Chinese Variants or Dialects
There are different varieties of Chinese:
Today, the two most popular are Cantonese and Mandarin. Two other popular Chinese dialects are Min and Wu. To Western societies, these dialects are not seen as mutually exclusive; instead, the dialects are considered different languages. China, however groups them under a hierarchical Chinese language system for political reasons. Unlike mainstream languages such as English, the different dialects of Chinese do not translate from spoken language to written language the same. Different dialects choose to use different characters. Some of these characters may be older, outdated or complicated versions of current Mandarin or Cantonese.
Also, intelligibility of different dialects greatly differs between regions. A person from one region that speaks a dialect of Mandarin may not be able to understand someone from a neighboring region that speaks a different dialect. Although these are the main dialects, there are many more rural dialects of Chinese that are not recognized by the government due to inconsistency.
Chinese languages are classified by continuum or region. Classification was started in the 1930s due to the difference of pronunciation in dialects. Currently, Mandarin has over 800 million speakers, and is the dominant spoken dialect of Chinese by far. Wu and Cantonese have over 70 million speakers, and are the second and third largest dialects. There are close to ten more recognized dialects that have millions of speakers as well.
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While many people do not know different dialects of Chinese, most well educated citizens of the People’s Republic of China do understand standard Chinese as well as other dialects. Learning another dialect of Chinese is often found by spending time in its spoken region.
When speaking in a formal matter, standard Chinese is used. However, when in a local region, the two forms of language are often mixed together by bilingual speakers. Linguists use their local dialect in order to show a sense of culture and identity.
Mandarin became the standard language during the Qing dynasty. Anyone focusing on pursuing education was required to learn Mandarin dialect. While this was a focus of the mainland of China, Hong Kong still allowed Cantonese and other spoken sub-dialects. The Qing dynasty implemented a standard language because political actions were suffering due to the lack of a widely accepted political language.
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The Sino-Tibetan family is a parent language of Chinese. Many linguists believe that all varieties of Chinese language have been derived from an original language, known as Proto-Sino-Tibetan. It is also believed that the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended from this language.
It is estimated that Chinese is spook by 20% of the world. The Chinese language is a rich and varied language. There are varieties of Chinese language, more commonly known as dialects. Although most people regard the varieties of Chinese language as a single language, the variations in these dialects are so vast that one particular dialect may be incomprehensible to someone who is familiar with another dialect.
Depending on the classification scheme, it is estimated that there are around 6 to 12 varieties of Chinese dialects. Amongst these varieties of Chinese dialects, the one that is most spoken is Mandarin. Min, Wu, and Cantonese follow closely behind.
One of Hong Kong’s official languages is Cantonese (English being another) and continues to be common with people residing in Cantonese-speaking overseas communities. Mandarin, on the other hand, is the Peoples Republic of China’s official language. The United Nations has also included Chinese into one of its six official languages.
Among the other varieties of Chinese dialect, Wu is spoken by people in Shanghai; Min is spoken by people in Fujian and Taiwan, along with the Gan, Xiang varieties of the Chinese dialect.
There are few other varieties of Chinese dialect such as Kejia which is spoken by the Hakka, and Yue which is more common with people from Guangzhou. Chinese language is a tonal language. There is greater stress on the tone. The modern varieties of Chinese languages can have somewhere between four to nine tones.
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Written Chinese vs. Spoken Chinese
Chinese is written using the Han characters. It is believed that Chinese characters originated in the Shang dynasty. It is interesting to note that the varieties of Chinese dialects have undergone a number of evolutions since the late-Han dynasty. Written Chinese, on the other hand, has seen far less changes than the spoken language.