Mandarin (linguistics)

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(Redirected from Mandarin Chinese)
This article is on all of the Northern Chinese dialects. For the standardized official spoken Chinese language (Putonghua/Guoyu), see Standard Mandarin.
Mandarin (北方话)
Spoken in: China (the PRC and the ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Chinese communities around the world
Region: Most of northern and southwestern China; widely understood in the rest of China
Total speakers: 867.2 million
Ranking: 1
Genetic classification: Sino-Tibetan


Official status
Official language of: in standardized form: PRC, ROC, Singapore
Regulated by: in the PRC: various agencies (
in the ROC: Mandarin Promotion Council
in Singapore: Promote Mandarin Council/Speak Mandarin Campaign [1] (
Language codes
ISO 639-1zh
ISO 639-2chi (B) / zho (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Mandarin Template:Audio(Traditional: 北方話, Simplified: 北方话, Hanyu Pinyin: Běifānghu, lit. "Northern speech" OR 北方方言 Hanyu Pinyin: Běifāng Fāngyn, lit. "Northern dialects"), is a category of Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The term "Mandarin" can also refer to Standard Mandarin, which is based on the Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing. Standard Mandarin is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and one of the official spoken languages of Singapore. When taken as an independent language, as is often done in academic literature, Mandarin has more speakers than any other language.

"Mandarin" usually refers to only standard Mandarin in everyday usage. The broad academic concept of "Mandarin" encompasses a large number of linguistically related dialects, some less mutually intelligible than others, and is very rarely used outside of academic circles as a self-description. Instead, when asked to describe the spoken form they are using, Chinese speaking a form of Mandarin will describe the variant that they are speaking, for example Sichuan dialect or Northeast China dialect, and may not recognize that it is in fact classified by linguists as a form of "Mandarin". Nor is there a common "Mandarin" identity based on language, though there are strong regional identities centered around individual Mandarin dialects.

Like all other varieties of Chinese, there is plenty of dispute as to whether Mandarin is a language or a dialect. Please see here for the issues surrounding this dispute.



The present main divisions of the Chinese language developed out of Archaic Chinese and Middle Chinese.

Most Chinese living in a broad arc, from the north-east (Manchuria) to the south-west (Yunnan), use various Mandarin dialects as their home language. The prevalence of linguistic homogeneity (i.e. Mandarin) throughout northern China is largely the result of geography, namely the plains of north China. By contrast, the mountains and rivers of southern China have promoted linguistic diversity. The presence of Mandarin in southwest China is largely due to a plague in the 12th century in Sichuan. This plague, which may have been related to the black death, depopulated the area, leading to later settlement from north China.

There is no clear dividing line where Middle Chinese ends and Mandarin begins; however, the Zhongyuan Yinyun (中原音韵), a rhyme book from the Yuan Dynasty, is widely regarded as an important milestone in the history of Mandarin. In this rhyme book we see many characteristic features of Mandarin, such as the reduction and disappearance of final stop consonants and the reorganization of the Middle Chinese tones.

Click here for uncropped version

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese living in southern China did not speak any Mandarin. However, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various Chinese dialects, Beijingese Mandarin became dominant at least during the officially Manchu-speaking Qing Empire. Since the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies (正音書院 Zhengyin Shuyuan) in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard. But these attempts had little success.

This situation changed with the creation (in both the PRC and the ROC) of an elementary school education system committed to teaching Mandarin. As a result, Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in Mainland China and in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the language of education and formal speech remains Cantonese but Mandarin is becoming increasingly influential.

Name and classification

The English term comes from the Portuguese mandarim (from Malay menteri [2] ([3] ( from Sanskrit mantrin-, meaning minister); it is a translation of the Chinese term Guānhu (官話; simplified: 官话), which literally means the language of the mandarins (imperial magistrates). The term Guānhu is often considered archaic by Chinese speakers of today, though it is used sometimes by linguists as a collective term to refer to all varieties and dialects of Mandarin, not just standard Mandarin. Another term commonly used to refer to all varieties of Mandarin is Běifānghu (北方話, simplified: 北方话), or the dialect(s) of the North.

Standardized Mandarin

Main article: Standard Mandarin

From an official point of view, there are two versions of standardized spoken Mandarin, since the Beijing government refers to that on the Mainland as Putonghua, whereas the Taipei government refers to their official language as Kuo-y (Guoyu in pinyin).

Technically, both Putonghua and Guoyu base their phonology on the Beijing dialect, though Putonghua also takes some elements from other sources. Comparison of dictionaries produced in the two areas will show that there are few substantial differences. However, both versions of "school" Mandarin are often quite different from the Mandarin that is spoken in accordance with regional habits, and neither is identical to even Beijing dialect. Putonghua and Guoyu also differ from the Beijing dialect in vocabulary, grammar, and usage.

It is important to note that the terms "Putonghua" and "Guoyu" refer to speech, and hence the difference in the use of simplified characters and traditional characters is not usually considered to be a difference between these two concepts.


Missing image
Geographical distribution of Mandarin and other Chinese languages.

Main article: Dialects of Mandarin

There are regional variations in Mandarin. This is manifested in two ways:

  1. Various dialects of Mandarin cover a huge area containing nearly a billion people. As a result, there are pronounced regional variations in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar encountered as one moves from place to place. These regional differences are as pronounced as (or more so than) the regional versions of the English language found in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
  2. Standard Mandarin has been promoted very actively by the PRC, the ROC, and Singapore as a second language. As a result, native speakers of both Mandarin varieties and non-Mandarin Chinese varieties frequently flavor it with a strong infusion of the speech sounds of their native tongues.

Dialects of Mandarin can be subdivided into eight categories: Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Ji Lu Mandarin, Jiao Liao Mandarin, Zhongyuan Mandarin, Lan Yin Mandarin, Southwestern Mandarin, and Jianghuai Mandarin. Jin is sometimes considered the ninth category of Mandarin (others separate it from Mandarin altogether).

In both Mainland China and Taiwan, Mandarin in predominantly Han Chinese areas is taught by immersion starting in elementary school. After the second grade, the entire educational system is in Mandarin, except for local language classes that have been taught for a few hours each week in Taiwan starting in the mid-1990s.

However, the era of mass education in Mandarin has not erased these earlier regional differences. In the south, the interaction between Mandarin and local variations of Chinese has produced local versions of the "Northern" language that are rather different from that official standard Mandarin in both pronunciation and grammar.


See standard Mandarin for a description of Standard Mandarin phonology and dialects of Mandarin for an overview of the phonologies of Mandarin dialects.

The set of syllables in Chinese is very small, since each syllable has to be constructed after the pattern: "optional initial consonant followed by vowel followed by optional nasal". Not every syllable that is possible according to this rule is actually used, and in practice there are only a few hundred syllables. For example, Mandarin totally lacks the ending 'm' sound. People with a heavy Mandarin accent would often read 'time' as 'tie-mm'.


There are many more words in Mandarin with more than one syllable than in other varieties of Chinese. This is because Mandarin has undergone many more sound changes than have southern varieties of Chinese, and has needed to deal with many more homophones — usually by forming new words via compounding. This creates words with more than one syllable. (By contrast, Ancient Chinese had almost no words of more than one syllable.)

The pronouns in Mandarin are wǒ (我) "I", nǐ (你) "you", and tā (他/她) "he/she", with -men (们) added for the plural. Dialects of Mandarin agree with each other quite consistently on this, but not with other varieties of Chinese (e.g. Wu has 侬 "you").

In addition, there is znmen (咱们), a "we" that includes the listener, and nn (您), a deferential way of saying "you".

Other morphemes that Mandarin dialects tend to share are aspect and mood particles, such as -le (了), -zhe (着), and -guo (过). Other Chinese varieties tend to use different words in some of these contexts (e.g. Cantonese 咗 and 紧).

Owing to its closeness to Central Asia, Mandarin has some loanwords from Altaic languages not present in other varieties of Chinese, for example htong (胡同) "alley". Southern Chinese borrows more from Tai or Austronesian languages.


See also

External links


Chinese: spoken varieties

Mandarin | Jin | Wu | Hui | Xiang | Gan | Hakka | Yue | Pinghua | Min
Danzhouhua | Shaozhou Tuhua | Xianghua

Subcategories of Min: Min Dong | Min Bei | Min Zhong | Pu Xian | Min Nan | Qiong Wen | Shao Jiang
Note: The above is only one classification scheme among many.
Comprehensive list of Chinese dialects
Official spoken varieties: Standard Mandarin | Standard Cantonese
Historical phonology: Old Chinese | Middle Chinese | Proto-Min | Proto-Mandarin | Haner
Chinese: written varieties
Official written varieties: Classical Chinese | Vernacular Chinese
Other varieties: Written Cantonese

bg:Мандарин da:Mandarin (sprog) de:Mandarin es:Chino mandarn fr:Mandarin he:מנדרינית id:Bahasa Mandarin la:Lingua_Sinensis_Mandarinica ja:北京語 nl:Mandarijn (taal) pl:Języki mandaryńskie pt:Mandarim sv:mandarin (lingvistik) simple:Mandarin language th:ภาษาจีนกลาง zh:北方方言


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