Mandarin Chinese

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Mandarin
官話/官话 Guānhuà
Guanhua.png
Guānhuà (Mandarin)
written in Chinese characters
Region Most of northern and southwestern China
(see also Standard Chinese)
Native speakers 955 million  (2010)[1]
Language family
Early forms:
Dialects
Jin (sometimes a separate group)
Writing system Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Mainland Chinese Braille
Taiwanese Braille
Two-Cell Chinese Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cmn
Linguasphere 79-AAA-b
Idioma mandarín.png
Mandarin area, with Jin (sometimes treated as a separate group) in light green

Mandarin is the language of instruction of China and Taiwan.

Mandarin is one of five major regional languages of China. It spreads wider than any other regional language, from the whole northern part of China down to Yunnan Province in the southwest corner of China. In that big area there are many regional differences in vocabulary, so somebody who moves from Beijing to Yunnan could not understand people there who were speaking their own language, Yunnan hua. The problem is bigger than for a person in Great Britain or the United States to go to Australia. Therefore, starting in the 1920s, the Chinese government set up a national language based on the most widely understood words and pronunciations.

Mandarin is a standard language. It is nobody's native language, but a good average between various language forms and a common language everyone can understand and communicate with. It is based on the Beijing dialect but it is not the same as Beijing dialect.

In China, the language used in all schools is known as Standard Mandarin, Pu Tong Hua 普通话/普通話 meaning "common (spoken) language" or Han Yu 汉语/漢語 meaning "language of the Han. In places such as Malaysia it is known as Huayu. In Taiwan it is known as Guo Yu 国语/國語 meaning "national language." There are some minor differences in these standards.

Mandarin is spoken by over 800 million people around the world, more than any other language.

Standard Mandarin is one of the six official languages at the United Nations.

Writing[change | change source]

Mandarin is written with Chinese characters called Hàn zì (漢字 or 汉字). Each Hànzì has its own pronunciation and meaning. An ordinary dictionary will contain about 10,000 characters. Spoken Mandarin uses very many compound words, words that combine meanings the way English does in such terms as "machine gun," "fire truck," "playground," etc.

The Hanzi are ideograms: one character means one idea. The various concepts are derived from the ideograms by combining them. Mandarin can be also written phonetically (that is: written as it is spoken) with Latin alphabet as you really cannot see the spelling from Hanzi characters. That is called translitteration. The most popular translitteration system is called Pinyin.

Some Chinese characters were originally fairly concrete pictures of the things they represent. As time went on, people chose to write simpler versions that are easier to write but do not look so much like the real thing, just as we sometimes draw stick men rather than drawing people with real-looking bodies, arms, legs, etc. Here are some examples:

Archaic Seal script Traditional Modern Simplified Pinyin Gloss
Ren arch.png Ren sigil.png rén human
U5973-radical-38 early-form.svg Nuu sigil.png female human
Zi arch.png Zi sigil.png child
Ri arch.png Ri sigil.png sun
Yue arch.png Yue sigil.png yuè moon
Shan arch.png Shan sigil.png shān mountain
Chuan arch.png Chuan sigil.png chuān river
Shui arch.png Shui sigil.png shuǐ water
Yu arch.png Yu sigil.png rain
Zhu arch.png Zhu sigil.png zhú bamboo
Mu arch.png Mu sigil.png tree
Ma arch.png Ma sigil.png horse
Niao arch.png Niao sigil.png niǎo bird
Gui arch.png Gui sigil.png guī turtle
Long arch.png Long sigil.png lóng dragon

Most characters, however, are made by combining pictures, using one to give a general meaning, and the other to represent a sound. For instance, "媽 mā" (mom) is made by adding 女 (nǚ, human female) to 馬 (mǎ, horse). The "ma" part is only there to represent the sound.

In ancient Chinese, one character is generally enough for one word, but spoken Mandarin uses mostly compounds like "媽媽 māma," which is just "mama." Other examples show different ways of combining components:

  • 火車 huǒ chē (lit. fire vehicle) locomotive, train
  • 大人 dà rén (lit. big person) adult
  • 打開 dǎ kāi (lit. strike open) open up (door, window, envelope, etc.)

Just as the English used in Great Britain favors "petrol" but the English used in the United States almost always uses "gasoline," different regional languages in China may use different compound words to name the same thing.

Difference between Mandarin (Beijing Accent) and Beijing Dialect[change | change source]

Mandarin is defined and designed based on Beijing accent. In China, there are over 600,000 dialects and more accents although they all use Chinese language and characters, but their pronunciation and some expressions are totally different. China must find a standard pronunciation to make all people to understand and communicate. Beijing has been the capital city of China for more than 1,000 years, so China defined Beijing Accent as standard mandarin.

Beijing also has some local dialects that are not included by mandarin or standard Chinese language yet. But different from the other dialects, Beijing is capital city, political, economic, culture and education center of China, more and more new Beijing dialects have been or will be accepted as mandarin or standard Chinese language. (But, the other dialects, such as Shanghainese, Cantonese, Hakka etc., have few opportunities to be included into Mandarin or standard Chinese language or be accepted by the whole of China.)

The following samples are some Beijing dialects which are not accepted as standard mandarin yet by now. 倍儿: bei er means 'very much'; 拌蒜: ban suan means 'stagger'; 不吝: bu lin means 'do not worry about'; 撮: cuo means 'eat'; 出溜: chu liu means 'slip'; 大老爷儿们儿: da lao ye men means 'man, male';

The following samples are some Beijing dialects which have been already accepted as mandarin in recent years. 二把刀: er ba dao means 'not very skillful'; 哥们儿: ge men er means 'good male friends'; 抠门儿: kou men means 'parsimony'; 打小儿: da xiao er means 'since childhood'

Examples[change | change source]

  • 你好 - hello
  • 你好吗?- How are you?
  • 我 - me, I
  • 你 - you
  • 您 - you (Used only when out of respect)

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2010" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2010

Other websites[change | change source]