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Chinese Language and Main Dialects in China

January 7th, 2013 - by sheryl

The national language

The need to establish an official national language was felt as early as the 17th century when the Ch’ing dynasty established a number of “correct pronunciation institutes” to teach standard Peking pronunciation, particularly in the Cantonese and Fukienese-speaking southern provinces. The success of these schools, however, was extremely limited. The concept of a national language coalesced around 1910. In 1913, the Ministry of Education convened a Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation to establish a standard national tongue. Wu Ching-heng (also known as Wu Chih-hui, a philosopher and one of the founders of the Republic of China, was chosen to direct the task of creating a truly national language that would transcend locality and dialect. Due to the domination of the numerically superior Mandarin-speaking delegates, the Peking dialect was voted for the general foundation of the new national language ‘guoyu’ (national speech). It embodies the pronunciation of Peking, the grammar of the Mandarin dialects, and the vocabulary of modern vernacular Chinese literature, but features of various local dialects were also incorporated. Guoyu is now the official language of mainland China, Taiwan and one of the official languages of Singapore. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 it was renamed to putonghua (common language) . In 1956, it became the medium of instruction in all schools nationwide and a policy of promoting its use began. It is now the most widely used form of spoken Chinese. In Taiwan, it still goes under the name of guoyu, or ‘national speech’. In the West it is generally referred to Mandarin.


Mandarin or Guanhua is a family of related dialects spoken across most of northern and southwestern of mainland China. The Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing (Peking) functions as the official national language of the People’s Republic of China and termed Standard Chinese or Common language. Mandarin is also one of the official languages of Taiwan, as well as and one of the official languages of Singapore. It is termed Putonghua in mainland China, Guoyu in Taiwan, and Huayu by overseas Chinese communities.

Mandarin is spoken by more 1 billion people. It is the language of government, media, and education in mainland China and Taiwan. 70% of the Chinese people speak Mandarin and is the largest spoken dialect in China.
There are several Mandarin dialects, including Northern, Northwestern, Southwestern, Xia-jiang, and Southeastern Mandarin. There are also minor differences in the Mandarin standard between the mainland and Taiwan.


The Cantonese dialect is one of the major languages of the Chinese language group. It is the speech of the Cantonese people in parts of the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, as well as Hainan island, Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese of Cantonese origin. The accent as spoken in Guangzhou is considered the standard. Cantonese includes other dialects such as Taishan dialect or Waitau that are mutually unintelligible..
Cantonese is the de facto standard Chinese in Hong Kong SAR and in overseas Chinese communities.
Cantonese is spoken by about 45 million people (4.5% of Han population) in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and Hainan island in China, and also in Hong Kong, and Macao.

Hakka Chinese

The Hakka language is spoken in the provinces Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, and in Hong Kong, especially the New Territories, Taiwan, Hainan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Netherlands, Surinam, United Kingdom and other overseas Chinese communities of Hakka origin.The term “Hakka” itself translates as “guest families”, and about 40 million people speak the Hakka dialect The accent as spoken in Meixian (Moiyen) is considered as standard.

Together with Cantonese and Min, Hakka is another common Chinese variety among migrant Chinese communities.

(Article from Chineselanguage.org)


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