The Great Wall Sign

Travel to the great wall in China

The Chinese language



The Chinese language is said to be the most widely spoken native language in the world. With over a billion native speakers, it truly has proven in recent years to be an international language of business, slowly but surely gaining ground on English. One problem is the relative lack of understanding that the public has about the Chinese language. Chinese is better understood as a large group of languages, and most of which are distant enough that two speakers of a different Chinese language do not tend to understand each other, or if they do it is only intelligible to a limited degree.


What is the language for china


Standard Chinese


Anyone thinking about learning a Chinese language who asks, “What is the language for China?” will learn that in most circumstances, it is Mandarin. The dialect of Beijing, the capitol, has become what is sanctioned as “Standard” Chinese. It has become the way for all Chinese people who are traveling to different parts of the country to have a standard vocabulary to better communicate with one another, and it is the language to learn for people who are interested in doing business in China. Mandarin Chinese originated as the language of government, and it is only natural that the language spoken in the capitol would be the framework for the language that government officials from all over the country, many speaking completely different languages, would have to learn. Once Mandarin became established as a universal communication tool throughout China, it inevitably became standard for business, science, national television, and any other circumstance that different groups of people would need to all understand. Indeed it is the dominant form of Chinese, with 850 million speakers!


Other Dominant Languages in China


Aside from Mandarin, there are quite a few other forms of the Chinese language that have a dominant role in their regions. The form spoken in and around Shanghai is called Wu, and there are roughly 90 million speakers. Wu is unique for being considered the most tender-sounding Chinese language. In southern China, in Hong Kong and the surrounding region, Cantonese is the dominant language. Also called Yue, it has over 70 million speakers, and though that number seems small at less than 20 percent of the total population, it is still quite a bit more than the total population of the U.K. Min is another dominant Chinese language with around 60 million speakers, mostly in the Southeast, as well as in the South around the island of Hainan, with a sizeable minority of speakers in Taiwan.


Standardized Writing


In spite of the huge diversity of languages in China, there is only one way to write them. That’s right, local newspaper articles in Shanghai or Hong Kong, aside from subtle regional differences, will read almost exactly the same as in Beijing. The student of a Chinese language, if found in a non-Mandarin speaking place, has only to pull out a pen and paper to be understood. The huge task, however, of anyone learning to read and write, including native speakers of a Chinese language, is the enormous number of characters found in Chinese script. At more than 50,000 single characters, one cannot help but pity the student faced with that task, but in reality basic adult-level reading will only utilize about 2,000 characters.

 

The Structure of the Chinese language


The Chinese language is described as a “highly isolating” language. This means that while most European languages use different forms of the same word to change the meaning, Chinese will include a separate word instead of a different form of the word. For example, Chinese does not have tense included in their verbs. There is no “he ate,” rather the tense is implied in context (think “last night he eat”). Plural forms of words do not exist either in Chinese, though this may sound confusing, it is the context that defines number. After all, in English no one has any difficulty telling the difference between one fish and twenty fish, even if the word fish is the same in the singular as it is in the plural. As far as the word order of Chinese, it is quite similar to that of English in that the subject comes first, followed by the verb, and ending with the object. The simple grammatical structure of Chinese makes it quite easy for the foreigner to learn, however, there are complications once the foreigner tries to actually speak.
Chinese is relatively unique in that it is what is called a “tonal” language. This means that the use of pitch levels changes the meaning of a word. For example, the sound fan, depending on how the pitch is raised or lowered during pronunciation, can mean “sail,” “trouble,” “turn,” or “rice.” Mandarin, having only four tonal options is relatively simple compared to the eight tones in Min Chinese and the nine tones in Cantonese. In English, though, we can see examples of tone changing mood. Think about how saying oh can show so many different things from excitement to disappointment and from confusion to understanding, and understanding the concept of Chinese tone should be no problem.


The Spread and Future of the Chinese language


While English still maintains the title of “International Language,” there has been an increasing tendency for business people to learn Chinese, and the Chinese language is poised to become more and more widely spoken as time goes by. The Chinese language, however, remains largely isolated from the rest of the world, not just culturally and linguistically, but geographically as well. The spread of European languages, as well as Arabic was largely brought across the world at the tip of the sword or by missionaries. While the English empire, and later the American extended to all corners of the globe, the Chinese have, throughout their long history, largely remained content to stay within their lands, leaving for commerce, and raising militaries only for defense.