Chinese-speaking world or Sinophone or sinophone is a neologism that fundamentally means "Chinese-speaking", typically referring to a person who speaks at least one variety of Chinese. Academic writers use Sinophone "Chinese-speaking regions" in two ambiguous meanings: either specifically "Chinese-speaking areas where it is a minority language, excluding China and Taiwan" or generally "Chinese-speaking areas, including where it is an official language". Many authors use the collocation Sinophone world to mean the overseas Chinese regions of diaspora outside of Greater China, and some for the entire Chinese-speaking world. Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language today, with over one billion people, approximately 20% of the world population, speaking it.
Edward McDonald (2011) claimed the word sinophone, "seems to have been coined separately and simultaneously on both sides of the Pacific" in 2005, by Geremie Barmé (Australia National University) and Shu-Mei Shih (UCLA). Barmé (2008) explained the "Sinophone world" as "one consisting of the individuals and communities who use one or another—or, indeed, a number—of China-originated languages and dialects to make meaning of and for the world, be it through speaking, reading, writing or via an engagement with various electronic media." Shih (2004:29) noted, "By "sinophone" literature I mean literature written in Chinese by Chinese-speaking writers in various parts of the world outside China, as distinguished from "Chinese literature"—literature from China." Nevertheless, there are two earlier sinophone usages. Ruth Keen (1988:231) defined "Sinophone communities" in Chinese literature as "the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the U.S." Coulombe and Roberts (2001:12) compared students of French between anglophones "with English as their mother tongue" and allophones (in the Quebec English sense) "without English or French as their mother tongue", including sinophones defined as "Cantonese/Mandarin speakers."
The Oxford English Dictionary does not yet include Sinophone, but records 1900 as the earliest usage of the French loanwords Francophone "French-speaking" and Anglophone "English-speaking". The French language — which first used Sinophone "Chinese-speaking" in 1983 (CNRTL 2012) — differentiates Francophone meaning "French-speaking, especially in a region where two or more languages are spoken" and Francophonie "French-speaking, collectively, the French-speaking world" (commonly abbreviating the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie). Haun Saussy contrasted the English lexicon lacking an inclusive term like Sinophonie or Sinophonia, and thus using Sinophone to mean both "Chinese-speaking, especially in a region where it is a minority language" and "all Chinese-speaking areas, including China and Taiwan, Chinese-speaking world".
"Sinophone" operates as a calque on "Francophone", as the application of the logic of Francophonie to the domain of Chinese extraterritorial speech. But that analogy is sure to hiccup, like all analogies, at certain points. Some, but not all, Francophone regions are populated by descendants of French emigrants, as virtually all of Sinophonia (I think) is populated by descendants of Chinese emigrants. Other regions, the majority in both area and population, are Francophone as a result of conquest or enslavement. That might be true of some areas of China too, but in a far more distant past. And at another level, the persistence of French had to do with the exportation of educational protocols by the Grande Nation herself, something that wasn’t obviously true of the Middle Kingdom in recent decades but now, with the Confucius Institutes, is perhaps taking form. (2012)
English Sinophonia was the theme of an international conference organized by Christopher Lupke, President of the Association of Chinese and Comparative Literature, and hosted by Peng Hsiao-yen, Senior Researcher in the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, (Academia Sinica 2012) on "Global Sinophonia" – Chinese Quanqiu Huayu Wenhua 全球華語文化 (literally "global Chinese-language culture").
In the two decades since the English word sinophone was coined, it has gone through semantic change and increasing usage. Authors currently use it in at least two meanings, the general sense of "Chinese-speaking", and the academic "Chinese-speaking, especially in areas where it is a minority language." Shu-mei Shih, one of the leading academic authorities on sinophone scholarship, summarized treatments.
In the past few years, scholars have used the term Sinophone for largely denotative purposes to mean "Chinese-speaking" or "written in Chinese." Sau-ling Wong used it to designate Chinese American literature written in "Chinese" as opposed to English ("Yellow"); historians of the Manchu empire such as Pamela Kyle Crossley, Evelyn S. Rawski, and Jonathan Lipman described "Chinese-speaking" Hui Muslims in China as Sinophone Muslims as opposed to Uyghur Muslims, who speak Turkic languages; Patricia Schiaini- Vedani and Lara Maconi distinguished between Tibetan writers who write in the Tibetan script and "Chinese-language," or Sinophone, Tibetan writers. Even though the main purpose of these scholars’ use of the term is denotative, their underlying intent is to clarify contrast by naming: in highlighting a Sinophone Chinese American literature, Wong exposes the anglophone bias of scholars and shows that American literature is multilingual; Crossley, Rawski, and Lipman emphasize that Muslims in China have divergent languages, histories, and experiences; Schiaini- Vedani and Maconi suggest the predicament of Tibetan writers who write in the "language of the colonizer" and whose identity is bound up with linguistic difference. (2011:3)
Recent definitions of the word include:
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan); one of the official languages of Singapore as well as one of six official languages of the United Nations. The Chinese variant of Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong, and Macau. Sizeable Overseas Chinese sinophone communities exist in the United States, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mauritius, Peru and Venezuela, although the variant of Chinese used usually differs.
The Ethnologue (Lewis 2013) estimated the total number of sinophones at 1,197 million in 33 countries. The numbers of speakers (in millions) for the most common varieties are: Mandarin Chinese 848, Wu Chinese 77.2, Yue Chinese 62.2, Southern Min 46.8, Jin Chinese 45.0, Xiang Chinese 36.0, Hakka Chinese 30.1, Gan Chinese 20.6, Northern Min 10.3, Eastern Min 9.1, Huizhou Chinese 4.6, Central Min 3.1 and Pu-Xian Min 2.6 (million).
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