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Chinese Language And History
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Chinese Language and History
Chinese, unlike many other languages, denotes a large family of dialects and written forms. Spoken Chinese is especially complex with more than 5 recognized dialect groups, but even the written language has two recognized alphabets.
The written forms of Chinese language include a traditional alphabet and a simplified Chinese (Pinyin), which was originated in 1948 after the establishment of the People's Republic of China, to make the written lanuage more accessible to the general population.
Traditional Chinese language is still widely used throughout Asia and among Chinese populations around the world, while simplified Chinese is virtually universal in the People's Republic of China.
There is confusion about whether linguistic groups should be categorized as languages or dialects but it is usually accepted that there are five major dialect groups within the language group of Chinese. These are Mandarin, Wu, Min, Yue and Hakka.
Mandarin is the official language for both mainland China (known as Pu-Tong-Hua) and Taiwan (known as Guo-Yu) in spite of the huge political differences between the two countries. It is also one of the four official languages of Singapore (known as Hua-Yu).
Wu is spoken around the lower Yangzi River and its tributaries. Shanghainese is a well known variety of Wu.
Min is commonly spoken with local variations by people in Taiwan, Fujian and Hainan. In English, these local variations are considered dialects and are sometimes referred to as Fukkianese, Kokkianese, Amoy and Taiwanese.
Yue is primarily spoken in the province of Guangdong. Yue, including the well-known Cantonese (the language of Guangzhou -also known as Canton) is spoken in many part of the Chinese Diaspora, particularly Hong Kong and overseas Chinese settlements in the United States, Europe and South-east Asia. For this reason, many of the English words borrowed from Chinese have their origins in Cantonese, such as kumquat from Cantonese [kumquat] and chop suey from Cantonese [tsap sui].
Hakka is the least well-known dialect group outside of China compared to the above four. Most of the Hakka dialect group is scattered throughout southeastern China in Guangxi province and throughout the Min and Yue regions. Historically, the Hakka people were northerners who moved south during several waves of migration. Their name Hakka means "guest" indicating their immigrant status in the southern areas to which they moved.
What Makes Spoken Chinese Different from Other Languages?
The pitches or "tones" of spoken Chinese present speech difficulties for a person who is learning the language. With its tens of thousands of characters, Mandarin Chinese has only some than 400 syllables. As a result, a single sound can represent more than 100 different written characters. Tones and the use of compound syllables multiply the number of available word sounds. Some Chinese language groups, such as Cantonese, have more tones and syllabic sounds, and fewer compounds.
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