Chinese Language (1)

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1. Introduction of Chinese Language
Chinese or the Sinitic language(s) (汉语/漢語, Pinyin: Hànyǔ; 华语/華語, Huáyǔ; or 中文, Zhōngwén) can be considered a language or language family. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the two branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages[1]. About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over 1 billion people, speak some form of Chinese as their native language. The identification of the varieties of Chinese as "languages" or "dialects" is controversial.[2] As a language family Chinese has nearly 1.2 billion speakers; Mandarin Chinese alone has around 850 million native speakers, outnumbering any other languages in the world.

Spoken Chinese is distinguished by its high level of internal diversity, though all spoken varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. There are between six and twelve main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most populous (by far) is Mandarin (c. 850 million), followed by Wu (c. 90 million) and Cantonese (c. 80 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, though some, like Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some degree of intelligibility. Chinese is classified as a macrolanguage with 13 sub-languages in ISO 639-3, though the identification of the varieties of Chinese as multiple "languages" or as "dialects" of a single language is a contentious issue.

The standardized form of spoken Chinese is Standard Mandarin, based on the Beijing dialect. Standard Mandarin is the official language of the People's Republic of China as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. Chinese—de facto, Standard Mandarin—is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Of the other varieties, Standard Cantonese is common and influential in Cantonese speaking overseas communities, and remains one of the official languages of Hong Kong (together with English) and of Macau (together with Portuguese).

2. Spoken Chinese
The map below depicts the linguistic subdivisions ("languages" or "dialect groups") within China itself. The traditionally-recognized seven main groups, in order of population size are:
Mandarin 北方话/北方話 or 官話/官话, (c. 800 million),
Wu 吳/吴 , which includes Shanghainese, (c. 90 million),
Cantonese (Yue) 粵/粤, (c. 80 million),
Min 閩/闽, which includes Taiwanese, (c. 50 million),
Xiang 湘, (c. 35 million),
Hakka 客家 or 客, (c. 35 million),
Gan 贛/赣, (c. 20 million)

Chinese linguists have recently distinguished 3 more groups from the traditional seven:
Jin 晉/晋 from Mandarin
Hui 徽 from Wu
Ping 平話/平话 partly from Cantonese

There are also many smaller groups that are not yet classified, such as: Danzhou dialect, spoken in Danzhou, on Hainan Island; Xianghua (乡话), not to be confused with Xiang (湘), spoken in western Hunan; and Shaozhou Tuhua, spoken in northern Guangdong. The Dungan language, spoken in Central Asia, is very closely related to Mandarin. However, it is not generally considered "Chinese" since it is written in Cyrillic and spoken by Dungan people outside China who are not considered ethnic Chinese. See List of Chinese dialects for a comprehensive listing of individual dialects within these large, broad groupings.

The varieties of spoken Chinese in China
In general, the above language-dialect groups do not have sharp boundaries, though Mandarin is the pre-dominant Sinitic language in the North and the Southwest, and the rest are mostly spoken in Central or Southeastern China. Frequently, as in the case of the Guangdong province, native speakers of major variants overlapped. As with many areas that were linguistically diverse for a long time, it is not always clear how the speeches of various parts of China should be classified. The Ethnologue lists a total of 14, but the number varies between seven and seventeen depending on the classification scheme followed. For instance, the Min variety is often divided into Northern Min (Minbei, Fuchow) and Southern Min (Minnan, Amoy-Swatow); linguists have not determined whether their mutual intelligibility is large enough to sort them as separate languages.

In general, mountainous South China displays more linguistic diversity than the flat North China. In parts of South China, a major city's dialect may only be marginally intelligible to close neighbours. For instance, Wuzhou is about 120 miles upstream from Guangzhou, but its dialect is more like Standard Cantonese spoken in Guangzhou, than is that of Taishan, 60 miles southwest of Guangzhou and separated by several rivers from it (Ramsey, 1987).

(1) Standard Mandarin and diglossia
Putonghua / Guoyu, often called "Standard Mandarin", is the official standard language used by the People's Republic of China (where it is called "Putonghua"), Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau(where it is called "Guoyu"), and Singapore (where it is called "Huayu"). It is based on the Beijing dialect, which is the dialect of Mandarin as spoken in Beijing. The governments intend for speakers of all Chinese speech varieties to use it as a common language of communication. Therefore it is used in government, in the media, and in instruction in schools.

In both Mainland China and Taiwan, diglossia has been a common feature: it is common for a Chinese to be able to speak two or three varieties of the Sinitic languages (or “dialects”) together with Standard Mandarin. Together with putonghua, a resident of Shanghai may speak Shanghainese; a resident of Guangdong may speak Standard Cantonese, plus his or her local dialect; a resident of Taiwan, Taiwanese. A person living in Taiwan may commonly mix pronunciations, phrases, and words from Standard Mandarin and Taiwanese, and this mixture is considered socially appropriate under many circumstances. Similarly, in Hong Kong, standard Mandarin is beginning to take its place beside English and Standard Cantonese, the official language

(2) Language or language family?
Linguists often view Chinese as a language family, though owing to China's socio-political and cultural situation, and the fact that all spoken varieties use one common written system, it is customary to refer to these generally mutually unintelligible variants as “the Chinese language”. The diversity of Sinitic variants is comparable to the Romance languages.

From a purely descriptive point of view, "languages" and "dialects" are simply arbitrary groups of similar idiolects, and the distinction is irrelevant to linguists who are only concerned with describing regional speeches technically. However, the idea of a single language has major overtones in politics and cultural self-identity, and explains the amount of emotion over this issue. Most Chinese and Chinese linguists refer to Chinese as a single language and its subdivisions dialects, while others call Chinese a language family and its subdivisions languages.

Chinese itself has a term for its unified writing system, zhongwen (中文), while the closest equivalent used to described its spoken variants would be Hanyu (汉语,“spoken language[s] of the Han Chinese) – this term could be translated to either “language” or “languages” since Chinese possesses no grammatical numbers. In the Chinese language, there is much less need for a uniform speech-and-writing continuum, as indicated by two separate character morphemes 语 yu and 文 wen. Ethnic Chinese often consider these spoken variations as one single language for reasons of nationality and as they inherit one common cultural and linguistic heritage in Classical Chinese. Han native speakers of Wu, Min, Hakka, and Cantonese, for instance, may consider their own linguistic varieties as separate spoken languages, but the Han Chinese race as one – albeit internally very diverse – ethnicity. The idea of Chinese as a language family may suggest that the Chinese identity is much more fragmentary and disunified than it actually is, and as such is often looked upon as culturally and politically provocative by many Chinese natives and nationalists. Additionally, it is often used to legitimize secessionist movements, as in Taiwan, where some supporters of Taiwanese independence promote the local Taiwanese Minnan-based spoken language.

Within China and Singapore, it is common for the government to refer to all divisions of the Sinitic language(s) beside standard Mandarin as fangyan (“regional speeches”, often translated as “dialects”). Modern-day Chinese speakers of all kinds communicate using one formal standard written language, although this modern written standard is modeled after Mandarin, generally the modern Beijing substandard.

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