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汉语/漢語, 华语/華語 or 中文
Hànyǔ, Huáyǔ, or Zhōngwén
Hanyu trad simp.svg
Hànyǔ (Chinese) written in Hanzi
Native to People's Republic of China (PRC, commonly known as China), Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan), Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mauritius, Peru, and other places with Chinese communities
Native speakers (1.2 billion cited 1984–2000)[1]
Language family
Standard forms
Wu (including Shanghainese)
Yue (including Cantonese-Taishanese)
Eastern Min (including Fuchow)
Southern Min (including Amoy, Taiwanese)
Teochew (including Swatow, Chaozhou, Jieyang, parts of Shanwei/Meizhou)
Writing system Chinese characters, zhuyin fuhao, pinyin, Xiao'erjing
Official status
Official language in

Flag of the United Nations.svg
 People's Republic of China

 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 Singapore (one of four official languages)
Flag of the Wa National Army.svg Wa State (alongside the Wa language)

Recognised minority language in  United States (minority and auxiliary)
 Malaysia (minority and auxiliary)
 Philippines (minority and auxiliary)
Regulated by In the PRC: National Commission on Language and Script Work[2]
In the ROC: National Languages Committee
In Singapore: Promote Mandarin Council/Speak Mandarin Campaign[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 zh
ISO 639-2 chi (B)
zho (T)
ISO 639-3 zhoinclusive 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
Linguasphere 79-AAA
New-Map-Sinophone World.PNG
Map of the Sinophone world.

Information:      Countries identified Chinese as 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 Chinese text. Without the correct software, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
Chinese languages (Spoken)
Traditional Chinese 漢語
Simplified Chinese 汉语
Literal meaning Han language
Chinese language (Written)
Chinese 中文
Literal meaning Chinese text

The Chinese language is the group of languages used by Chinese in China and elsewhere. It forms part of a language family called the Sino-Tibetan family of languages.

Chinese includes many regional language varieties, the main ones being Mandarin, Wu, Yue, and Min. These are not mutually intelligible,[4] and many of the regional varieties (especially Min) are themselves a number of non-mutually-intelligible subvarieties. Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese.[5] As a result, many linguists refer to these varieties as separate languages.[6]

'Chinese' can refer to the written or the spoken languages. Although there are many spoken Chinese languages, they use only one way of writing the language.[7] Differences in speaking are reflected in differences in writing. Official China adopts a similar policy to the one in the Soviet Union. All official documents are written in Mandarin, and Mandarin is taught all over China. They have one standard language for all of the schools in China and Taiwan. It is also a standard for language teaching in some other countries. In English we call it Mandarin. In China they call it "pu tong hua" or "common to everybody speech." In Taiwan they call it "Guo yu" or "language of the whole country". They need a standard language because otherwise even though they are in the same country many people could not understand each other.

The Chinese language is like a big tree. The base of the tree started thousands of years ago. It now has several main limbs. Some people call "just a branch" what other people call a main limb, so you can say there are six or seven main limbs. Each of these main limbs splits off into branches about the way there are branches of English spoken in Great Britain, the United States, Australia, India, and so forth. Line the Chinese limbs up by number of speakers and we get: Mandarin, the language spoken in an area centering on Shanghai, the language spoken in Guangdong province (Cantonese), the language spoken mostly in Fujian province (but also by many speakers in Taiwan), the language spoken mostly in Hunan province, a language that is historically that of a refugee group and so not so closely concentrated in any one area in south-east China (it is called "Hakka" or "guest family" speech), and a language spoken in an area that centers on Jiangxi province. Just as the Romance languages all come from the area around Rome and are based on Latin, the Chinese languages all have some common source, so they keep many common things among them.

Chinese is used by the Han people in China and other groups who have come into China and think of themselves as Chinese. Chinese is almost always written in Chinese characters. They are symbols that have meaning, called logograms. They also give some indication of pronunciation. But just as "Xavier" sounds very different in English (ex-aye-vee-er), French (za-vee-aye), and Spanish (hah-veer), the same character can get very different pronunciations among the seven main limbs of Chinese, or even sometimes from branch to branch. Since Chinese characters have been around for at least 3500 years, it is no wonder that people in places far from each other would say them differently, just as "1, 2, 3" can be read differently in different languages.

Chinese people needed to write down pronunciations in dictionaries. Chinese does not have an alphabet, so how to write down sounds was a big problem in the beginning. Nowadays the Mandarin language uses Hanyu pinyin to represent the sounds in Roman letters.

All the Chinese languages (or dialects) uses tones. This means that they use high and low pitches to help make differences in meaning clear. Chinese does not have very many syllables. For instance, the words for "mother," "hemp," "horse," "scold," and a kind of question-mark word put at the end of sentences to make them into questions are all pronounced "ma" in Mandarin. So for "mother" you say "ma" high and level. For "hemp" you say "ma" starting low and ending high." For "horse" you say "ma" starting fairly high, dipping very low, and then going back up again. For "scold" you say "ma" starting high and ending low. Then to make a question out of a statement you add "ma," but you keep it very soft and short, and about on the same level. Mandarin has "first tone," "second tone," "third tone," "fourth tone," and "neutral tone." Other Chinese languages have more tones, some as many as nine.

Different languages or dialects of Chinese

Branches in modern times are only shown for "Guan" (Language of the officials. Mandarin).

Here are the main seven main groups of languages/dialects of Chinese by size:

  • 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),
  • Xiang 湘, (about 35 million speakers),
  • Hakka 客家 or 客, (about 35 million speakers),
  • Gan 贛/赣, (about 20 million speakers)

Traditional and simplified characters

In 1956, the government of the People's Republic of China made public a set of simplified Chinese characters to make learning, reading and writing the Chinese language easier. In Mainland China and Singapore, people use these simpler characters. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places where they speak Chinese, people still use the more traditional characters. The Korean language also uses Chinese characters to represent certain words. The Japanese language uses them even more often. These characters are known in Korean as Hanja and in Japanese as Kanji.

A Chinese person with a good education today knows 6,000-7,000 characters. About 3,000 Chinese characters are needed to read a Mainland newspaper. However, people who have learned only the 400 most frequently used characters can read a newspaper—but they will have to guess some less-used words.


Here are some samples of some words and sentences in Mandarin Chinese. Simplified Characters are on the left, and Traditional characters are on the right. The pronunciation is given in the pinyin system, which may not always be as simple as it looks for those who have not studied it.

The Traditional Characters are now used in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese from Mainland China uses the Simplified Characters, but may recognize Traditional Characters.

Before 1956, Chinese was written using only Traditional Characters. At that time most Chinese people could not read or write at all. The government of the People's Republic of China thought that the Traditional characters were very hard to understand. They also thought that if they made the characters simpler more people could learn how to read and write. Today, many people in China can read and write with the new Simplified Characters.

Word Pinyin Simplified Traditional
How are you? Nǐ hǎo ma? 你好吗? 你好嗎?
What is your name? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi? 你叫什么名字? 你叫什麽名字?
America Měiguó 美国 美國
France Fǎguó 法国 法國
Britain Yīngguó 英国 英國
Germany Déguó 德国 德國
Russia Éguó 俄国 俄國
Thailand Tàiguó 泰国 泰國
Poland Bōlán 波兰 波蘭
Japan Rìbĕn 日本 日本
Pakistan Bājīsītǎn 巴基斯坦 巴基斯坦

Related pages


  1. Chinese language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. (Chinese)
  3. "Speak Mandarin Campaign". Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  4. This means a speaker from one region cannot understand a speaker from another region, unless they have also learnt that language.
  5. Norman J. 2003. The Chinese dialects: phonology. In Thurgood, Graham & LaPolla, Randy J. (eds) The Sino-Tibetan languages. Routledge, pp. 72–83. ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1
  6. DeFrancis, John 1984. The Chinese language: fact and fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1068-9
  7. As do European languages, which all use an alphabetic script.

Other websites

{{Link GA|zh-classica