Chinese language

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Chinese
汉语/漢語Hànyǔ or 中文Zhōngwén
Chineselanguage.svg
Hànyǔ (Chinese) written in traditional (top), simplified (middle) characters and alternative name (bottom)
Native toPeople's Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan)
EthnicityChinese (Han)
Native speakers
1.2 billion (2004) [1]
Early forms
Standard forms
Dialects
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese

Transcriptions:
Zhuyin
Pinyin (Latin)
Xiao'erjing (Arabic)
Dungan (Cyrillic)
Chinese Braille
'Phags-pa script (Historical)
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by National Commission on Language and Script Work (Mainland China) [2]
National Languages Committee (Taiwan)
Civil Service Bureau (Hong Kong)
Promote Mandarin Council (Singapore)
Chinese Language Standardisation Council (Malaysia)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 zh
ISO 639-2 chi  (B)
zho  (T)
ISO 639-3 zho inclusive code
Individual codes:
cdo    Min Dong
cjy    Jinyu
cmn    Mandarin
cpx    Pu Xian
czh    Huizhou
czo    Min Zhong
gan    Gan
hak    Hakka
hsn    Xiang
mnp    Min Bei
nan    Min Nan
wuu    Wu
yue    Yue
och    Old Chinese
ltc    Late Middle Chinese
lzh    Classical Chinese
Glottolog sini1245
Linguasphere 79-AAA
New-Map-Sinophone World.PNG
Map of the Sinophone world

Legend:

  Countries where Chinese is a primary, administrative or native language
  Countries with more than 5,000,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 1,000,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 500,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 100,000 Chinese speakers
  Major Chinese-speaking settlements
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Chinese language(s) (general/spoken)
Simplified Chinese 汉语
Traditional Chinese 漢語
Literal meaning Han language
Chinese language (written)
Chinese 中文
Literal meaning Middle/Central/Chinese text

Chinese (simplified Chinese :汉语; traditional Chinese :漢語; pinyin :Hànyǔ; literally: ' Han language'; or especially though not exclusively for written Chinese: 中文; Zhōngwén; 'Chinese writing') is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people (around 16% of the world's population) speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau, and in the Kangxi Dictionary. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Contents

The varieties of Chinese are usually described by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, but linguists note that they are as diverse as a language family. [lower-alpha 2] The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, but may be even more varied. There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken by far is Mandarin (about 960 million, e.g. Southwestern Mandarin), followed by Wu (80 million, e.g. Shanghainese), Min (70 million, e.g. Southern Min), Yue (60 million, e.g. Cantonese), etc. Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, and even dialect groups within Min Chinese may not be mutually intelligible. Some, however, like Xiang and certain Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and a certain degree of intelligibility. All varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic.

Varieties of Chinese Family of local language varieties

Chinese, also known as Sinitic, is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of hundreds of local language varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. The differences are similar to those within the Romance languages, with variation particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast. A widely quoted classification divides these varieties into seven groups: Mandarin, Wu, Min, Xiang, Gan, Hakka and Yue, though a more recent classification splits some of these to obtain ten groups, and some varieties remain unclassified.

Language family group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor

A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family. The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree, or in a subsequent modification, to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. Linguists therefore describe the daughter languages within a language family as being genetically related.

Romance languages all the related languages derived from Vulgar Latin

The Romance languages are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin between the third and eighth centuries and that form a subgroup of the Italic languages within the Indo-European language family.

Standard Chinese (Pǔtōnghuà/Guóyǔ/Huáyǔ) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of China and Taiwan, as well as one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The written form of the standard language (中文; Zhōngwén), based on the logograms known as Chinese characters (汉字/漢字; Hànzì), is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.

Standard Chinese, also known as Modern Standard Mandarin, Standard Mandarin, Modern Standard Mandarin Chinese (MSMC), or simply Mandarin, is a standard variety of Chinese that is the sole official language of China, the de facto official language of Taiwan and also one of the four official languages of Singapore. Its pronunciation is based on the Beijing dialect, its vocabulary on the Mandarin dialects, and its grammar is based on written vernacular Chinese.

The Beijing dialect, also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin spoken in the urban area of Beijing, China. It is the phonological basis of Standard Chinese, which is the official language in the People's Republic of China and Republic of China and one of the official languages in Singapore.

China Country in East Asia

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third- or fourth-largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

The earliest Chinese written records are Shang dynasty-era oracle inscriptions, which can be traced back to 1250 BCE. The phonetic categories of Archaic Chinese can be reconstructed from the rhymes of ancient poetry. During the Northern and Southern dynasties period, Middle Chinese went through several sound changes and split into several varieties following prolonged geographic and political separation. Qieyun , a rime dictionary, recorded a compromise between the pronunciations of different regions. The royal courts of the Ming and early Qing dynasties operated using a koiné language (Guanhua) based on Nanjing dialect of Lower Yangtze Mandarin. Standard Chinese was adopted in the 1930s, and is now the official language of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Shang dynasty kingdom of ancient China

The Shang dynasty or Yin dynasty, according to traditional historiography, ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. The classic account of the Shang comes from texts such as the Book of Documents, Bamboo Annals and Records of the Grand Historian. According to the traditional chronology based on calculations made approximately 2,000 years ago by Liu Xin, the Shang ruled from 1766 to 1122 BC, but according to the chronology based upon the "current text" of Bamboo Annals, they ruled from 1556 to 1046 BC. The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project dated them from c. 1600 to 1046 BC.

Northern and Southern dynasties period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589

The Northern and Southern dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 386 to 589, following the tumultuous era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Wu Hu states. It is sometimes considered as the latter part of a longer period known as the Six Dynasties. Though an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a time of flourishing arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spread of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism. The period saw large-scale migration of Han Chinese to the lands south of the Yangtze. The period came to an end with the unification of all of China proper by Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty.

Middle Chinese or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese recorded in the Qieyun, a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded editions. The Swedish linguist Bernard Karlgren believed that the dictionary recorded a speech standard of the capital Chang'an of the Sui and Tang dynasties. However, based on the more recently recovered preface of the Qieyun, most scholars now believe that it records a compromise between northern and southern reading and poetic traditions from the late Northern and Southern dynasties period. This composite system contains important information for the reconstruction of the preceding system of Old Chinese phonology.

Classification

Most linguists classify all varieties of Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, together with Burmese, Tibetan and many other languages spoken in the Himalayas and the Southeast Asian Massif. [4] 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 or Austroasiatic. Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of inflection 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 zones. [5] Without a secure reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan, the higher-level structure of the family remains unclear. [6] A top-level branching into Chinese and Tibeto-Burman languages is often assumed, but has not been convincingly demonstrated. [7]

Burmese language language spoken in Myanmar

The Burmese language is the Sino-Tibetan language spoken in Myanmar where it is an official language and the language of the Bamar people, the country's principal ethnic group. Although the Constitution of Myanmar officially recognizes the English name of the language as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese, after Burma, the older name for Myanmar. In 2007, it was spoken as a first language by 33 million, primarily the Bamar (Burman) people and related ethnic groups, and as a second language by 10 million, particularly ethnic minorities in Myanmar and neighboring countries.

Himalayas Mountain range in Asia

The Himalayas, or Himalaya, form a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has many of the Earth's highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 m (23,600 ft) in elevation, including ten of the fourteen 8,000-metre peaks. By contrast, the highest peak outside Asia is 6,961 m (22,838 ft) tall.

Southeast Asian Massif Geographical region

The term Southeast Asian Massif was proposed in 1997 by anthropologist Jean Michaud to discuss the human societies inhabiting the lands above approximately 300 metres (980 ft) in the southeastern portion of the Asian landmass, thus not merely in the uplands of conventional Mainland Southeast Asia. It concerns highlands overlapping parts of 10 countries: southwest China, Northeast India, eastern Bangladesh, and all the highlands of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Peninsular Malaysia, and Taiwan. The indigenous population encompassed within these limits numbers approximately 100 million, not counting migrants from surrounding lowland majority groups who came to settle in the highlands over the last few centuries.

History

The first written records appeared over 3,000 years ago during the 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. [8] Modern standard Chinese has 22 consonants, but more than 30 consonants used more than 1,000 years ago can be said to be the ancestors of modern standard Chinese. [9]

Old and Middle Chinese

The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 BCE in the late Shang dynasty. [10] Old Chinese was the language of the Western Zhou period (1046–771 BCE), recorded in inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the Classic of Poetry and portions of the Book of Documents and I Ching . [11] Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the phonology of Old Chinese 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. [12] 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 clusters of some sort, and in having voiceless nasals and liquids. [13] Most recent reconstructions also describe an atonal language with consonant clusters at the end of the syllable, developing into tone distinctions in Middle Chinese. [14] Several derivational affixes have also been identified, but the language lacks inflection, and indicated grammatical relationships using word order and grammatical particles. [15]

Middle Chinese was the language used during Northern and Southern dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE). It can be divided into an early period, reflected by the Qieyun rime book (601 CE), and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by rhyme tables such as the Yunjing constructed by ancient Chinese philologists as a guide to the Qieyun system. [16] These works define phonological categories, but with little hint of what sounds they represent. [17] Linguists have identified these sounds by comparing the categories with pronunciations in modern varieties of Chinese, borrowed Chinese words in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean, and transcription evidence. [18] 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 encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading the classics. [19]

Classical and literary forms

The relationship between spoken and written Chinese is rather complex. Its spoken varieties have evolved at different rates, while written Chinese itself has changed much less. Classical Chinese literature began in the Spring and Autumn period.

Rise of northern dialects

After the fall of the Northern Song dynasty, and during the reign of the Jin (Jurchen) and Yuan (Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech (now called Old Mandarin) developed based on the dialects of the North China Plain around the capital. [20] The Zhongyuan Yinyun (1324) was a dictionary that codified the rhyming conventions of new sanqu verse form in this language. [21] Together with the slightly later Menggu Ziyun , this dictionary describes a language with many of the features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects. [22]

Up to the early 20th century, most of the people in China spoke only their local variety. [23] As a practical measure, officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Guānhuà (官话/官話, literally "language of officials"). [24] For most of this period, this language was a koiné based on dialects spoken in the Nanjing area, though not identical to any single dialect. [25] By the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had become dominant and was essential for any business with the imperial court. [26]

In the 1930s a standard national language Guóyǔ (国语/國語 "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, calling it pǔtōnghuà (普通话/普通話 "common speech"). [27] The national language is now used in education, the media, and formal situations in both Mainland China and Taiwan. [28] In Hong Kong and Macau, because of their colonial and linguistic history, the language used in education, the media, formal speech, and everyday life remains the local Cantonese, although the standard language has become very influential and is being taught in schools. [29]

Influence

The Tripitaka Koreana, a Korean collection of the Chinese Buddhist canon Tripitaka Koreana.jpg
The Tripitaka Koreana , a Korean collection of the Chinese Buddhist canon

The Chinese language has spread to neighbouring countries through a variety of means. Northern Vietnam was incorporated into the Han empire in 111 BCE, marking the beginning of a period of Chinese control that ran almost continuously for a millennium. The Four Commanderies were established in northern Korea in the first century BCE, but disintegrated in the following centuries. [30] 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. [31] Later Korea, Japan, and 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 and (to a lesser extent) Japan, and the early 20th century in Vietnam. [32] Scholars from different lands could communicate, albeit only in writing, using Literary Chinese. [33]

Although they used Chinese solely for written communication, each country had its own tradition of reading texts aloud, the so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations. Chinese words with these pronunciations were also extensively imported into the Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese languages, and today comprise over half of their vocabularies. [34] This massive influx led to changes in the phonological structure of the languages, contributing to the development of moraic structure in Japanese [35] and the disruption of vowel harmony in Korean. [36]

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 and Ancient Greek roots in European languages. [37] 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. [38] 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. [39]

Vietnam, Korea, and Japan each developed writing systems for their own languages, initially based on Chinese characters, but later replaced with the Hangul alphabet for Korean and supplemented with kana syllabaries for Japanese, while Vietnamese continued to be written with the complex Chữ nôm 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 ) and kana. Korean is written exclusively with Hangul in North Korea, and supplementary Chinese characters ( Hanja ) are increasingly rarely used in South Korea. Vietnamese is written with a Latin-based alphabet.

Examples of loan words in English include "tea", from Hokkien (Min Nan) ( ), "dim sum", from Cantonese dim2 sam1 and "kumquat", from Cantonese gam1gwat1 ( 金橘 ).

Varieties

Range of Chinese dialect groups according to the Language Atlas of China Map of sinitic languages full-en.svg
Range of Chinese dialect groups according to the Language Atlas of China

Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese. [41] These varieties form a dialect continuum, in which differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, though the rate of change varies immensely. [42] Generally, mountainous South China exhibits more linguistic diversity than the North China Plain. In parts of South China, a major city's dialect may only be marginally intelligible to close neighbors. For instance, Wuzhou is about 120 miles (190 km) upstream from Guangzhou, but the Yue variety spoken there is more like that of Guangzhou than is that of Taishan, 60 miles (95 km) southwest of Guangzhou and separated from it by several rivers. [43] In parts of Fujian the speech of neighboring counties or even villages may be mutually unintelligible. [44]

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. [45] The vast majority of Chinese immigrants to North America spoke the Taishan dialect, from a small coastal area southwest of Guangzhou. [46]

Grouping

Proportions of first-language speakers [1]

   Mandarin (66.2%)
   Min (6.2%)
   Wu (6.1%)
   Jin (5.2%)
   Yue (4.9%)
   Gan (4.0%)
   Hakka (3.5%)
   Xiang (3.0%)
   Huizhou (0.3%)
   Pinghua, others (0.6%)

Local varieties of Chinese are conventionally classified into seven dialect groups, largely on the basis of the different evolution of Middle Chinese voiced initials: [47] [48]

The classification of Li Rong, which is used in the Language Atlas of China (1987), distinguishes three further groups: [40] [49]

  • Jin, previously included in Mandarin.
  • Huizhou, previously included in Wu.
  • 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). [50]

Standard Chinese

Standard Chinese, often called Mandarin, is the official standard language of China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages of Singapore (where it is called "Huáyŭ" 华语 or simply Chinese). Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect, the dialect of Mandarin 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 mainland China and Taiwan, diglossia has been a common feature. For example, in addition to Standard Chinese, a resident of Shanghai might speak Shanghainese; and, if he or she grew up elsewhere, then he or she is also likely to be fluent in the particular dialect of that local area. A native of Guangzhou may speak both Cantonese and Standard Chinese. In addition to Mandarin, most Taiwanese also speak Minnan, Hakka, or an Austronesian language. [51] A Taiwanese may commonly mix pronunciations, phrases, and words from Mandarin and other Taiwanese languages, and this mixture is considered normal in daily or informal speech. [52]

Nomenclature

The official Chinese designation for the major branches of Chinese is fāngyán (方言, literally "regional speech"), whereas the more closely related varieties within these are called dìdiǎn fāngyán (地点方言/地點方言 "local speech"). [53] 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. [41] Because varieties from different groups are not mutually intelligible, some scholars prefer to describe Wu and others as separate languages. [54] [ better source needed ] 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. [41]

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, [55] although others do not regard it as decisive, [56] [57] [58] [59] [60] particularly when cultural factors interfere as they do with Chinese. [61] As Campbell (2008) 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. [62] 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 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. [63]

Because of the difficulties involved in determining the difference between language and dialect, other terms have been proposed: ISO 639-3 follows Ethnologue in assigning individual language codes to the 13 main subdivisions, while Chinese as a whole is classified as a 'macrolanguage'. [64] Other options include vernacular, [65] lect [66] regionalect, [53] topolect, [67] and variety. [68]

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. [69] To Chinese nationalists, the idea of Chinese as a language family may suggest that the Chinese identity is much more fragmented and disunified than it actually is and as such is often looked upon as culturally and politically provocative. Additionally, in Taiwan it is closely associated with Taiwanese independence,[ citation needed ] some of whose supporters promote the local Taiwanese Hokkien variety.

Phonology

Spoken Mandarin Chinese

The phonological structure of each syllable consists of a nucleus that has a vowel (which can be a monophthong, diphthong, or even a triphthong in certain varieties), preceded by an onset (a single consonant, or consonant+glide; zero onset is also possible), and followed (optionally) by a coda consonant; a syllable also carries a tone. There are some instances where a vowel is not used as a nucleus. An example of this is in Cantonese, where the nasal sonorant consonants /m/ and /ŋ/ 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 glide is not analyzed as a coda), but syllables that do have codas are restricted to nasals /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, the retroflex approximant /ɻ /, and voiceless stops /p/, /t/, /k/, or /ʔ/. Some varieties allow most of these codas, whereas others, such as Standard Chinese, are limited to only /n/, /ŋ/ and /ɻ /.

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. 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. [lower-alpha 3]

Tones

All varieties of spoken Chinese use tones to distinguish words. [70] [lower-alpha 4] 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 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 (along with the neutral tone) to the syllable ma. The tones are exemplified by the following five Chinese words:

First tone (Mandarin).png
Second tone (Mandarin).png
Third tone (Mandarin).png
Fourth tone (Mandarin).png
The four main tones of Standard Mandarin, pronounced with the syllable ma.
Example of Standard Mandarin tones
CharactersPinyinPitch contourMeaning
/ high level"mother"
high rising"hemp"
/ low falling-rising"horse"
/ high falling"scold"
/ maneutral question particle

Standard Cantonese, in contrast, has six tones in open syllables and three tones in syllables ending with stops: [72]

Example of Standard Cantonese tones
Characters Jyutping Pitch contourMeaning
/ si1high level, high falling"poem"
si2high rising"history"
si3mid level"to assassinate"
/ si4low falling"time"
si5low rising"market"
si6low level"yes"
sik1high level (stopped)"color"
/ sik3mid level (stopped)"tin"
sik6low level (stopped)"to eat"

Grammar

Chinese is often described as a "monosyllabic" language. However, this is only partially correct. It is largely accurate when describing Classical Chinese and Middle Chinese; 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 plenty of 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 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 (still largely monosyllabic) and over 8,000 in English. [lower-alpha 3]

This phonological collapse has led to a corresponding increase in the number of homophones. As an example, the small Langenscheidt Pocket Chinese Dictionary [73] 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 William H. Baxter's transcription they were dzyip, zyit, syik, dzyek, dzyi and zyik respectively. They are still pronounced differently in today's Cantonese; 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实际/實際 (lit. "actual-connection"); rènshi认识/認識 (lit. "recognize-know"); shítou石头/石頭 (lit. "stone-head"); shíjiān时间/時間 (lit. "time-interval"); shíwù食物 (lit. "food-thing"). 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石头/石頭, appears in compounds meaning "stone-", for example, shígāo石膏 "plaster" (lit. "stone cream"), shíhuī石灰 "lime" (lit. "stone dust"), shíkū石窟 "grotto" (lit. "stone cave"), shíyīng石英 "quartz" (lit. "stone flower"), shíyóu石油 "petroleum" (lit. "stone oil").

Most modern varieties of Chinese have the tendency to form new words through disyllabic, trisyllabic and tetra-character compounds. In some cases, monosyllabic words have become disyllabic without compounding, as in kūlong窟窿 from kǒng 孔; this is especially common in Jin.

Chinese morphology is strictly bound to a set number of syllables with a fairly rigid construction. Although many of these single-syllable morphemes (, ) can stand alone as individual words, they more often than not form multi-syllabic compounds, known as (/), which more closely resembles the traditional Western notion of a word. A Chinese ("word") can consist of more than one character-morpheme, usually two, but there can be three or more.

For example:

All varieties of modern Chinese are analytic languages, in that they depend on syntax (word order and sentence structure) rather than morphology—i.e., changes in form of a word—to indicate the word's function in a sentence. [74] In other words, Chinese has very few grammatical inflections—it possesses no tenses, no voices, no numbers (singular, plural; though there are plural markers, for example for personal pronouns), and only a few articles (i.e., equivalents to "the, a, an" in English). [lower-alpha 5]

They make heavy use of grammatical particles to indicate aspect and mood. In Mandarin Chinese, this involves the use of particles like le (perfective), hái/ ("still"), yǐjīng已经/已經 ("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 classifiers and measure words, another trait shared with neighboring languages like Japanese and Korean. Other notable grammatical features common to all the spoken varieties of Chinese include the use of serial verb construction, pronoun dropping and the related 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 20,000 characters, of which only roughly 10,000 are now commonly in use. 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), [75] 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 loanwords in Chinese have been proposed, notably "honey", / shī "lion," and perhaps also / "horse", / zhū "pig", quǎn "dog", and / é "goose". [lower-alpha 6] Ancient words borrowed from along the Silk Road since Old Chinese include 葡萄pútáo "grape", 石榴shíliu/shíliú "pomegranate" and 狮子/獅子shīzi "lion". Some words were borrowed from Buddhist scriptures, including "Buddha" and 菩萨/菩薩Púsà "bodhisattva." Other words came from nomadic peoples to the north, such as 胡同hútòng "hutong". Words borrowed from the peoples along the Silk Road, such as 葡萄 "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 etymologies, such as 琵琶pípá, the Chinese lute, or lào/luò "cheese" or "yoghurt", but from exactly which source is not always clear. [76]

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 a combination of the two. Today, it is much more common to use existing Chinese morphemes to coin new words in order to represent imported concepts, such as technical expressions and international scientific vocabulary. Any Latin or 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 loaned phonetically as 德律风/德律風 (Shanghainese: télífon[təlɪfoŋ], Mandarin: délǜfēng) during the 1920s and widely used in Shanghai, but later 电话/電話diànhuà (lit. "electric speech"), built out of native Chinese morphemes, became prevalent (電話 is in fact from the Japanese 電話denwa; see below for more Japanese loans). Other examples include 电视/電視diànshì (lit. "electric vision") for television, 电脑/電腦diànnǎo (lit. "electric brain") for computer; 手机/手機shǒujī (lit. "hand machine") for mobile phone, 蓝牙/藍牙lányá (lit. "blue tooth") for Bluetooth, and 网志/網誌wǎngzhì (lit. "internet logbook") for blog in Hong Kong and Macau Cantonese. Occasionally half-transliteration, half-translation compromises are accepted, such as 汉堡包/漢堡包hànbǎobāo (漢堡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 拖拉机/拖拉機tuōlājī "tractor" (lit. "dragging-pulling machine"), or 马利奥/馬利奧 Mǎlì'ào for the video game character Mario. This is often done for commercial purposes, for example 奔腾/奔騰bēnténg (lit. "dashing-leaping") for Pentium and 赛百味/賽百味Sàibǎiwèi (lit. "better-than hundred tastes") for 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 以色列Yǐsèliè, "Paris" becomes 巴黎Bālí. A rather small number of direct transliterations have survived as common words, including 沙发/沙發shāfā "sofa", 马达/馬達mǎdá "motor", 幽默yōumò "humor", 逻辑/邏輯luóji/luójí "logic", 时髦/時髦shímáo "smart, fashionable", and 歇斯底里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, 沙发/沙發 "sofa" and 马达/馬達 "motor" in Shanghainese sound more like their English counterparts. Cantonese differs from Mandarin with some transliterations, such as 梳化so1 faa3*2 "sofa" and 摩打mo1 daa2 "motor".

Western foreign words representing Western concepts have influenced Chinese since the 20th century through transcription. From French came 芭蕾bālěi "ballet" and 香槟xiāngbīn, "champagne"; from Italian, 咖啡kāfēi "caffè". English influence is particularly pronounced. From early 20th century Shanghainese, many English words are borrowed, such as 高尔夫/高爾夫gāoěrfū "golf" and the above-mentioned 沙发/沙發shāfā "sofa". Later, the United States soft influences gave rise to 迪斯科dísikē/dísīkē "disco", 可乐/可樂kělè "cola", and 迷你mínǐ "mini [skirt]". Contemporary colloquial Cantonese has distinct loanwords from English, such as 卡通kaa1 tung1 "cartoon", 基佬gei1 lou2 "gay people", 的士dik1 si6*2 "taxi", and 巴士baa1 si6*2 "bus". With the rising popularity of the Internet, there is a current vogue in China for coining English transliterations, for example, 粉丝/粉絲fěnsī "fans", 黑客hēikè "hacker" (lit. "black guest"), and 博客bókè "blog". In Taiwan, some of these transliterations are different, such as 駭客hàikè for "hacker" and 部落格bùluògé for "blog" (lit. "interconnected tribes").

Another result of the English influence on Chinese is the appearance in Modern Chinese texts of so-called 字母词/字母詞zìmǔcí (lit. "lettered words") spelled with letters from the English alphabet. This has appeared in magazines, newspapers, on web sites, and on TV: 三G手机/三G手機 "3rd generation cell phones" (sān "three" + G "generation" + 手机/手機shǒujī "mobile phones"), IT界 "IT circles" (IT "information technology" + jiè "industry"), HSK (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, 汉语水平考试/漢語水平考試), GB (Guóbiāo, 国标/國標), CIF价/CIF價 (CIF "Cost, Insurance, Freight" + /jià "price"), e家庭 "e-home" (e "electronic" + 家庭jiātíng "home"), Chinese :W时代/Chinese :W時代 "wireless era" (W "wireless" + 时代/時代shídài "era"), TV族 "TV watchers" (TV "television" + "social group; clan"), 后РС时代/後PC時代 "post-PC era" (/hòu "after/post-" + PC "personal computer" + 时代/時代), and so on.

Since the 20th century, another source of words has been Japanese using existing kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese). Japanese re-molded European concepts and inventions into wasei-kango (和製漢語, lit. "Japanese-made Chinese"), 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 (经济/經濟; 経済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 re-imported 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, 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. Chinese characters denote morphemes independent of phonetic change. Thus the character ("one") is uttered in Standard Chinese, yat1 in Cantonese and it in Hokkien (form of Min). Vocabularies from different major Chinese variants have diverged, and colloquial nonstandard written Chinese often makes use of unique "dialectal characters", such as and for Cantonese and Hakka, which are considered archaic or unused in standard written Chinese.

Written colloquial Cantonese has become quite popular in online chat rooms and instant messaging amongst Hong-Kongers and Cantonese-speakers elsewhere. It is considered highly informal, and does not extend to many formal occasions.

The Chinese had no uniform phonetic transcription system 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 rudimentary Latin transcription systems, based on the Nanjing Mandarin dialect.

In Hunan, women in certain areas write their local language in Nü Shu, a syllabary derived from Chinese characters. The Dungan language, 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

"Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion" by Wang Xizhi, written in semi-cursive style XingshuLantingxv.jpg
"Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion" by Wang Xizhi, written in semi-cursive style

Each Chinese character represents a monosyllabic Chinese word or morpheme. In 100 CE, the famed Han dynasty scholar Xu Shen 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), (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 (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 regular script. Various other written styles are also used in Chinese calligraphy, including seal script, 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 system, used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, 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.

A well-educated Chinese reader today recognizes approximately 4,000 to 6,000 characters; approximately 3,000 characters are required to read a 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. [77] 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

"National language" (Guo Yu 
/Guo Yu 
; Guoyu) written in Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters, followed by various romanizations. Gwoyu.svg
"National language" (國語/国语; Guóyǔ) written in Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters, followed by various romanizations.

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 Christian missionaries in the 16th century.

Today the most common romanization standard for Standard Chinese is Hanyu Pinyin , often known simply as pinyin, introduced in 1956 by the 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 America, 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 until 2009 was widely used in Taiwan.

When used within European texts, the 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:

Mandarin Romanization Comparison
CharactersWade–GilesHanyu PinyinMeaning/Notes
中国 / 中國 Chung¹-kuo²ZhōngguóChina
台湾 / 臺灣 T'ai²-wan¹Táiwān Taiwan
北京 Pei³-ching¹Běijīng Beijing
台北 / 臺北 T'ai²-pei³Táiběi Taipei
毛泽东 / 毛澤東 Mao² Tse²-tung¹Máo ZédōngFormer Communist Chinese leader
蒋介石 / 蔣介石 Chiang³ Chieh⁴-shih²Jiǎng JièshíFormer Nationalist Chinese leader (better known to English speakers as Chiang Kai-shek, with Cantonese pronunciation)
孔子 K'ung³ Tsu³Kǒngzǐ Confucius

Other systems of romanization for Chinese include Gwoyeu Romatzyh, the French EFEO, the Yale system (invented during WWII for U.S. troops), as well as separate systems for Cantonese, Min Nan, Hakka, 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 zhuyin article. Syllables based on pinyin and zhuyin can also be compared by looking at the following articles:

There are also at least two systems of cyrillization for Chinese. The most widespread is the Palladius system.

As a foreign language

Yang Lingfu, former curator of the National Museum of China, giving Chinese language instruction at the Civil Affairs Staging Area in 1945. Chinese Language Training at CASA.PNG
Yang Lingfu, former curator of the National Museum of China, giving Chinese language instruction at the Civil Affairs Staging Area in 1945.

With the growing importance and influence of China's economy globally, Mandarin instruction is gaining popularity in schools in the United States, and has become an increasingly popular subject of study amongst the young in the Western world, as in the UK. [78]

In 1991 there were 2,000 foreign learners taking China's official Chinese Proficiency Test (also known as HSK, comparable to the English Cambridge Certificate), while in 2005, the number of candidates had risen sharply to 117,660. [79] By 2010, 750,000 people had taken the Chinese Proficiency Test. By 2017, 6.5 million candidates had taken the Chinese Proficiency Test of various kinds.

According to the Modern Language Association, there were 550 elementary, junior high and senior high schools providing Chinese programs in the United States in 2015, which represented a 100% increase in two years. At the same time, enrollment in Chinese language classes at college level had an increase of 51% from 2002 to 2015. On the other hand, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages also had figures suggesting that 30,000 – 50,000 students were studying Chinese in 2015. [80]

In 2016, more than half a million Chinese students pursued post-secondary education overseas, whereas 400,000 international students came to China for higher education. Tsinghua University hosted 35,000 students from 116 countries in the same year. [81]

With the increase in demand for Chinese as a second language, there are 330 institutions teaching Chinese language globally according to the Chinese Ministry of Education. The establishment of Confucius Institutes, which are the public institutions affiliated with the Ministry of Education of China, aims at promoting Chinese language and culture as well as supporting Chinese teaching overseas. There were more than 480 Confucius Institutes worldwide as of 2014. [80]

See also

Notes

  1. No specific variety of Chinese is official in Hong Kong and Macau. Residents predominantly speak Cantonese and use traditional Chinese characters, the de facto regional standard. Standard Mandarin and simplified Chinese characters as the national standard are also used in some official and educational settings. The HK SAR Government promotes 两文三語 [Bi-literacy (Chinese, English) and Tri-lingualism (Cantonese, Mandarin, English)], while the Macau SAR Government promotes 三文四語 [Tri-literacy (Chinese, Portuguese, English) and Quad-lingualism (Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese, English)], especially in public education.
  2. Various examples include:
    • David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 312. "The mutual unintelligibility of the varieties is the main ground for referring to them as separate languages."
    • Charles N. Li, Sandra A. Thompson. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (1989), p. 2. "The Chinese language family is genetically classified as an independent branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family."
    • Norman (1988), p. 1. "[...] the modern Chinese dialects are really more like a family of languages [...]"
    • DeFrancis (1984), p. 56. "To call Chinese a single language composed of dialects with varying degrees of difference is to mislead by minimizing disparities that according to Chao are as great as those between English and Dutch. To call Chinese a family of languages is to suggest extralinguistic differences that in fact do not exist and to overlook the unique linguistic situation that exists in China."
    Linguists in China often use a formulation introduced by Fu Maoji in the Encyclopedia of China : “汉语在语言系属分类中相当于一个语族的地位。” ("In language classification, Chinese has a status equivalent to a language family.") [3]
  3. 1 2 DeFrancis (1984), p. 42 counts Chinese as having 1,277 tonal syllables, and about 398 to 418 if tones are disregarded; he cites Jespersen, Otto (1928) Monosyllabism in English; London, p. 15 for a count of over 8000 syllables for English.
  4. A word pronounced in a wrong tone or inaccurate tone sounds as puzzling as if one said bud in English, meaning 'not good' or 'the thing one sleeps in.'" [71]
  5. A distinction is made between as "he" and as "she" in writing, but this is a 20th-century introduction, and both characters are pronounced in exactly the same way.
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica s.v. "Chinese languages": "Old Chinese vocabulary already contained many words not generally occurring in the other Sino-Tibetan languages. The words for 'honey' and 'lion', and probably also 'horse', 'dog', and 'goose', are connected with Indo-European and were acquired through trade and early contacts. (The nearest known Indo-European languages were Tocharian and Sogdian, a middle Iranian language.) A number of words have Austroasiatic cognates and point to early contacts with the ancestral language of Muong–Vietnamese and Mon–Khmer."; Jan Ulenbrook, Einige Übereinstimmungen zwischen dem Chinesischen und dem Indogermanischen (1967) proposes 57 items; see also Tsung-tung Chang, 1988 Indo-European Vocabulary in Old Chinese.

Related Research Articles

Mandarin Chinese major branch of Chinese spoken across most of northern and southwestern China

Mandarin is a group of related varieties of Chinese spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of Standard Mandarin or Standard Chinese. Because Mandarin originated in North China and most Mandarin dialects are found in the north, the group is sometimes referred to as the Northern dialects. Many local Mandarin varieties are not mutually intelligible. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in lists of languages by number of native speakers.

Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that do have this feature are called tonal languages; the distinctive tone patterns of such a language are sometimes called tonemes, by analogy with phoneme. Tonal languages are common in East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas; as many as seventy percent of world languages may be tonal.

Taiwanese Hokkien language

Taiwanese Hokkien, also known simply as Taiwanese, is a variety of Hokkien Chinese spoken natively by about 70% of the population of Taiwan. It is spoken by the Taiwanese Hoklo people, who descended from immigrants from southern Fujian during the Qing dynasty. The Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) romanization is a popular orthography for this variant of Hokkien.

Written Chinese Overview of writing varieties of Chinese

Written Chinese comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, a character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation. Literacy requires the memorization of a great many characters: educated Chinese know about 4,000. The large number of Chinese characters has in part led to the adoption of Western alphabets as an auxiliary means of representing Chinese.

Yue Chinese Primary branch of Chinese spoken in southern China

Yue or Yueh is one of the primary branches of Chinese spoken in southern China, particularly the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi, collectively known as Liangguang.

Tone sandhi is a phonological change occurring in tonal languages, in which the tones assigned to individual words or morphemes change based on the pronunciation of adjacent words or morphemes. It usually simplifies a bidirectional tone into a one-direction tone. It is a type of sandhi, or fusional change, from the Sanskrit word for "joining".

Jin Chinese Branch of Chinese spoken in parts of northern China

Jin is a group of Chinese dialects or languages spoken by roughly 63 million people in northern China. Its geographical distribution covers most of Shanxi province except for the lower Fen River valley, much of central Inner Mongolia and adjoining areas in Hebei, Henan, and Shaanxi provinces. The status of Jin is disputed among linguists: Some prefer to classify it as a dialect of Mandarin, but others set it apart as a closely related, but separate sister-language to Mandarin.

Cantonese standard dialect of Yue language that originated in the vicinity of Guangzhou (Canton) in southern China

Cantonese is a variety of Chinese originating from the city of Guangzhou and its surrounding area in Southeastern China. It is the traditional prestige variety of the Yue Chinese dialect group, which has about 68 million speakers. While the term Cantonese specifically refers to the prestige variety, it is often used to refer to the entire Yue subgroup of Chinese, including related but largely mutually unintelligible languages and dialects such as Taishanese.

General Chinese is a diaphonemic orthography invented by Yuen Ren Chao to represent the pronunciations of all major varieties of Chinese simultaneously. It is "the most complete genuine Chinese diasystem yet published". It can also be used for the Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese pronunciations of Chinese characters, and challenges the claim that Chinese characters are required for interdialectal communication in written Chinese.

A checked tone, commonly known by the Chinese calque entering tone, is one of the four syllable types in the phonology in Middle Chinese. Although usually translated as "tone", a checked tone is not a tone in the phonetic sense but rather a syllable that ends in a stop consonant or a glottal stop. Separating the checked tone allows -p, -t, and -k to be treated as allophones of -m, -n, and -ng, respectively, since they are in complementary distribution. Stops appear only in the checked tone, and nasals appear only in the other tones. Because of the origin of tone in Chinese, the number of tones found in such syllables is smaller than the number of tones in other syllables. In Chinese phonetics, they have traditionally been counted separately.

Taiwanese Mandarin Standard Chinese spoken in China in 1932~1949 and only spoken in Taiwan after 1949

Taiwanese Mandarin or national language of the Republic of China, is a variety of Mandarin Chinese and the lingua franca of Taiwan. It is based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect together with the grammar of vernacular Chinese.

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 Vietnamese languages, none of which are genetically related to Chinese. The resulting Sino-Japanese, Sino-Korean and Sino-Vietnamese vocabularies now make up a large part of the lexicons of these languages. The pronunciation systems are used alongside modern varieties of Chinese in historical Chinese phonology, particularly the reconstruction of the sounds of Middle Chinese. Some other languages, such as Hmong–Mien and Tai-Kadai languages, also contain large numbers of Chinese loanwords but without the systematic correspondences that characterize Sino-Xenic vocabularies.

Wenzhounese, also known as Oujiang, Tong Au or Auish, is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang, China. Nicknamed the "Devil's Language" for its complexity and difficulty, it is the most divergent division of Wu Chinese, with little to no mutual intelligibility with other Wu dialects or any other variety of Chinese. It features noticeable elements in common with Min Chinese, which is spoken to the south in Fujian. Oujiang is sometimes used as the broader term, and Wenzhou for Wenzhounese proper in a narrow sense.

Bopomofo, also called Zhuyin, or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, is the major Chinese transliteration system for Taiwanese Mandarin. It is also used to transcribe other varieties of Chinese, particularly other varieties of Standard Chinese and related Mandarin dialects, as well as Taiwanese Hokkien.

Hokkien Chinese dialect

Hokkien or Minnan speech (閩南語/闽南语), is a Southern Min language originating from the Minnan region in the south-eastern part of Fujian Province in Southeastern China, and spoken widely there. It is also spoken widely in Taiwan and by the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, and by other overseas Chinese all over the world. It is the mainstream form of Southern Min.

This article summarizes the phonology of Standard Chinese.

Written Hokkien Written form of the Hokkien language

Hokkien, a Min Nan variety of Chinese spoken in Southeastern China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, does not have a unitary standardized writing system, in comparison with the well-developed written forms of Cantonese and Vernacular Chinese (Mandarin). Since there is no official standardizing body for Hokkien except the Republic of China Ministry of Education in Taiwan, there are a wide variety of different methods of writing in Vernacular Hokkien. Nevertheless, vernacular works written in the Hokkien are still commonly seen in literature, film, performing arts and music.

References

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Sources

Further reading