Chinese language

language group of the Sinitic languages

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

汉语/漢語华语/華語 or 中文
Hànyǔ, Huáyǔ or Zhōngwén
Hànyǔ (Chinese) written in Hanzi
Native toPeople's Republic of China (PRC, commonly known as China), Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan), Canada, Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Mauritius, Australia, the United States, the Philippines and other places with Chinese communities
Native speakers
(1.2 billion cited 1984–2000)[1]
Standard forms
Chinese characters, zhuyin fuhao, pinyin, Xiao'erjing
Official status
Official language in
 United Nations

 People's Republic of China
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 Singapore (one of four official languages)
Wa State (alongside the Wa language)

Recognised minority
language in
 United States (minority and auxiliary)
 Malaysia (minority and auxiliary)
 Philippines (minority and auxiliary)
 Kiribati (minority and auxiliary)
 Nauru (minority and auxiliary)
Regulated byIn 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 639-1zh
ISO 639-2chi (B)
zho (T)
ISO 639-3zho – inclusive 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
Map of the Sinophone world.


  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
Chinese languages (Spoken)
Traditional Chinese漢語
Simplified Chinese汉语
Literal meaningHan language
Chinese language (Written)
Literal meaningChinese text

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 are themselves a number of non-mutually-intelligible subvarieties.[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 the same writing system.[7] Differences in speaking are reflected in differences in writing. Official China has a similar policy to the one in the Soviet Union: one official language is used so people can understand each other. The Standard Chinese language is referred to as Mandarin in English, "Pǔtōnghuà" or "common to everybody speech" in mainland China and "Guóyǔ" or "language of the whole country" in Taiwan. All official documents in Pinyin are written in Mandarin and Mandarin is taught all over China. It is also a standard for language teaching in some other countries.

Chinese is used by the Han people in China and other ethnic groups in China who are declared Chinese by the Chinese government. Many people in autonomous regions of China speak other languages. Chinese is almost always written in Chinese characters. They are symbols that have meaning, called logograms. They also give some indication of pronunciation, but the same character can get very different pronunciations among the different kinds of Chinese. Since Chinese characters have been around for at least 3500 years, people in places far from each other 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) use tones. This means that they use high and low pitches to help make differences in meaning clear.

Different languages or dialects of Chinese


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. 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.

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 or "guest family" speech (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.


Spoken Mandarin Chinese

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


  1. Chinese language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. Archived 2015-12-18 at the Wayback Machine (in 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. Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (2003). The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Psychology Press. pp. 72–83. ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  6. DeFrancis, John (1986). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1068-9.
  7. European languages similarly all use an alphabetic script.

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