The Chinese Language
Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages and is spoken by more than a billion people making it the most widely spoken language in the world. Mandarin happens to be the most widely spoken Chinese dialect, followed by Wu (Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan, Hakka and other dialects.
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Chinese is written using characters called ideographs. There are approximately 50,000 characters found in the standard Chinese dictionary. The majority of Chinese characters consist of two elements 1) a signific, which indicates the meaning of the word, and 2) a phonetic, which indicates the sound.
With around 1.2 billion people speak one or more varieties of Chinese million first language speakers, Mandarin is by far the most widely spoken language in the world. The vast majority of Mandarin speakers are found in mainland China and Taiwan, where it is the official language, as well as Singapore, where it is a co-official language.
Mandarin is also spoken by groups in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.1
The "Chinese Language" is really a collection numerous Chinese languages or dialects that are different enough from one another to be mutually unintelligible. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the main dialectical groups of Chinese are divided in this way:
- Mandarin (northern, central, and western China)
- Wu, Northern and Southern Min, Kan, Hakka, and Hsiang
- Cantonese (southeastern China)2
Because of the significant differences between the Chinese dialects, the language has always required a lingua franca to make communication possible among its different groups of speakers. Beginning with the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), attempts were made to create an official spoken Chinese. Initially, the official spoken language was based on the Nanjing dialect, but later the Mandarin dialect spoken around Beijing (known as guóyǔ) gained influence and took over the top spot.3 During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912) academies were established to promote the Beijing pronunciation as the standard for spoken Mandarin, but their success was limited. Nonetheless, by the time the Qing Dynasty had come to an end in the early part of the 20th Century, Standard Mandarin had come to be seen as the privileged spoken language for China. The ascendancy of Standard Mandarin continued through the split of the Republic of China into the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan in the late 1940s. In 1956, the PRC renamed Standard Mandarin pǔtōnghuà or "ordinary speech," which was not recognized by Taiwan. Despite this disagreement, the rules and conventions for Standard Mandarin in the PRC and Taiwan are still essentially the same.
Chinese Language Tips and Facts
- When working with Chinese remember it is a double-byte language and thus single-byte will not work. Double-byte Chinese character sets include: GB and Unicode for Chinese.
- Chinese names actually create visual representations imbued with meaning - thus when developing brands online or offline make sure your brand names carry meaning relevant to the Chinese consumer. Example, the P&G brand -Pamper means "helping baby's comfort" or the brand - Whispers means "protection and comfort"
- Chinese is full of homophones which are words with the same pronunciation as another word. Numbers like 8, 6, 9, are homophones for auspiciousness and prosperity. The number 8 reads as 'Fa' (Cantonese) which means "to make a great fortune in the near future".
- Chinese: simplified Chinese characters are mostly used in Mainland China and Singapore.
- Chinese can be written both vertically and horizontally.
- Chinese is generally written without any spaces between words, and even lines can be broken at any point. Chinese names should be written with surname first followed by the first name.
Below are some brief but important facts about the People's Republic of China:
People's Republic of China
Currency: Yuan (CNY)
Note: Also referred to as the Renminbi (RMB)
Government Type: Communist state
Population: 1,330,141,295 (July 2010 est.)
Internet Country Code: .cn
Internet Hosts in China: 15.251 million (2010)
Internet Users in China: 384 million (2010)
Mobile Users in China: 842 million (2010)
Languages in China: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect) (official), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects
For information on The Chinese language and Chinese translation, please see our Chinese Translation Library.
1 "CHINESE, MANDARIN: a language of China"
2 "Chinese languages" Encyclopædia Britannica from
Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
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