
, often called Mandarin, is the official standard language of China, de facto official language of Taiwan, and one of the four official languages of Singapore (where it is called "Huáyŭ" / or simply Chinese). Standard Chinese is based on the
Beijing dialect The Beijing dialect (), also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin spoken in the urban area An urban area, or built-up area, is a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Ur ...
, the dialect of
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
as spoken in Beijing. The governments of both China and Taiwan intend for speakers of all Chinese speech varieties to use it as a common language of communication. Therefore, it is used in government agencies, in the media, and as a language of instruction in schools. In China and Taiwan,
diglossia In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
has been a common feature. For example, in addition to Standard Chinese, a resident of Shanghai might speak
Shanghainese Shanghainese (rarely "Shanghaiese", without second "n"), also known as the Shanghai dialect, Hu language or Hu dialect, is a variety of Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically ...
; and, if they grew up elsewhere, then they are also likely to be fluent in the particular dialect of that local area. A native of
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and Postal romanization, alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital city, capital and most populous city of the Provinces of China, province of Guangdong in South China, southern China. Lo ...

Guangzhou
may speak both Cantonese and Standard Chinese. In addition to Mandarin, most Taiwanese people, Taiwanese also speak Taiwanese Hokkien (commonly "Taiwanese" ), Hakka language, Hakka, or an Austronesian languages, Austronesian language. A Taiwanese may commonly mix pronunciations, phrases, and words from Mandarin and other Languages of Taiwan, Taiwanese languages, and this mixture is considered normal in daily or informal speech. Due to their traditional cultural ties to Guangdong province and colonial histories,
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
is used as the standard variant of Chinese in
Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the China, People's Repu ...

Hong Kong
and
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a List of cities in China, city and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the Chi ...

Macau
instead.


Nomenclature

The official Chinese designation for the major branches of Chinese is ''fāngyán'' (, literally "regional speech"), whereas the more closely related varieties within these are called ''dìdiǎn fāngyán'' (/ "local speech"). Conventional English-language usage in Chinese linguistics is to use ''dialect'' for the speech of a particular place (regardless of status) and ''dialect group'' for a regional grouping such as Mandarin or Wu. Because varieties from different groups are not mutually intelligible, some scholars prefer to describe Wu and others as separate languages. Jerry Norman called this practice misleading, pointing out that Wu, which itself contains many mutually unintelligible varieties, could not be properly called a single language under the same criterion, and that the same is true for each of the other groups. Mutual intelligibility is considered by some linguists to be the main criterion for determining whether varieties are separate languages or dialects of a single language, although others do not regard it as decisive, particularly when cultural factors interfere as they do with Chinese. As explains, linguists often ignore mutual intelligibility when varieties share intelligibility with a central variety (i.e. prestige variety, such as Standard Mandarin), as the issue requires some careful handling when mutual intelligibility is inconsistent with language identity. John DeFrancis argues that it is inappropriate to refer to Mandarin, Wu and so on as "dialects" because the mutual unintelligibility between them is too great. On the other hand, he also objects to considering them as separate languages, as it incorrectly implies a set of disruptive "religious, economic, political, and other differences" between speakers that exist, for example, between French language in Canada, French Catholics and English Protestants in Canada, but not between speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin in China, owing to China's near-uninterrupted history of centralized government. Because of the difficulties involved in determining the difference between language and dialect, other terms have been proposed. These include ''vernacular'', ''lect'', ''regionalect'', ''topolect'', and ''language variety, variety''. Most Chinese people consider the spoken varieties as one single language because speakers share a common culture and history, as well as a shared national identity and a common written form.


Phonology

The phonology, phonological structure of each syllable consists of a syllable nucleus, nucleus that has a vowel (which can be a monophthong, diphthong, or even a triphthong in certain varieties), preceded by an syllable onset, onset (a single consonant, or consonant+semivowel, glide; zero onset is also possible), and followed (optionally) by a syllable coda, coda consonant; a syllable also carries a
tone Tone may refer to: Color-related * Tone, mix of tint and shade, in painting and color theory * Tone, the lightness In colorimetry and color theory, lightness, also known as value or tone, is a representation of a color's brightness. It is ...
. There are some instances where a vowel is not used as a nucleus. An example of this is in
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
, where the nasal stop, nasal sonorant consonants and can stand alone as their own syllable. In Mandarin much more than in other spoken varieties, most syllables tend to be open syllables, meaning they have no coda (assuming that a final semivowel, glide is not analyzed as a coda), but syllables that do have codas are restricted to nasals , , , the retroflex approximant , and voiceless stops , , , or . Some varieties allow most of these codas, whereas others, such as
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
, are limited to only , and . The number of sounds in the different spoken dialects varies, but in general there has been a tendency to a reduction in sounds from
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
. The Mandarin dialects in particular have experienced a dramatic decrease in sounds and so have far more multisyllabic words than most other spoken varieties. The total number of syllables in some varieties is therefore only about a thousand, including tonal variation, which is only about an eighth as many as English.


Tones

All varieties of spoken Chinese use tone (linguistics), tones to distinguish words. A few dialects of north China may have as few as three tones, while some dialects in south China have up to 6 or 12 tones, depending on how one counts. One exception from this is Shanghainese dialect, Shanghainese which has reduced the set of tones to a two-toned pitch accent system much like modern Japanese. A very common example used to illustrate the use of tones in Chinese is the application of the four tones of
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
(along with the neutral tone) to the syllable ''ma''. The tones are exemplified by the following five Chinese words: Standard
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
, in contrast, has six tones. Historically, finals that end in a plosive, stop consonant were considered to be "checked tones" and thus counted separately for a total of nine tones. However, they are considered to be duplicates in modern linguistics and are no longer counted as such:


Grammar

Chinese is often described as a "monosyllabic" language. However, this is only partially correct. It is largely accurate when describing
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
and
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
; in Classical Chinese, for example, perhaps 90% of words correspond to a single syllable and a single character. In the modern varieties, it is usually the case that a morpheme (unit of meaning) is a single syllable; in contrast, English has many multi-syllable morphemes, both bound and free, such as "seven", "elephant", "para-" and "-able". Some of the conservative southern varieties of modern Chinese have largely monosyllabic words, especially among the more basic vocabulary. In modern Mandarin, however, most nouns, adjectives and verbs are largely disyllabic. A significant cause of this is Phonetic erosion, phonological attrition. Sound change over time has steadily reduced the number of possible syllables. In modern Mandarin, there are now only about 1,200 possible syllables, including tonal distinctions, compared with about 5,000 in
Vietnamese Vietnamese may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia ** A citizen of Vietnam. See Demographics of Vietnam. * Vietnamese people, or Kinh people, a Southeast Asian ethnic group native to Vietnam ** Oversea ...
(still largely monosyllabic) and over 8,000 in English. This phonological collapse has led to a corresponding increase in the number of homophones. As an example, the small Langenscheidt Pocket Chinese Dictionary lists six words that are commonly pronounced as ''shí'' (tone 2): 'ten'; / 'real, actual'; / 'know (a person), recognize'; 'stone'; / 'time'; 'food, eat'. These were all pronounced differently in Early Middle Chinese; in Baxter's transcription for Middle Chinese, William H. Baxter's transcription they were , , , , and respectively. They are still pronounced differently in today's
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
; in Jyutping they are ''sap9'', ''sat9'', ''sik7'', ''sek9'', ''si4'', ''sik9''. In modern spoken Mandarin, however, tremendous ambiguity would result if all of these words could be used as-is; Yuen Ren Chao's modern poem Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den exploits this, consisting of 92 characters all pronounced ''shi''. As such, most of these words have been replaced (in speech, if not in writing) with a longer, less-ambiguous compound. Only the first one, 'ten', normally appears as such when spoken; the rest are normally replaced with, respectively, ''shíjì'' / (lit. 'actual-connection'); ''rènshi'' / (lit. 'recognize-know'); ''shítou'' / (lit. 'stone-head'); ''shíjiān'' / (lit. 'time-interval'); ''shíwù'' (lit. 'foodstuff'). In each case, the homophone was disambiguated by adding another morpheme, typically either a synonym or a generic word of some sort (for example, 'head', 'thing'), the purpose of which is simply to indicate which of the possible meanings of the other, homophonic syllable should be selected. However, when one of the above words forms part of a compound, the disambiguating syllable is generally dropped and the resulting word is still disyllabic. For example, ''shí'' alone, not ''shítou'' /, appears in compounds meaning 'stone-', for example, ''shígāo'' 'plaster' (lit. 'stone cream'), ''shíhuī'' 'lime' (lit. 'stone dust'), ''shíkū'' 'grotto' (lit. 'stone cave'), ''shíyīng'' 'quartz' (lit. 'stone flower'), ''shíyóu'' 'petroleum' (lit. 'stone oil'). Most modern varieties of Chinese have the tendency to form new words through disyllabic, trisyllabic and tetra-character compound word, compounds. In some cases, monosyllabic words have become disyllabic without compounding, as in ''kūlong'' from ''kǒng'' 孔; this is especially common in Jin. Chinese morphology (linguistics), morphology is strictly bound to a set number of syllables with a fairly rigid construction. Although many of these single-syllable morphemes (''zì'', ) can stand alone as individual word (linguistics), words, they more often than not form multi-syllabic Compound (linguistics), compounds, known as ''cí'' (/), which more closely resembles the traditional Western notion of a word. A Chinese ''cí'' ('word') can consist of more than one character-morpheme, usually two, but there can be three or more. For example: * / 'cloud' * , /, / 'hamburger' * 'I, me' * 'people, human, mankind' * 'The Earth' * / 'lightning' * / 'dream' All varieties of modern Chinese are analytic languages, in that they depend on syntax (word order and sentence structure) rather than Morphology (linguistics), morphology—i.e., changes in form of a word—to indicate the word's function in a sentence. In other words, Chinese has very few grammatical inflections—it possesses no Grammatical tense, tenses, no grammatical voice, voices, no grammatical number, numbers (singular, plural; though there are plural markers, for example for personal pronouns), and only a few Article (grammar), articles (i.e., equivalents to "the, a, an" in English). They make heavy use of
grammatical particle In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as we ...
s to indicate grammatical aspect, aspect and grammatical mood, mood. In Mandarin Chinese, this involves the use of particles like ''le'' (perfective), ''hái'' / ('still'), ''yǐjīng'' / ('already'), and so on. Chinese has a subject–verb–object word order, and like many other languages of East Asia, makes frequent use of the topic–comment construction to form sentences. Chinese also has an extensive system of classifier (linguistics), classifiers and measure words, another trait shared with neighboring languages like
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

Japanese
and
Korean Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, an ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language * Korean alphabet, or Hangul Places * Korean Peninsula, a peninsula in East Asia * Korea, ...
. Other notable grammatical features common to all the spoken varieties of Chinese include the use of serial verb construction, pro-drop language, pronoun dropping and the related null subject language, subject dropping. Although the grammars of the spoken varieties share many traits, they do possess differences.


Vocabulary

The entire Chinese character corpus since antiquity comprises well over 50,000 characters, of which only roughly 10,000 are in use and only about 3,000 are frequently used in Chinese media and newspapers. However Chinese characters should not be confused with Chinese words. Because most Chinese words are made up of two or more characters, there are many more Chinese words than characters. A more accurate equivalent for a Chinese character is the morpheme, as characters represent the smallest grammatical units with individual meanings in the Chinese language. Estimates of the total number of Chinese words and lexicalized phrases vary greatly. The ''Hanyu Da Zidian'', a compendium of Chinese characters, includes 54,678 head entries for characters, including bone oracle versions. The ''Zhonghua Zihai'' (1994) contains 85,568 head entries for character definitions, and is the largest reference work based purely on character and its literary variants. The CC-CEDICT project (2010) contains 97,404 contemporary entries including idioms, technology terms and names of political figures, businesses and products. The 2009 version of the Webster's Digital Chinese Dictionary (WDCD), based on CC-CEDICT, contains over 84,000 entries. The most comprehensive pure linguistic Chinese-language dictionary, the 12-volume ''Hanyu Da Cidian'', records more than 23,000 head Chinese characters and gives over 370,000 definitions. The 1999 revised ''Cihai'', a multi-volume encyclopedic dictionary reference work, gives 122,836 vocabulary entry definitions under 19,485 Chinese characters, including proper names, phrases and common zoological, geographical, sociological, scientific and technical terms. The 7th (2016) edition of ''Xiandai Hanyu Cidian'', an authoritative one-volume dictionary on modern standard Chinese language as used in mainland China, has 13,000 head characters and defines 70,000 words.


Loanwords

Like any other language, Chinese has absorbed a sizable number of loanwords from other cultures. Most Chinese words are formed out of native Chinese morphemes, including words describing imported objects and ideas. However, direct phonetic borrowing of foreign words has gone on since ancient times. Some early
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing ...
loanwords in Chinese have been proposed, notably ''mì'' "honey", / ''shī'' "lion," and perhaps also / ''mǎ'' "horse", / ''zhū'' "pig", ''quǎn'' "dog", and / ''é'' "goose". Ancient words borrowed from along the Silk Road since
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 125 ...
include ''pútáo'' "grape", ''shíliu''/''shíliú'' "pomegranate" and / ''shīzi'' "lion". Some words were borrowed from Buddhist scriptures, including ''Fó'' "Buddha" and / ''Púsà'' "bodhisattva." Other words came from nomadic peoples to the north, such as ''hútòng'' "hutong". Words borrowed from the peoples along the Silk Road, such as "grape," generally have Persian etymologies. Buddhist terminology is generally derived from Sanskrit or Pāli, the liturgical languages of North India. Words borrowed from the nomadic tribes of the Gobi, Mongolian or northeast regions generally have Altaic languages, Altaic etymologies, such as ''pípá'', the Chinese lute, or ''lào''/''luò'' "cheese" or "yogurt", but from exactly which source is not always clear.


Modern borrowings

Modern neologisms are primarily translated into Chinese in one of three ways: free translation (''calque'', or by meaning), phonetic translation (by sound), or phono-semantic matching, a combination of the two. Today, it is much more common to use existing Chinese morphemes to coin new words to represent imported concepts, such as technical expressions and international scientific vocabulary. Any
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
or Greek language, Greek etymologies are dropped and converted into the corresponding Chinese characters (for example, ''anti-'' typically becomes "", literally ''opposite''), making them more comprehensible for Chinese but introducing more difficulties in understanding foreign texts. For example, the word ''telephone'' was initially loaned phonetically as / (Shanghainese: ''télífon'' , Mandarin: ''délǜfēng'') during the 1920s and widely used in Shanghai, but later / ''diànhuà'' (lit. "electric speech"), built out of native Chinese morphemes, became prevalent ( is in fact from the Japanese ''denwa''; see below for more Japanese loans). Other examples include / ''diànshì'' (lit. "electric vision") for television, / ''diànnǎo'' (lit. "electric brain") for computer; / ''shǒujī'' (lit. "hand machine") for mobile phone, / ''lányá'' (lit. "blue tooth") for Bluetooth, and / ''wǎngzhì'' (lit. "internet logbook") for blog in Hong Kong and Macau Cantonese. Occasionally half-transliteration, half-translation compromises are accepted, such as / ''hànbǎobāo'' ( ''hànbǎo'' "Hamburg" + ''bāo'' "bun") for "hamburger". Sometimes translations are designed so that they sound like the original while incorporating Chinese morphemes (phono-semantic matching), such as / Mǎlì'ào for the video game character Mario. This is often done for commercial purposes, for example / ''bēnténg'' (lit. "dashing-leaping") for Pentium and / ''Sàibǎiwèi'' (lit. "better-than hundred tastes") for Subway (restaurant), Subway restaurants. Foreign words, mainly proper nouns, continue to enter the Chinese language by transcription according to their pronunciations. This is done by employing Chinese characters with similar pronunciations. For example, "Israel" becomes ''Yǐsèliè'', "Paris" becomes ''Bālí''. A rather small number of direct transliterations have survived as common words, including / ''shāfā'' "sofa", / ''mǎdá'' "motor", ''yōumò'' "humor", / ''luóji''/''luójí'' "logic", / ''shímáo'' "smart, fashionable", and ''xiēsīdǐlǐ'' "hysterics". The bulk of these words were originally coined in the Shanghai dialect during the early 20th century and were later loaned into Mandarin, hence their pronunciations in Mandarin may be quite off from the English. For example, / "sofa" and / "motor" in Shanghainese sound more like their English counterparts. Cantonese differs from Mandarin with some transliterations, such as ''so1 faa3*2'' "sofa" and ''mo1 daa2'' "motor". Western foreign words representing Western concepts have influenced Chinese since the 20th century through transcription. From French language, French came ''bālěi'' "ballet" and / ''xiāngbīn'', "champagne"; from Italian language, Italian, ''kāfēi'' "caffè". English influence is particularly pronounced. From early 20th century Shanghainese, many English words are borrowed, such as / ''gāoěrfū'' "golf" and the above-mentioned / ''shāfā'' "sofa". Later, the United States soft power, soft influences gave rise to ''dísikē''/''dísīkē'' "disco", / ''kělè'' "cola", and ''mínǐ'' "mini [skirt]". Contemporary colloquial Cantonese has distinct loanwords from English, such as ''kaa1 tung1'' "cartoon", ''gei1 lou2'' "gay people", ''dik1 si6*2'' "taxi", and ''baa1 si6*2'' "bus". With the rising popularity of the Internet, there is a current vogue in China for coining English transliterations, for example, / ''fěnsī'' "fans", ''hēikè'' "hacker" (lit. "black guest"), and ''bókè'' "blog". In Taiwan, some of these transliterations are different, such as ''hàikè'' for "hacker" and ''bùluògé'' for "blog" (lit. "interconnected tribes"). Another result of the English influence on Chinese is the appearance in Modern Chinese texts of so-called / ''zìmǔcí'' (lit. "lettered words") spelled with letters from the English alphabet. This has appeared in magazines, newspapers, on web sites, and on TV: / "3rd generation cell phones" ( ''sān'' "three" + G "generation" + / ''shǒujī'' "mobile phones"), "IT circles" (IT "information technology" + ''jiè'' "industry"), HSK (''Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì'', /), GB (''Guóbiāo'', /), / (CIF "Cost, Insurance, Freight" + / ''jià'' "price"), "e-home" (e "electronic" + ''jiātíng'' "home"), / "wireless era" (W "wireless" + / ''shídài'' "era"), "TV watchers" (TV "television" + ''zú'' "social group; clan"), / "post-PC era" (/ ''hòu'' "after/post-" + PC "personal computer" + /), and so on. Since the 20th century, another source of words has been
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

Japanese
using existing
kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. They are used alongside the Japanese language, Japanese syllabic scripts ''hiragana'' and ''katakana''. The Japanese term ''kanji'' for the Chinese ch ...

kanji
(Chinese characters used in Japanese). Japanese re-molded European concepts and inventions into , and many of these words have been re-loaned into modern Chinese. Other terms were coined by the Japanese by giving new senses to existing Chinese terms or by referring to expressions used in classical Chinese literature. For example, ''jīngjì'' (/; ''keizai'' in Japanese), which in the original Chinese meant "the workings of the state", was narrowed to "economy" in Japanese; this narrowed definition was then Wasei-kango, reimported into Chinese. As a result, these terms are virtually indistinguishable from native Chinese words: indeed, there is some dispute over some of these terms as to whether the Japanese or Chinese coined them first. As a result of this loaning, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese share a corpus of linguistic terms describing modern terminology, paralleling the similar corpus of terms built from Greco-Latin and shared among European languages.


Writing system

The Chinese orthography centers on
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system The modern Jap ...
, which are written within imaginary square blocks, traditionally arranged in vertical columns, read from top to bottom down a column, and right to left across columns, despite alternative arrangement with rows of characters from left to right within a row and from top to bottom across rows (like English and other Western writing systems) having become more popular since the 20th century. Chinese characters denote morphemes independent of phonetic variation in different languages. Thus the character ("one") is uttered in
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese, in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of Chi ...
, in
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
and ''it'' in Hokkien dialect, Hokkien (form of Min). Most written Chinese documents in the modern time, especially the more formal ones, are created using the grammar and syntax of the Standard Mandarin Chinese variants, regardless of dialectical background of the author or targeted audience. This replaced the old writing language standard of
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (文言文, ''wényánwén'' or 古文, ''gǔwén''), is the language of the classic literature from the end of the Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chine ...
before the 20th century. However, vocabularies from different Chinese-speaking areas have diverged, and the divergence can be observed in written Chinese. Meanwhile, colloquial forms of various Chinese language variants have also been written down by their users, especially in less formal settings. The most prominent example of this is the written Cantonese, written colloquial form of Cantonese, which has become quite popular in Tabloid journalism, tabloids, instant messaging applications, and on the internet amongst Hong-Kongers and Cantonese-speakers elsewhere. Because some Chinese variants have diverged and developed a number of unique morphemes that are not found in Standard Mandarin (despite all other common morphemes), unique characters rarely used in Standard Chinese have also been created or inherited from archaic literary standard to represent these unique morphemes. For example, characters like and for Cantonese and
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese Han Chinese subgroups, subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka Chinese, Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Gu ...
, are actively used in both languages while being considered archaic or unused in standard written Chinese. The Chinese had no uniform phonetic transcription system for most of its speakers until the mid-20th century, although enunciation patterns were recorded in early rime books and dictionaries. Early Indian translators, working in Sanskrit and Pali, were the first to attempt to describe the sounds and enunciation patterns of Chinese in a foreign language. After the 15th century, the efforts of Jesuits and Western court missionaries resulted in some Latin character transcription/writing systems, based on various variants of Chinese languages. Some of these Latin character based systems are still being used to write various Chinese variants in the modern era. In Hunan, women in certain areas write their local Chinese language variant in Nü Shu, a syllabary derived from
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system The modern Jap ...
. The
Dungan language Dungan ( or ) is a Sinitic language spoken primarily in Kazakhstan Kazakhstan,, * russian: Казахстан, Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, * russian: Республика Казахстан, Respublika Kazakhstan ...
, considered by many a dialect of Mandarin, is nowadays written in Cyrillic, and was previously written in the Arabic script. The Dungan people are primarily Muslim and live mainly in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia; some of the related Hui people also speak the language and live mainly in China.


Chinese characters

Each Chinese character represents a monosyllabic Chinese word or morpheme. In 100 CE, the famed Han dynasty scholar Xu Shen Chinese character classification, classified characters into six categories, namely pictographs, simple ideographs, compound ideographs, phonetic loans, phonetic compounds and derivative characters. Of these, only 4% were categorized as pictographs, including many of the simplest characters, such as ''rén'' (human), ''rì'' (sun), ''shān'' (mountain; hill), ''shuǐ'' (water). Between 80% and 90% were classified as phonetic compounds such as ''chōng'' (pour), combining a phonetic component ''zhōng'' (middle) with a semantic Radical (Chinese character), radical (water). Almost all characters created since have been made using this format. The 18th-century Kangxi Dictionary recognized 214 radicals. Modern characters are styled after the kaishu, regular script. Various other written styles are also used in Chinese calligraphy, including seal script, cursive script (East Asia), cursive script and clerical script. Calligraphy artists can write in traditional and simplified characters, but they tend to use traditional characters for traditional art. There are currently two systems for Chinese characters. The Traditional Chinese character, traditional system, used in
Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the China, People's Repu ...

Hong Kong
, Taiwan,
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a List of cities in China, city and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the Chi ...

Macau
and Chinese speaking communities (except Singapore and Malaysia) outside mainland China, takes its form from standardized character forms dating back to the late Han dynasty. The Simplified Chinese character system, introduced by the People's Republic of China in 1954 to promote mass literacy, simplifies most complex traditional glyphs to fewer strokes, many to common cursive shorthand variants. Singapore, which has a large Chinese community, was the second nation to officially adopt simplified characters, although it has also become the ''de facto'' standard for younger ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. The Internet provides the platform to practice reading these alternative systems, be it traditional or simplified. Most Chinese users in the modern era are capable of, although not necessarily comfortable with, reading (but not writing) the alternative system, through experience and guesswork. A well-educated Chinese reader today recognizes approximately 4,000 to 6,000 characters; approximately 3,000 characters are required to read a Newspapers of the People's Republic of China, Mainland newspaper. The PRC government defines literacy amongst workers as a knowledge of 2,000 characters, though this would be only functional literacy. School-children typically learn around 2,000 characters whereas scholars may memorize up to 10,000. A large unabridged dictionary, like the Kangxi Dictionary, contains over 40,000 characters, including obscure, variant, rare, and archaic characters; fewer than a quarter of these characters are now commonly used.


Romanization

Romanization is the process of transcribing a language into the Latin script. There are many systems of romanization for the Chinese varieties, due to the lack of a native phonetic transcription until modern times. Chinese is first known to have been written in Latin characters by Western Christianity in China, Christian missionaries in the 16th century. Today the most common romanization standard for Standard Mandarin is ''Hanyu Pinyin'', often known simply as pinyin, introduced in 1956 by the
People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population of more than 1.4 billion ...

People's Republic of China
, and later adopted by Singapore and Taiwan. Pinyin is almost universally employed now for teaching standard spoken Chinese in schools and universities across the Americas, Australia, and Europe. Chinese parents also use Pinyin to teach their children the sounds and tones of new words. In school books that teach Chinese, the Pinyin romanization is often shown below a picture of the thing the word represents, with the Chinese character alongside. The second-most common romanization system, the Wade–Giles, was invented by Thomas Wade in 1859 and modified by Herbert Giles in 1892. As this system approximates the phonology of Mandarin Chinese into English consonants and vowels, i.e. it is an Anglicization, it may be particularly helpful for beginner Chinese speakers of an English-speaking background. Wade–Giles was found in academic use in the United States, particularly before the 1980s, and Chinese language romanization in Taiwan, until 2009 was widely used in Taiwan. When used within European texts, the Tone (linguistics), tone transcriptions in both pinyin and Wade–Giles are often left out for simplicity; Wade–Giles' extensive use of apostrophes is also usually omitted. Thus, most Western readers will be much more familiar with ''Beijing'' than they will be with ''Běijīng'' (pinyin), and with ''Taipei'' than ''T'ai²-pei³'' (Wade–Giles). This simplification presents syllables as homophones which really are none, and therefore exaggerates the number of homophones almost by a factor of four. Here are a few examples of ''Hanyu Pinyin'' and Wade–Giles, for comparison: Other systems of romanization for Chinese include Gwoyeu Romatzyh, the French EFEO Chinese transcription, EFEO, the Yale romanization of Mandarin, Yale system (invented during WWII for U.S. troops), as well as separate systems for
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
, Min Nan,
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese Han Chinese subgroups, subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka Chinese, Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Gu ...
, and other Chinese varieties.


Other phonetic transcriptions

Chinese varieties have been phonetically transcribed into many other writing systems over the centuries. The 'Phags-pa script, for example, has been very helpful in reconstructing the pronunciations of premodern forms of Chinese. Zhuyin (colloquially ''bopomofo''), a semi-syllabary is still widely used in Taiwan's elementary schools to aid standard pronunciation. Although zhuyin characters are reminiscent of katakana script, there is no source to substantiate the claim that Katakana was the basis for the zhuyin system. A comparison table of zhuyin to pinyin exists in the Bopomofo#Comparison, zhuyin article. Syllables based on pinyin and zhuyin can also be compared by looking at the following articles: * Pinyin table * Zhuyin table There are also at least two systems of cyrillization for Chinese. The most widespread is the Cyrillization of Chinese from Pinyin, Palladius system.


As a foreign language

With the growing importance and influence of China's economy globally, Standard Chinese, Mandarin instruction has been gaining popularity in schools throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Western world. Besides Mandarin,
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages originating from the city of Guang ...
is the only other Chinese language that is widely taught as a foreign language, largely due to the economic and cultural influence of Hong Kong and its widespread usage among significant Overseas Chinese communities. In 1991 there were 2,000 foreign learners taking China's official Chinese Proficiency Test (also known as HSK, comparable to the English University of Cambridge ESOL examination, Cambridge Certificate), while in 2005, the number of candidates had risen sharply to 117,660. "汉语水平考试中心:2005年外国考生总人数近12万",Gov.cn
/sup> Xinhua News Agency, 16 January 2006.


See also

* Chinese exclamative particles * Chinese honorifics * Chinese numerals * Chinese punctuation * Classical Chinese grammar * Chengyu, Four-character idiom * Han unification * Languages of China * North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics * Protection of the Varieties of Chinese


Notes


References


Citations


Sources

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * * R. L. G.
Language borrowing Why so little Chinese in English?
''The Economist''. 6 June 2013. *


External links


Classical Chinese texts
– Chinese Text Project
Marjorie Chan's ChinaLinks
at the Ohio State University with hundreds of links to Chinese related web pages {{DEFAULTSORT:Chinese Language Chinese language, Analytic languages Isolating languages Sinology, Language Languages of China Languages of Hong Kong Languages of Macau Languages of Singapore Languages of Taiwan