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Chinese (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語; pinyin: Hànyǔ or also 中文; Zhōngwén, especially for the written language) is a group of language varieties that form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages, spoken by the ethnic Han Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in Greater China.
- (1.2 billion cited 1984–2000)
- Guan ("Northern" or Mandarin ), 北方話/北方话 or 官話/官话 (about 850 million speakers),
- Wu, 吳/吴, which includes Shanghainese (about 90 million speakers),
- Yue ( Cantonese ), 粵/粤 (about 80 million speakers),
- Min ( Hokkien, which includes Taiwanese), 閩/闽 (about 50 million speakers),
- List of languages and dialects
- List in the Atlas
The following is a list of Sinitic languages and their dialects. For a traditional dialectological overview, see also varieties of Chinese.
In addition to the varieties listed below, it is customary to speak informally of dialects of each province. These designations do not generally correspond to classifications used by linguists, but each nevertheless has characteristics of its own.
The extensive 1987 Language Atlas of China groups Chinese local varieties into the following units: 1. Supergroup, of which there are but two: Mandarin and Min 2. Group, corresponding to the varieties of Chinese of the ISO standard 3. Subgroup, which may be mutually unintelligible with other subgroups 4. Cluster, which may be mutually unintelligible with other clusters 5. Local dialect, which are the dialects sampled by the Atlas In the list below, local dialects are not listed. Groups are in bo
- Sino-Tibetan ancestry
- Old Chinese
- Middle Chinese
- Spoken Chinese
- Written Chinese
In historical linguistics, the history of the Chinese language includes the various changes over time of the Chinese language in its various incarnations. Earliest known origins of the Chinese language date back 6,000 years. Modern day characters had not been introduced until centuries later, leaving many components of Chinese language quite obscure and unknown.
Chinese is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, a group of languages that all descend from Proto-Sino-Tibetan. The relationship between Chinese and other Sino-Tibetan languages is an area of active research and controversy, as is the attempt to reconstruct Proto-Sino-Tibetan. The main difficulty in both of these efforts is that, while there is very good documentation that allows for the reconstruction of the ancient sounds of Chinese, there is no written documentation of the point where Chi
Old Chinese, sometimes known as "Archaic Chinese," is genetically related to all current dialects of Chinese. The first known use of the Chinese writing system is divinatory inscriptions into tortoise shells and oracle bones in the Shang dynasty. In the later early and middle Zhou dynasty, writing which descended from the Shang is found texts of which include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the poetry of the Shijing, the history of the Shujing, and portions of the Yijing. The phonetic elements
Middle Chinese was the language used during the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties. It can be divided into an early period, reflected by the Qieyun rime dictionary and its later redaction the Guangyun, and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by rime tables such as the Yunjing. The evidence for the pronunciation of Middle Chinese comes from several sources: modern dialect variations, rime dictionaries, foreign transliterations, rime tables constructed by ancient Chinese philologists to summari
The development of the spoken Chinese from early historical times to the present has been complex. Most Chinese people, in Sichuan and in a broad arc from the northeast to the southwest, use various Mandarin dialects as their home language. The prevalence of Mandarin throughout northern China is largely due to north China's plains. By contrast, the mountains and rivers of southern China favoured linguistic diversity. Until the mid-20th century, most southern Chinese only spoke their native local
The original Chinese writing system of the Shang dynasty is currently in use, making it one of the oldest continually-used languages in history. During the reign of the dynasties, Guanhua, which was almost exclusively utilized by the educated people of Peking and bureaucrats, was the most used form of writing. With a standardized writing system for all official documents and communication, unification of the mutually unintelligible spoken dialects was possible. After the establishment of the Chi
Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people spoke only their local language. 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 (官話/官话, literally 'speech of officials').
- Sources of education
Chinese as a foreign or second language is when non-native speakers study Chinese varieties. The increased interest in China from those outside has led to a corresponding interest in the study of Standard Chinese as a foreign language, the official language of mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. However, the teaching of Chinese both within and outside China is not a recent phenomenon. Westerners began learning different Chinese varieties in the 16th century. Within China, Mandarin became the o
The interpretation of the Chinese language in the West began with some misunderstandings. Since the earliest appearance of Chinese characters in the West, the belief that written Chinese was ideographic prevailed. Such a belief led to Athanasius Kircher's conjecture that Chinese characters were derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphs, China being a colony of Egypt. John Webb, the British architect, went a step further. In a Biblical vein similar to Kircher's, he tried to demonstrate that Chinese w
Chinese is rated as one of the most difficult languages to learn for people whose native language is English, together with Arabic, Japanese and Korean. According to the Foreign Service Institute, a native English speaker needs over 2,200 hours of intensive study, taking 88 weeks, to learn Mandarin. A quote attributed to William Milne, Morrison's colleague, goes that learning Chinese is a work for men with bodies of brass, lungs of steel, heads of oak, hands of springsteel, hearts of apostles, m
Chinese courses have been blooming internationally since 2000 at every level of education. Still, in most of the Western universities, the study of the Chinese language is only a part of Chinese Studies or sinology, instead of an independent discipline. The teaching of Chinese as a foreign language is known as duiwai hanyu jiaoxue. The Confucius Institute, supervised by Hanban, promotes the Chinese language in the West and other parts of the world. The People's Republic of China began to accept
The languages most commonly spoken belong to the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which contains Mandarin (spoken by 70% of the population), and other varieties of Chinese language: Yue (including Cantonese and Taishanese), Wu (including Shanghainese and Suzhounese), Min (including Fuzhounese, Hokkien and Teochew), Xiang, Gan ...
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