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Diversity of Spoken Chinese and Eight Dialects
07/11/2008 19:59:45    Author : Yu    Browse : 678
Chinese people make an impressional strong distinction between written language and spoken language. English does not necessarily have this distinction. As a result the terms Zhongwen and Hanyu in Chinese are both translated in English as "Chinese".
Within China, it is common perception that these varieties are distinct in their spoken forms only, and that the language, when written, is common across the country. Therefore even though China is home to hundreds of relatively unique spoken languages, literate people are usually able to communicate through written language effectively.
Spoken Chinese is a dialect continuum. Differences between the spoken language generally become more pronounced as distances increase. However, the degree of intelligibility varies immensely depending on region. For example, the Mandarin spoken in all three northeastern Chinese provinces is mutually intelligible, but in the small province of Zhejiang a person from one valley may be completely unable to comprehend the language from the next valley, even though both are considered dialects of Wu Chinese. This unevenness of mutual intelligibility makes classification difficult.
The Chinese spoken languages are generally classified into the following groups:
  • Mandarin (836 million speakers) This is the group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, and makes up the largest spoken language in China. Standard Mandarin, called Putonghua or Guoyu in Chinese, which is often also translated as "Mandarin" or simply "Chinese", belongs to this group. It is the official spoken language of the People"s Republic of China, and Singapore. Mandarin Chinese is also the official language of the Republic of China, currently governing Taiwan, although there are minor differences in this standard from the form standardized in the PRC. Mandarin is characterized by four tones, compared to eight in Cantonese.
  • Wu (77 million) spoken in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and the municipality of Shanghai. Wu includes Shanghai dialect, sometimes taken as the representative of all Wu dialects.
  • Cantonese (Yue)(71 million) spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau, parts of Southeast Asia and by Overseas Chinese with an ancestry tracing back to the Guangdong region. Similar to Wu and Min, not all subgroups of Cantonese are mutually intelligible. Some dialects of Yue have intricate sets of tone compared to other Chinese dialects, with up to seven or eight tones.
  • Min (60 million) spoken in Fujian, Taiwan, parts of Southeast Asia particularly in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, and amongst Overseas Chinese who trace their roots to Fujian and Taiwan. The largest Min language is Hokkien, which is spoken in Southern Fujian, Taiwan, and by many Chinese in Southeast Asia and includes the Taiwanese, and Amoy dialects amongst others. Min is the only branch of Chinese that cannot be directly derived from Middle Chinese.
  • Xiang (36 million) spoken in Hunan. Xiang is usually divided into the "old" and "new" dialects, with the new dialects being significantly influenced by Mandarin.
  • Hakka (34 million) spoken by the Hakka people, a cultural group of the Han Chinese, in several provinces across southern China, in Taiwan, and in parts of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Singapore. The term "Hakka" itself translates as "guest families", and many Hakka people consider themselves to be descended from Song-era refugees from North China, although genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that the Hakka originated right around where they are today.
  • Gan (31 million) spoken in Jiangxi. In the past, it was viewed as closely related to Hakka dialects, because of the way Middle Chinese voiced initials have become voiceless aspirated initials, as in Hakka, and were hence called by the umbrella term "Hakka-Gan dialects". This term has, however, now become obsolete.
  • Hui (3.2 million) spoken in the southern parts of Anhui.
Jin spoken in Shanxi, as well as parts of Shaanxi, Hebei, Henan, and Inner Mongolia. It is often classed as a dialect of Mandarin. Pinghua (2 million) spoken in parts of the Guangxi. It is sometimes classed as a dialect of Cantonese. This is why we nomally say that in China there are 8 dialects, which are Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, Min, Xiang, Hakka, Gan and Hui. Outside of China, the only two spoken languages generally presented in formal courses are Standard Mandarin and Standard Cantonese.
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