Mandarin (literally "speech of officials" or "Northern Dialect(s)"), is a category of related Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and south-western China. When taken as a separate language, as is often done in academic literature, the Mandarin language has more speakers than any other language. The "standard" in Standard Mandarin refers to the standard Beijing dialect of the Mandarin language.
In English, Mandarin can refer to either of two distinct concepts:
to Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin (Putonghua / Guoyu / Huayu), which is based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing. Standard Mandarin functions as the official spoken language of the People"s Republic of China, the official language of the Republic of China (Taiwan), and one of the four official languages of Singapore. ¡®Chinese¡¯ ¡ª in practice Standard Mandarin ¡ª is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
to all of the Mandarin dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China (Guanhua / Beifanghua / Beifang fangyan). This group of dialects is the focus of this article.
In everyday use, Mandarin refers usually to just Standard Mandarin (Putonghua/Guoyu). In its broader sense, Mandarin is a diverse group of related dialects, some less mutually intelligible than others. It is a grouping defined and used mainly by linguists, and is not commonly 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 non-Standard Mandarin will describe the variant that they are speaking, for example Southwestern Mandarin or Northeastern Mandarin, and consider it distinct from ¡®Standard Mandarin¡¯ (putonghua); they may not recognize that it is in fact classified by linguists as a form of ¡®Mandarin¡¯ in a broader sense. Nor is there a common ¡®Mandarin¡¯ identity based on language; rather, there are strong regional identities centred on individual dialects, because of the wide geographical distribution and cultural diversity of its speakers.