Chinese language

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汉语/漢語, Hànyǔ or 中文, Zhōngwén
Hànyǔ written in traditional (top) and simplified characters (middle); Zhōngwén (bottom)
Native to Sinophone world
Native speakers
1.35 billion (2022)
Early forms
Standard forms
Chinese characters

Pinyin (Latin)
Xiao'erjing (Arabic)
Dungan (Cyrillic)
Chinese Braille
ʼPhags-pa script (Historical)
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Ministry of Education (in the reserved name of "National Commission on Language and Script Work  [ zh ]") (Mainland China)
National Languages Committee (Taiwan)
Civil Service Bureau (Hong Kong)
Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (Macau)
Chinese Language Standardisation Council (Malaysia)
Promote Mandarin Council (Singapore)
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 Min
czh    Huizhou
czo    Central Min
gan    Gan
hak    Hakka
hsn    Xiang
mnp    Min Bei
nan    Min Nan
wuu    Wu
yue    Yue
csp    Southern Pinghua
cnp    Northern Pinghua
och    Old Chinese
ltc    Late Middle Chinese
lzh    Classical Chinese
Glottolog sini1245
Linguasphere 79-AAA
Map-Sinophone World.png
Map of the Chinese-speaking world.
  Regions with a native Chinese-speaking majority.
  Regions where Chinese is not native but an official or educational language.
  Regions with significant Chinese-speaking minorities.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
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.
Han language (general or spoken)
Simplified Chinese 汉语
Traditional Chinese 漢語
Literal meaning Han people/dynasty's language
Examples 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. Historically, finals that end in a 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: [72]

Examples of Standard Cantonese tones
Characters Jyutping Yale Pitch contourMeaning
/ si1high level, high falling'poem'
si2high rising'history'
si3simid level'to assassinate'
/ si4sìhlow falling'time'
si5síhlow rising'market'
si6sihlow level'yes'


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 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 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 5]

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. '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 6]

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.


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. [75] 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), [76] 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.


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 7] 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 "yogurt", but from exactly which source is not always clear. [77]

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 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 initially 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 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/香檳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 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

"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

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, 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. [78] Chinese characters denote morphemes independent of phonetic variation in different languages. Thus the character ("one") is uttered in Standard Chinese, yat1 in Cantonese and it in 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 before the 20th century. [79] However, vocabularies from different Chinese-speaking areas have diverged, and the divergence can be observed in written Chinese. [80]

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 colloquial form of Cantonese, which has become quite popular in tabloids, instant messaging applications, and on the internet amongst Hong-Kongers and Cantonese-speakers elsewhere. [81]

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, 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. [82]

In Hunan, women in certain areas write their local Chinese language variant 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

Yong  (meaning "forever") is often used to illustrate the eight basic types of strokes of Chinese characters. 8 strokes of Yong -zh.svg
永 (meaning "forever") is often used to illustrate the eight basic types of strokes of Chinese characters.

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. 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. [83]

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. [84] 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.


"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 Mandarin 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 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 largely 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
中国 / 中國 Chung¹-kuo²Zhōngguó China
台湾 / 台灣 T'ai²-wan¹Táiwān Taiwan
北京 Pei³-ching¹Běijīng Beijing
台北 / 臺北 T'ai²-pei³Táiběi Taipei
孫文 Sun¹-wên²Sūn Wén Sun Yat-sen
毛泽东 / 毛澤東 Mao² Tse²-tung¹Máo Zédōng Mao Zedong, Former Communist Chinese leader
蒋介石 / 蔣介石 Chiang³ Chieh⁴-shih²Jiǎng Jièshí Chiang Kai-shek, Former Nationalist Chinese leader
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 has been gaining popularity in schools throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Western world. [85]

Besides Mandarin, Cantonese 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. [86]

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), then the number of candidates had risen sharply to 117,660 in 2005 [87] and 750,000 in 2010. [88]

See also


  1. De facto – while no specific variety of Chinese is official in Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese is the predominant spoken form and the de facto regional standard, written in traditional Chinese characters. Standard Mandarin and simplified Chinese characters are only occasionally used in some official and educational settings. The HK SAR Government promotes 兩文三語 [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. lit. "Han language"
  3. lit. "Chinese writing"
  4. 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.") [2]
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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Further reading