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Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...
, also known as Sinitic, is a branch of the
Sino-Tibetan language family Sino-Tibetan, also known as Trans-Himalayan in a few sources, is a family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationsh ...

Sino-Tibetan language family
consisting of hundreds of local
varieties Variety may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Algebraic variety, the set of solutions of a system of polynomial equations * Variety (universal algebra), classes of algebraic structures defined by equations in universal algebra Hort ...
, many of which are not
mutually intelligible In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
. Variation is particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast of mainland China. The varieties are typically classified into several groups:
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
, Wu, Min, Xiang,
Gan Gallium nitride () is a binary III/ V direct bandgap semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metal ...
,
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
and Yue, though some varieties remain unclassified. These groups are neither
clade A clade (), also known as a monophyletic group or natural group, is a group of organisms that are monophyly, monophyletic – that is, composed of a common ancestor and all its lineage (evolution), lineal descendants - on a phylogenetic tree. R ...

clade
s nor individual languages defined by mutual intelligibility, but reflect common phonological developments from
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
.
Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...
varieties differ most in their
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
, and to a lesser extent in
vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), m ...
and
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

syntax
. Southern varieties tend to have fewer initial consonants than northern and central varieties, but more often preserve the
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
final consonants. All have phonemic tones, with northern varieties tending to have fewer distinctions than southern ones. Many have
tone sandhi Tone sandhi is a phonological change occurring in tonal languages Tone is the use of pitch (music), pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflection, inflect words. All verbal langua ...
, with the most complex patterns in the coastal area from
Zhejiang Zhejiang (, ; , Chinese postal romanization, also romanized as Chekiang) is an East China, eastern, coastal Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China. Its capital and largest city is Hangzhou. Zhejiang is bordered ...

Zhejiang
to eastern
Guangdong Guangdong (, ), alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung, is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, admin ...

Guangdong
.
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
, a form of Mandarin, takes its phonology from the Beijing dialect, with vocabulary from the Mandarin group and grammar based on literature in the modern written vernacular. It is one of the
official languages An official language, also called state language, is a language given a special status in a particular jurisdiction (area), country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a country's official language refers to the language used in government (j ...
of
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical and 14 different countries, the in the world after . Covering an area of ap ...

China
.
Taiwanese Mandarin Taiwanese Mandarin or ''Guoyu'' ( zh, s=国语, t=國語, p=Guóyǔ, l=National Language, first=t) refers to any of the varieties of Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic languages, Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken ...

Taiwanese Mandarin
is one of the
official languages An official language, also called state language, is a language given a special status in a particular jurisdiction (area), country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a country's official language refers to the language used in government (j ...
of
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
. Standard Singaporean Mandarin is one of the four official languages of
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bor ...

Singapore
. Chinese (specifically,
Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic languages, Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of the phonology of Standard Chinese. Because Mandarin ...
) is one of the six official languages of the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization An intergovernmental organization (IGO) is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as ''member states''), or of other organizations through formal ...

United Nations
.


History

At the end of the 2nd millennium BC, a form of Chinese was spoken in a compact area around the lower
Wei River The Wei River () is a major river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course w ...
and middle
Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin: uə xɔ Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is ...
. From there it expanded eastwards across the
North China Plain 200px, The North China Plain is shown in dark. The Yellow River is shown as "Río Amarillo". The North China Plain () is a large-scale downfaulted rift basin formed in the late Paleogene The Paleogene ( ; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; ...
to
Shandong Shandong (; alternately romanized as Shantung) is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subn ...

Shandong
and then south into the valley of the
Yangtze River The Yangtze or Yangzi ( or ) is the longest river in Asia, the third-longest in the world and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises at Jari Hill in the Tanggula Mountains The Tanggula ( Chinese:  ...
and beyond to the hills of south China. As the language spread, it replaced formerly dominant languages in those areas, and regional differences grew. Simultaneously, especially in periods of political unity, there was a tendency to promote a central
standard Standard may refer to: Flags * Colours, standards and guidons * Standard (flag), a type of flag used for personal identification Norm, convention or requirement * Standard (metrology), an object that bears a defined relationship to a unit of ...
to facilitate communication between people from different regions. The first evidence of dialectal variation is found in texts from the
Spring and Autumn period #REDIRECT Spring and Autumn period#REDIRECT Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dyna ...
(771–476 BC). At that time, the
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
royal domain, though no longer politically powerful, still defined standard speech. The '' Fangyan'' (early 1st century AD) is devoted to differences in vocabulary between regions. Commentaries from the
Eastern Han#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...
period (first two centuries AD) contain much evidence of local differences in pronunciation. The ''
Qieyun The ''Qieyun'' () is a Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most ...
''
rhyme book ''Rhyme Book'' is the second studio album by New Zealand rapper Scribe (rapper), Scribe. It follows on from his 2003 award-winning album, ''The Crusader (album), The Crusader''. It was released on 29 September 2007. Background and release In an int ...
(601 AD) noted wide variation in pronunciation between regions, and set out to define a standard pronunciation for reading the classics. This standard, known as
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
, is believed to be a
diasystem In the field of dialectologyDialectology (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its populati ...
based on the reading traditions of northern and southern capitals. The
North China Plain 200px, The North China Plain is shown in dark. The Yellow River is shown as "Río Amarillo". The North China Plain () is a large-scale downfaulted rift basin formed in the late Paleogene The Paleogene ( ; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; ...
provided few barriers to migration, leading to relative linguistic homogeneity over a wide area in northern China. In contrast, the mountains and rivers of southern China have spawned the other six major groups of Chinese languages, with great internal diversity, particularly in
Fujian Fujian (; alternately romanized as Fukien or Hokkien) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnat ...

Fujian
.


Standard Chinese

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people spoke only their local language. As a practical measure, officials of the
Ming The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an eth ...

Ming
and
Qing The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n.''" Oxford University Press Oxford Univers ...
dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as ''Guānhuà'' (官話/官话, literally 'speech of officials'). Knowledge of this language was thus essential for an official career, but it was never formally defined. In the early years of the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. It shares Maritime boundary, maritime borders with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the sout ...
,
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
was replaced as the written standard by
written vernacular Chinese Written vernacular Chinese (), also known as Baihua, is the forms of written Chinese Written Chinese () comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabar ...
, which was based on northern dialects. In the 1930s a standard national language was adopted, with its pronunciation based on the
Beijing dialect The Beijing dialect (), also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin Chinese, Mandarin spoken in the urban area of Beijing, China. It is the phonological basis of Standard Chinese, the official language in the China, People's Repub ...
, but with vocabulary also drawn from other Mandarin varieties. It is the official spoken language of the
People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

People's Republic of China
and of the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. It shares Maritime boundary, maritime borders with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the sout ...

Republic of China
(Taiwan), and one of the
official languages An official language, also called state language, is a language given a special status in a particular jurisdiction (area), country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a country's official language refers to the language used in government (j ...
of
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bor ...

Singapore
. Standard Mandarin Chinese now dominates public life in mainland China, and is much more widely studied than any other variety of Chinese. Outside China and Taiwan, the only varieties of Chinese commonly taught in university courses are Standard Mandarin and
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
.


Comparison with Europe

Chinese has been likened to the
Romance languages The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) ...

Romance languages
of Europe, the modern descendants of
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...
. In both cases, the ancestral language was spread by imperial expansion over
substrate language In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
s 2000 years ago, by the
QinQin may refer to: Dynasties and states * Qin (state) (秦), a major state during the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China * Qin dynasty (秦), founded by the Qin state in 221 BC and ended in 206 BC * Daqin (大秦), ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empi ...

Qin
Han Han may refer to: Ethnic groups * Han Chinese The Han Chinese,
. Huayuqiao.org. Retrieved on ...

Han
empire in China and the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of governme ...

Roman Empire
in Europe. In
Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical r ...

Western Europe
,
Medieval Latin Medieval Latin was the form of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share ...
remained the standard for scholarly and administrative writing for centuries, and influenced local varieties, as did
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
in China. In both Europe and China, local forms of speech diverged from the written standard and from each other, producing extensive
dialect continua A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a spread of language variety, language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties differ only slightly, but the differences accumulate over distance so that widely separ ...
, with widely separated varieties being mutually unintelligible. On the other hand, there are major differences. In China, political unity was restored in the late 6th century (by the
Sui dynasty The Sui dynasty (, ) was a short-lived Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China of pivotal significance. The Sui unified the Northern and Southern dynasties and reinstalled the rule of ethnic Han Chinese, Han in the entirety of ...

Sui dynasty
) and has persisted (with relatively brief interludes of division) until the present day. Meanwhile, Europe remained fragmented and developed numerous independent states. Vernacular writing, facilitated by the alphabet, supplanted Latin, and these states developed their own
standard language A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety In sociolinguistics, a variety, also called an isolect or lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include language ...
s. In China, however, Literary Chinese maintained its monopoly on formal writing until the start of the 20th century. The
morphosyllabic A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, p ...
writing, read with varying local pronunciations, continued to serve as a source of vocabulary and idioms for the local varieties. The new national standard,
Vernacular Chinese Written vernacular Chinese (), also known as Baihua, is the forms of written Chinese Written Chinese () comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabar ...
, the written counterpart of spoken Standard Chinese, is also used as a literary form by literate speakers of all varieties.


Classification

Dialectologist Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese. These varieties form a
dialect continuum A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a series of language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties are mutually intelligible In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of languag ...
, in which differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, although there are also some sharp boundaries. However, the rate of change in mutual intelligibility varies immensely depending on region. For example, the varieties of Mandarin spoken in all three northeastern Chinese provinces are mutually intelligible, but in the province of
Fujian Fujian (; alternately romanized as Fukien or Hokkien) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnat ...

Fujian
, where Min varieties predominate, the speech of neighbouring counties or even villages may be mutually unintelligible.


Dialect groups

Classifications of Chinese varieties in the late 19th century and early 20th century were based on impressionistic criteria. They often followed river systems, which were historically the main routes of migration and communication in southern China. The first scientific classifications, based primarily on the evolution of
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
voiced initials, were produced by Wang Li in 1936 and
Li Fang-Kuei Li Fang-Kuei (20 August 190221 August 1987) was a Chinese linguist known for his studies of the varieties of Chinese, and for his reconstructions of Old Chinese and Proto-Tai. Biography Li Fang-Kuei was born on 20 August 1902 in Guangzhou ...
in 1937, with minor modifications by other linguists since. The conventionally accepted set of seven dialect groups first appeared in the second edition of
Yuan Jiahua Yuan Jiahua (, ; January 19034 September 1980) was a Chinese linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Si ...
's dialectology handbook (1961): ;
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
:This is the group spoken in northern and southwestern China and has by far the most speakers. This group includes the
Beijing dialect The Beijing dialect (), also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin Chinese, Mandarin spoken in the urban area of Beijing, China. It is the phonological basis of Standard Chinese, the official language in the China, People's Repub ...
, which forms the basis for
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
, called ''Putonghua'' or ''Guoyu'' in Chinese, and often also translated as "Mandarin" or simply "Chinese". In addition, the
Dungan language Dungan ( or ) is a Sinitic languages, Sinitic language spoken primarily in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan by the Dungan people, an ethnic group related to the Hui people of China. Although it is derived from the Central Plains Mandarin of Gansu and ...
of
Kyrgyzstan russian: Киргизская Республика, Kirgizskaya Respublika , image_flag = Flag of Kyrgyzstan.svg , image_coat = Emblem of Kyrgyzstan.svg , symbol_type = Emblem , motto = " ...

Kyrgyzstan
and
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan ( kk, Қазақстан, Qazaqstan; russian: Казахстан, Kazakhstan), officially the Republic of Kazakhstan,; russian: Республика Казахстан, Respublika Kazakhstan, link=no) is a country located mainly in ...

Kazakhstan
is a Mandarin variety written in the
Cyrillic script The Cyrillic script ( ) is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia and is used as the national script in various Slavic languages, Slavic, Turkic languages, Turkic, Mongolic languages, Mongolic, Uralic languages, Uralic, Caucas ...
. ; Wu :These varieties are spoken in
Shanghai Shanghai (, , Standard Chinese, Standard Mandarin pronunciation: ) is one of the four Direct-administered municipalities of China, direct-administered municipalities of the China, People's Republic of China. The city is located on the sou ...

Shanghai
, most of
Zhejiang Zhejiang (, ; , Chinese postal romanization, also romanized as Chekiang) is an East China, eastern, coastal Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China. Its capital and largest city is Hangzhou. Zhejiang is bordered ...

Zhejiang
and the southern parts of
Jiangsu Jiangsu (; ; Postal romanization, formerly romanized Kiangsu) is an eastern-central coastal Provinces of the People's Republic of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China. It is one of the leading provinces in finance, education, ...

Jiangsu
and
Anhui Anhui (; Postal romanization, formerly romanized as Anhwei) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China, part of the East China region. Its provincial capital and largest city is Hefei. The province is l ...

Anhui
. The group comprises hundreds of distinct spoken forms, many of which are not mutually intelligible. The
Suzhou dialect The Suzhou dialect (; Suzhounese: ''Sou-tseu ghé-ghô'' ), also known as Suzhounese, is the variety of Chinese traditionally spoken in the city of Suzhou Suzhou (; ; , Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bu ...
is usually taken as representative, because
Shanghainese Shanghainese, also known as the Shanghai language, Shanghai dialect, or Hu language, is a Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages spoken primarily i ...
features several atypical innovations. Wu varieties are distinguished by their retention of voiced or murmured
obstruentAn obstruent () is a speech sound such as , , or that is formed by ''obstructing'' airflow. Obstruents contrast with sonorant In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant or resonant is a speech sound that is manner of articulation, produced with continuo ...
initials ( stops,
affricates An affricate is a consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pr ...
and
fricatives Fricatives are consonants manner of articulation, produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two Place of articulation, articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the bac ...
). ;
Gan Gallium nitride () is a binary III/ V direct bandgap semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metal ...
:These varieties are spoken in
Jiangxi Jiangxi (; ; alternately romanized as Kiangsi or Chianghsi, Gan Chinese Gan, Gann or Kan is a group of Sinitic languages spoken first language, natively by many people in the Jiangxi province of China, as well as significant populations in ...

Jiangxi
and neighbouring areas. The Nanchang dialect is taken as representative. In the past, Gan was viewed as closely related to
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
because of the way Middle Chinese voiced initials became voiceless aspirated initials as in Hakka, and were hence called by the umbrella term "Hakka–Gan dialects". ; Xiang :The Xiang varieties are spoken in
Hunan Hunan (, ; ) is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdi ...

Hunan
and southern
Hubei Hubei (; ; alternately Hupeh) is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity ...

Hubei
. The New Xiang varieties, represented by the
Changsha dialect Changsha dialect () is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha Changsha is the capital and most populous city of Hunan, Hunan Province in the South Central China, south central part of the China, People's ...
, have been significantly influenced by Southwest Mandarin, whereas
Old Xiang Old Xiang, also known as Lou-Shao (娄邵片 / 婁邵片), is a conservative Xiang Chinese language. It is spoken in the central areas of Hunan Hunan () is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division within ...
varieties, represented by the Shuangfeng dialect, retain features such as voiced initials. ; Min :These varieties originated in the mountainous terrain of
Fujian Fujian (; alternately romanized as Fukien or Hokkien) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnat ...

Fujian
and eastern
Guangdong Guangdong (, ), alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung, is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, admin ...

Guangdong
, and form the only branch of Chinese that cannot be directly derived from
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
. It is also the most diverse, with many of the varieties used in neighbouring counties—and, in the mountains of western Fujian, even in adjacent villages—being mutually unintelligible. Early classifications divided Min into Northern and Southern subgroups, but a survey in the early 1960s found that the primary split was between inland and coastal groups. Varieties from the coastal region around
Xiamen Xiamen ( , ; ), also known as Amoy (, from Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ...

Xiamen
have spread to Southeast Asia, where they are known as
Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucr ...
(named from a dialectical pronunciation of "Fujian"), and Taiwan, where they are known as
Taiwanese Taiwanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Taiwan (Formosa) * Taiwanese aborigines, the indigenous people of Taiwan * Han Taiwanese, the Han people of Taiwan * Taiwanese people, residents of Taiwan or people of Taiwanese descent * Taiwan ...
. Other offshoots of Min are found in
Hainan Hainan (, ; ) is the smallest and southernmost province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational enti ...

Hainan
and the
Leizhou Peninsula The Leizhou Peninsula, Chinese postal romanization, alternately romanized as the Luichow Peninsula, is a peninsula in the southernmost part of Guangdong, Guangdong Province in South China. History Qing naval forces were stationed at the Leizho ...
, with smaller communities throughout southern China. ;
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
:The
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
(literally "guest families") are a group of
Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the directions north North is one of the four ...
living in the hills of northeastern Guangdong, southwestern Fujian and many other parts of southern China, as well as
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
and parts of Southeast Asia such as
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bor ...

Singapore
,
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is the geographical southeastern subregion of Asia, consisting of the regions ...

Malaysia
and
Indonesia Indonesia ( ), officially the Republic of Indonesia ( id, Republik Indonesia, links=yes ), is a country in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is t ...

Indonesia
. The
Meixian dialect Meixian dialect (; Pha̍k-fa-sṳ: Mòi-yan-fa; IPA: ), also known as Moiyan dialect, as well as Meizhou dialect(), or Jiaying dialect, is the prestige dialect In sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of an ...
is the prestige form. Most Hakka varieties retain the full complement of nasal endings, -m -n -ŋ and stop endings -p -t -k, though there is a tendency for Middle Chinese velar codas -ŋ and -k to yield dental codas -n and -t after front vowels. ; Yue :These varieties are spoken in
Guangdong Guangdong (, ), alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung, is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, admin ...

Guangdong
,
Guangxi Guangxi (; alternately romanized as Kwanghsi; ; za, Gvangjsih), officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomous area, entity, uni ...

Guangxi
,
Hong Kong Hong Kong (; , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR), is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Pe ...

Hong Kong
and
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. Lond ...

Macau
, and have been carried by immigrants to Southeast Asia and many other parts of the world. The
prestige variety In sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural Norm (sociology), norms, expectations, and context (language use), context, on the way language is used, and societ ...
and by far most commonly spoken variety is
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
, from the city of
Guangzhou Guangzhou (, ; ; or ; ), also known as Canton and alternatively romanized as Kwongchow or Kwangchow, is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the ...

Guangzhou
(historically called "Canton"), which is also the native language of the majority in Hong Kong and Macau.
Taishanese Taishanese, or in the Cantonese romanization Toisanese (; Taishanese: ), is a language of Yue Chinese Yue () is a group of similar Sinitic languages The Sinitic languages, often synonymous with "Chinese languages", constitute the ma ...
, from the coastal area of
Jiangmen Jiangmen, alternately romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and mode ...

Jiangmen
southwest of Guangzhou, was historically the most common Yue variety among overseas communities in the West until the late 20th century. Not all Yue varieties are mutually intelligible. Most Yue varieties retain the full complement of Middle Chinese word-final consonants () and have rich inventories of tones. The ''
Language Atlas of China The ''Language Atlas of China'' (), published in two parts in 1987 and 1989, maps the distribution of both the varieties of Chinese Variety may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Algebraic variety Algebraic varieties are the centr ...
'' (1987) follows a classification of Li Rong, distinguishing three further groups: ; Jin :These varieties, spoken in
Shanxi Shanxi (; ; Chinese postal romanization, formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is ...

Shanxi
and adjacent areas, were formerly included in Mandarin. They are distinguished by their retention of the Middle Chinese
entering tone A checked tone, commonly known by the Chinese calque In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. ...
category. ;
Huizhou Huizhou ( zh, c= ) is a city in central-east Guangdong Guangdong (, ), alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung, is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, ...
:The Hui dialects, spoken in southern
Anhui Anhui (; Postal romanization, formerly romanized as Anhwei) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China, part of the East China region. Its provincial capital and largest city is Hefei. The province is l ...

Anhui
, share different features with Wu, Gan and Mandarin, making them difficult to classify. Earlier scholars had assigned to them one or other of these groups, or to a group of their own. ;
Pinghua Pinghua (; : ''Pìhng Wá''; sometimes disambiguated as /) is a pair of spoken mainly in parts of the , with some speakers in province. Pinghua is a in some areas of Guangxi, where it is spoken as a second language by speakers of . Some spea ...
:These varieties are descended from the speech of the earliest Chinese migrants to
Guangxi Guangxi (; alternately romanized as Kwanghsi; ; za, Gvangjsih), officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomous area, entity, uni ...

Guangxi
, predating the later influx of Yue and Southwest Mandarin speakers. Some linguists treat them as a mixture of Yue and Xiang. Some varieties remain unclassified, including the
Danzhou dialect The Danzhou dialect (), locally known as Xianghua (), is a Chinese variety of uncertain affiliation spoken in the area of Danzhou in northwestern Hainan Hainan () is the smallest and southernmost provinces of China, province of the China, ...
of northwestern
Hainan Hainan (, ; ) is the smallest and southernmost province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational enti ...

Hainan
, Waxiang, spoken in a small strip of land in western
Hunan Hunan (, ; ) is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdi ...

Hunan
, and
Shaozhou Tuhua Shaozhou Tuhua (traditional: 韶州土話; simplified: 韶州土话 ''Sháozhōu Tǔhuà'' "Shaoguan tuhua"), or simply Tuhua, is an unclassified Varieties of Chinese, Chinese variety spoken in the northern region of the Guangdong and Guangxi provi ...
, spoken in the border regions of Guangdong, Hunan, and Guangxi. This region is an area of great linguistic diversity but has not yet been conclusively described. Most of the vocabulary of the
Bai language The Bai language (Bai: ; ) is a language spoken in China, primarily in Yunnan, Yunnan Province, by the Bai people. The language has over a million speakers and is divided into three or four main dialects. Bai syllables are always open, with a rich ...
of
Yunnan Yunnan () is a landlocked Provinces of China, province in Southwest China, the southwest of the People's Republic of China. The province spans approximately and has a population of 48.3 million (as of 2018). The capital of the province is Ku ...

Yunnan
appears to be related to Chinese words, though many are clearly loans from the last few centuries. Some scholars have suggested that it represents a very early branching from Chinese, while others argue that it is a more distantly related
Sino-Tibetan language Sino-Tibetan, also known as Trans-Himalayan in a few sources, is a family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationsh ...
overlaid with two millennia of loans.


Relationships between groups

Jerry Norman classified the traditional seven dialect groups into three larger groups: Northern (Mandarin), Central (Wu, Gan, and Xiang) and Southern (Hakka, Yue, and Min). He argued that the Southern Group is derived from a standard used in the Yangtze valley during the
Han dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han dynasty
(206 BC – 220 AD), which he called Old Southern Chinese, while the Central group was transitional between the Northern and Southern groups. Some dialect boundaries, such as between Wu and Min, are particularly abrupt, while others, such as between Mandarin and Xiang or between Min and Hakka, are much less clearly defined. Scholars account for the transitional nature of the central varieties in terms of
wave model In historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and account for observed changes ...
s. Iwata argues that innovations have been transmitted from the north across the
Huai River The Huai River (), formerly romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken ...
to the
Lower Yangtze Mandarin Lower Yangtze Mandarin () is one of the most divergent and least mutually-intelligible of the Mandarin languages, as it neighbours the Wu, Hui, and Gan groups of Sinitic languages. It is also known as Jiang–Huai Mandarin (), named after th ...
area and from there southeast to the Wu area and westwards along the
Yangtze River The Yangtze or Yangzi ( or ) is the longest river in Asia, the third-longest in the world and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises at Jari Hill in the Tanggula Mountains The Tanggula ( Chinese:  ...
valley and thence to southwestern areas, leaving the hills of the southeast largely untouched.


Quantitative similarity

A 2007 study compared fifteen major urban dialects on the objective criteria of lexical similarity and regularity of sound correspondences, and subjective criteria of intelligibility and similarity. Most of these criteria show a top-level split with Northern, New Xiang, and
Gan Gallium nitride () is a binary III/ V direct bandgap semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metal ...
in one group and Min (samples at Fuzhou, Xiamen, Chaozhou),
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
, and Yue in the other group. The exception was phonological regularity, where the one Gan dialect ( Nanchang Gan) was in the Southern group and very close to Meixian Hakka, and the deepest phonological difference was between
Wenzhounese Wenzhounese (), also known as Oujiang (), Tong Au () or Auish (), is the language spoken in Wenzhou, the southern prefecture of Zhejiang Zhejiang (, formerly romanized as Chekiang) is an eastern, coastal Provinces of China, province of th ...
(the southernmost Wu dialect) and all other dialects. The study did not find clear splits within the Northern and Central areas: *Changsha (New Xiang) was always within the Mandarin group. No Old Xiang dialect was in the sample. *Taiyuan ( Jin or Shanxi) and Hankou (Wuhan, Hubei) were subjectively perceived as relatively different from other Northern dialects but were very close in mutual intelligibility. Objectively, Taiyuan had substantial phonological divergence but little lexical divergence. *Chengdu (Sichuan) was somewhat divergent lexically but very little on the other measures. The two Wu dialects (Wenzhou and Suzhou) occupied an intermediate position, closer to the Northern/New Xiang/Gan group in lexical similarity and strongly closer in subjective intelligibility but closer to Min/Hakka/Yue in phonological regularity and subjective similarity, except that Wenzhou was farthest from all other dialects in phonological regularity. The two Wu dialects were close to each other in lexical similarity and subjective similarity but not in mutual intelligibility, where Suzhou was actually closer to Northern/Xiang/Gan than to Wenzhou. In the Southern subgroup, Hakka and Yue grouped closely together on the three lexical and subjective measures but not in phonological regularity. The Min dialects showed high divergence, with Min Fuzhou (
Eastern Min Eastern Min or Min Dong (, Foochow Romanized: Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄), is a branch of the Min Chinese, Min group of Sinitic languages of China. The prestige form and most-cited representative form is the Fuzhou dialect, the speech of the capital ...
) grouped only weakly with the
Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucrac ...
dialects of
Xiamen Xiamen ( , ; ), also known as Amoy (, from Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ...
and
Chaozhou Chaozhou (), alternatively Chiuchow, Chaochow or Teochew, is a city in the eastern Guangdong Guangdong ( alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung) is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division w ...
on the two objective criteria and was actually slightly closer to Hakka and Yue on the subjective criteria.


Terminology

Local varieties from different areas of China are often mutually unintelligible, differing at least as much as different
Romance languages The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) ...

Romance languages
and perhaps even as much as
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, based on speech and gesture (spoken language), Signed language, sign, or o ...
as a whole. These varieties form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family (with Bai sometimes being included in this grouping). Because speakers share a
standard written form The Standard Written Form or SWF ( kw, Furv Skrifys Savonek) of the Cornish language . Cornish ( Standard Written Form: or ) is a Southwestern Brittonic languages, Brittonic language of the Celtic language family. It is a List of revived langu ...
, and have a common cultural heritage with long periods of political unity, the varieties are popularly perceived among native speakers as variants of a single Chinese language, and this is also the official position. Conventional English-language usage in Chinese linguistics is to use ''dialect'' for the speech of a particular place (regardless of status) while regional groupings like Mandarin and Wu are called ''dialect groups''.
ISO 639-3 ISO 639-3:2007, ''Codes for the representation of names of languages – Part 3: Alpha-3 code for comprehensive coverage of languages'', is an international standard for language code A language is a structured system of communication us ...
follows the ''
Ethnologue ''Ethnologue: Languages of the World'' (stylized as Ethnoloɠue) is an annual reference publication in print and online that provides statistics and other information on the living language A language is a structured system of communicat ...
'' in assigning language codes to eight of the top-level groups listed above (all but Min and Pinghua) and five subgroups of Min. Other linguists choose to refer to the major groupings as languages. Sinologist David Moser stated that the Chinese authorities refer to them as "dialects" as a way to reinforce China as being a single nation. In Chinese, the term '' fāngyán'' is used for any regional subdivision of Chinese, from the speech of a village to major branches such as
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
and Wu. Linguists writing in Chinese often qualify the term to distinguish different levels of classification. All these terms have customarily been translated into English as ''dialect'', a practice that has been criticized as confusing. The neologisms ''regionalect'' and ''topolect'' have been proposed as alternative renderings of ''fāngyán''. The only varieties usually recognized as languages in their own right are Dungan language, Dungan and Taz language, Taz. This is mostly due to political reasons as they are spoken in the former Soviet Union and are usually not written in Han characters but in Cyrillic. Dungan is in fact a variety of Mandarin, with high although asymmetric mutual intelligibility with Standard Mandarin. Various mixed languages, particularly those spoken by ethnic minorities, are also referred to as languages such as Tangwang language, Tangwang, Wutun language, Wutun, and E language, E. The Ministry of Education (Taiwan), Taiwanese Ministry of Education uses the terms "Minnan language" and "Taiwan Minnan language".


Phonology

The usual unit of analysis is the syllable, traditionally analysed as consisting of an initial consonant, a final and a tone (linguistics), tone. In general, southern varieties have fewer initial consonants than northern and central varieties, but more often preserve the
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country ...
final consonants. Some varieties, such as
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
and the Shanghai dialect, include syllabic nasals as independent syllables.


Initials

In the 42 varieties surveyed in the ''Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects'', the number of initials (including a zero initial) ranges from 15 in some southern dialects to a high of 35 in the dialect of Chongming Island,
Shanghai Shanghai (, , Standard Chinese, Standard Mandarin pronunciation: ) is one of the four Direct-administered municipalities of China, direct-administered municipalities of the China, People's Republic of China. The city is located on the sou ...

Shanghai
. The initial system of the Fuzhou dialect of northern
Fujian Fujian (; alternately romanized as Fukien or Hokkien) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnat ...

Fujian
is a minimal example. With the exception of , which is often merged with the zero initial, the initials of this dialect are present in all Chinese varieties, although several varieties do not distinguish from . However, most varieties have additional initials, due to a combination of innovations and retention of distinctions from Middle Chinese: * Most non-Min varieties have a Voiceless labiodental fricative, labiodental fricative , which developed from Middle Chinese bilabial stops in certain environments. * The voiced initials of Middle Chinese are retained in Wu dialects such as Suzhou and Shanghai dialect, Shanghai, as well as
Old Xiang Old Xiang, also known as Lou-Shao (娄邵片 / 婁邵片), is a conservative Xiang Chinese language. It is spoken in the central areas of Hunan Hunan () is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division within ...
dialects and a few Gan dialects, but have merged with voiceless initials elsewhere. * The Middle Chinese Retroflex consonant, retroflex initials are retained in many Mandarin dialects, including Beijing but not southwestern and southeastern Mandarin varieties. * In many northern and central varieties there is Palatalization (sound change), palatalization of dental affricates, Velar consonant, velars (as in Suzhou), or both. In some places, including Beijing, palatalized dental affricates and palatalized velars have merged to form a new palatal series.


Finals

Chinese finals may be analysed as an optional medial semivowel, glide, a main vowel and an optional coda. Conservative vowel systems, such as those of Gan dialects, have high vowels , and , which also function as medials, mid vowels and , and a low -like vowel. In other dialects, including Mandarin dialects, has merged with , leaving a single mid vowel with a wide range of allophones. Many dialects, particularly in northern and central China, have apical or retroflex vowels, which are syllabic fricatives derived from high vowels following sibilant initials. In many Wu dialects, vowels and final glides have monophthongized, producing a rich inventory of vowels in open syllables. Reduction of medials is common in Yue dialects. The Middle Chinese codas, consisting of glides and , nasals , and , and stops , and , are best preserved in southern dialects, particularly Yue dialects such as
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
. In Jin,
Lower Yangtze Mandarin Lower Yangtze Mandarin () is one of the most divergent and least mutually-intelligible of the Mandarin languages, as it neighbours the Wu, Hui, and Gan groups of Sinitic languages. It is also known as Jiang–Huai Mandarin (), named after th ...
and Wu dialects, the stops have merged as a final glottal stop, while in most northern varieties they have disappeared. In Mandarin dialects final has merged with , while some central dialects have a single nasal coda, in some cases realized as a nasal vowel, nasalization of the vowel.


Tones

All varieties of Chinese, Areal feature, like neighbouring languages in the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, have phonemic tones. Each syllable may be pronounced with between three and seven distinct pitch contours, denoting different morphemes. For example, the
Beijing dialect The Beijing dialect (), also known as Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin Chinese, Mandarin spoken in the urban area of Beijing, China. It is the phonological basis of Standard Chinese, the official language in the China, People's Repub ...
distinguishes ' ( "mother"), ' ( "hemp"), ' ( "horse") and ' ( "to scold"). The number of tonal contrasts varies between dialects, with Northern dialects tending to have fewer distinctions than Southern ones. Many dialects have
tone sandhi Tone sandhi is a phonological change occurring in tonal languages Tone is the use of pitch (music), pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflection, inflect words. All verbal langua ...
, in which the pitch contour of a syllable is affected by the tones of adjacent syllables in a compound word or phrase. This process is so extensive in
Shanghainese Shanghainese, also known as the Shanghai language, Shanghai dialect, or Hu language, is a Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages spoken primarily i ...
that the tone system is reduced to a pitch accent system much like modern Japanese. The tonal categories of modern varieties can be related by considering their derivation from the four tones of Middle Chinese, though cognate tonal categories in different dialects are often realized as quite different pitch contours. Middle Chinese had a three-way tonal contrast in syllables with vocalic or nasal endings. The traditional names of the tonal categories are "level"/"even" ( '), "rising" ( ') and "departing"/"going" ( '). Syllables ending in a stop consonant , or (checked syllables) had no tonal contrasts but were traditionally treated as a fourth tone category, "entering" ( '), corresponding to syllables ending in nasals , , or . The tones of Middle Chinese, as well as similar systems in neighbouring languages, experienced a tone split conditioned by syllabic onsets. Syllables with voiced initials tended to be pronounced with a lower pitch, and by the late Tang Dynasty, each of the tones had split into two registers conditioned by the initials, known as "upper" (/ ''yīn'') and "lower" (/ ''yáng''). When voicing was lost in all dialects except the Wu and Old Xiang groups, this distinction became phonemic, yielding eight tonal categories, with a six-way contrast in unchecked syllables and a two-way contrast in checked syllables. Standard Cantonese, Cantonese maintains these eight tonal categories and has developed an additional distinction in checked syllables. (The latter distinction has disappeared again in many varieties.) However, most Chinese varieties have reduced the number of tonal distinctions. For example, in Mandarin, the tones resulting from the split of Middle Chinese rising and departing tones merged, leaving four tones. Furthermore, final stop consonants disappeared in most Mandarin dialects, and such syllables were distributed amongst the four remaining tones, seemingly at random. In Wu, voiced obstruents were retained, and the tone split never became phonemic: the higher-pitched allophones occur with initial voiceless consonants, and the lower-pitched allophones occur with initial voiced consonants. (Traditional Chinese classification nonetheless counts these as different tones.) Most Wu dialects retain the tone categories of Middle Chinese, but in
Shanghainese Shanghainese, also known as the Shanghai language, Shanghai dialect, or Hu language, is a Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages spoken primarily i ...
several of these have merged. Many Chinese varieties exhibit
tone sandhi Tone sandhi is a phonological change occurring in tonal languages Tone is the use of pitch (music), pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflection, inflect words. All verbal langua ...
, in which the realization of a tone varies depending on the context of the syllable. For example, in
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
a third tone changes to a second tone when followed by another third tone. Particularly complex sandhi patterns are found in Wu dialects and coastal Min dialects. In Shanghainese, the tone of all syllables in a word is determined by the tone of the first, so that Shanghainese has word rather than syllable tone.


Vocabulary

Most morphemes in Chinese varieties are monosyllables descended from Old Chinese words, and have cognates in all varieties: Old Chinese phonology, Old Chinese had two families of negatives starting with *p- and *m-, respectively. Northern and Central varieties tend to use a word from the first family, cognate with Beijing ''pu''5 , as the ordinary negator. A word from the second family is used as an existential negator 'have not', as in Beijing ''mei''2 and Shanghai ''m''2. In Mandarin varieties this word is also used for 'not yet', whereas in Wu and other groups a different form is typically used. In Southern varieties, negators tend to come from the second family. The ordinary negators in these varieties are all derived from a syllabic nasal *m̩, though it has a level tone in Hakka and Yue and a rising tone in Min. Existential negators derive from a proto-form *mau, though again the tonal category varies between groups. First- and second-person pronouns are cognate across all varieties. For third-person pronouns, Jin, Mandarin, and Xiang varieties have cognate forms, but other varieties generally use forms that originally had a velar or glottal initial: Southern varieties also include distinctive stratum (linguistics), substrata of vocabulary of non-Chinese origin. Some of these words may have come from Tai–Kadai languages, Tai–Kadai and Austroasiatic languages, Austroasiatic languages.


Examples of variations

The Min languages are often regarded as furthest removed linguistically from
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary. Historically, the Min languages were the first to diverge from the rest of the Chinese languages (see the discussion of historical Chinese phonology for more details). The Min languages are also the group with the greatest amount of internal diversity and are often regarded as consisting of at least five separate languages, e.g. Northern Min,
Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucrac ...
, Central Min,
Eastern Min Eastern Min or Min Dong (, Foochow Romanized: Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄), is a branch of the Min Chinese, Min group of Sinitic languages of China. The prestige form and most-cited representative form is the Fuzhou dialect, the speech of the capital ...
, and Puxian Min. To illustrate, in Taiwanese Minnan, Taiwanese (a variety of Hokkien dialect, Hokkien, a Min language) to express the idea that one is feeling a little ill ("I am not feeling well."), one might say, Whereas when spoken colloquially in Mandarin, one would say,


Sociolinguistics


Bilingualism with the standard language

In southern China (not including Hong Kong and Macau), where the difference between
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
and local dialects is particularly pronounced, well-educated Chinese are generally fluent in Standard Chinese, and most people have at least a good passive knowledge of it, in addition to being native speakers of the local dialect. The choice of dialect varies based on the social situation. Standard Chinese is usually considered more formal and is required when speaking to a person who does not understand the local dialect. The local dialect (be it non-Standard Chinese or non-Mandarin altogether) is generally considered more intimate and is used among close family members and friends and in everyday conversation within the local area. Chinese speakers will frequently Code-switching, code switch between Standard Chinese and the local dialect. Parents will generally speak to their children in the local variety, and the relationship between dialect and Mandarin appears to be mostly stable, even a diglossia. Local dialects are valued as symbols of regional cultures. People generally are tied to the hometown and therefore the hometown dialect, instead of a broad linguistic classification. For example, a person from Wuxi may claim that he speaks Wuxi dialect, even though it is similar to Shanghainese (another Wu dialect). Likewise, a person from Xiaogan may claim that he speaks Xiaogan dialect. Linguistically, Xiaogan dialect is a dialect of Mandarin, but the pronunciation and diction are quite different from spoken Standard Chinese. Knowing the local dialect is of considerable social benefit, and most Chinese who permanently move to a new area will attempt to pick up the local dialect. Learning a new dialect is usually done informally through a process of Language immersion, immersion and recognizing sound shifts. Generally the differences are more pronounced lexically than grammatically. Typically, a speaker of one dialect of Chinese will need about a year of immersion to understand the local dialect and about three to five years to become Fluency, fluent in speaking it. Because of the variety of dialects spoken, there are usually few formal methods for learning a local dialect. Due to the variety in Chinese speech, Mandarin speakers from each area of China are very often prone to fuse or "translate" words from their local language into their Mandarin conversations. In addition, each area of China has its recognizable accents while speaking Mandarin. Generally, the nationalized standard form of Mandarin pronunciation is only heard on news and radio broadcasts. Even in the streets of Beijing, the flavor of Mandarin varies in pronunciation from the Mandarin heard on the media.


Language policy


Chinese Mainland

Within mainland China, there has been a persistent drive towards Promotion of Putonghua, promoting the standard language (); for instance, the education system is entirely Mandarin-medium from the second year onward. However, usage of local dialect is tolerated and socially preferred in many informal situations. In
Hong Kong Hong Kong (; , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR), is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Pe ...

Hong Kong
, Written Cantonese, colloquial Cantonese characters are never used in formal documents other than quoting witnesses' spoken statements during legal trials, and within the PRC a character set closer to Mandarin tends to be used. At the national level, differences in dialect generally do not correspond to political divisions or categories, and this has for the most part prevented dialect from becoming the basis of identity politics. Historically, many of the people who promoted Chinese nationalism were from southern China and did not natively speak Mandarin, and even leaders from northern China rarely spoke with the standard accent. Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen were also from South China, southern China, and this is reflected in their conventional English names reflecting Cantonese pronunciations for their given names, and differing from their Mandarin pinyin spellings and . One consequence of this is that China does not have a well-developed tradition of spoken political rhetoric, and most Chinese political works are intended primarily as written works rather than spoken works. Another factor that limits the political implications of dialect is that it is very common within an Chinese kin, extended family for different people to know and use different dialects.


Taiwan

Before 1945, other than a small Japanese people, Japanese-speaking population, most of the population of
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
were Han Chinese, who spoke Taiwanese Hokkien or
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
, with a minority of Taiwanese aborigines, who spoke Formosan languages. When the Kuomintang Chinese Nationalist Party retreat to Taiwan, retreated to the island after losing the Chinese Civil War in 1949, they brought a substantial influx of speakers of Northern Chinese (and other dialects from across China), and viewed the use of Mandarin as part of their claim to be a legitimate government of the whole of China. Education policy promoted the use of Mandarin over the local languages, and was implemented especially rigidly in elementary schools, with punishments and public humiliation for children using other languages at school. From the 1970s, the government promoted adult education in Mandarin, required Mandarin for official purposes, and encouraged its increased use in broadcasting. Over a 40-year period, these policies succeeded in spreading the use and prestige of Mandarin through society at the expense of the other languages. They also aggravated social divisions, as Mandarin speakers found it difficult to find jobs in private companies but were favored for government positions. From the 1990s, were offered in elementary and middle schools, first in Yilan County, Taiwan, Yilan county, then in other areas governed by elected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians, and finally throughout the island.


Singapore

In 1966, the Singaporean government implemented a policy of bilingual education, where Singaporean students learn both English and their designated native language, which was Mandarin for Chinese Singaporeans (even though Singaporean Hokkien had previously been their ''lingua franca''). The ''Goh Report'', an evaluation of Singapore's education system by Goh Keng Swee, showed that less than 40% of the student population managed to attain minimum levels of Linguistic competence, competency in two languages. It was later determined that the learning of Mandarin among Singaporean Chinese was hindered by home use of other Chinese varieties, such as
Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucr ...
, Teochew dialect, Teochew,
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
and
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, are a Han Chinese The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The fou ...
. Hence, the government decided to rectify problems facing implementation of the bilingual education policy, by launching a campaign to promote Mandarin as a common language among the Chinese population, and to discourage use of other Chinese varieties. Launched in 1979 by then Prime Minister of Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the campaign aimed to simplify the language environment for Chinese Singaporeans, improve communication between them, and create a Mandarin-speaking environment conducive to the successful implementation of the bilingual education program. The initial goal of the campaign was for all young Chinese to stop speaking dialects in five years, and to establish Mandarin as the language of choice in public places within 10 years. According to the government, for the bilingual policy to be effective, Mandarin should be spoken at home and should serve as the ''lingua franca'' among Chinese Singaporeans. They also argued that Mandarin was more economically valuable, and speaking Mandarin would help Chinese Singaporeans retain their heritage, as Mandarin contains a cultural repository of values and traditions that are identifiable to all Chinese, regardless of dialect group.


See also

* Languages of China * List of varieties of Chinese * ''Linguistic Atlas of Chinese Dialects'' * Protection of the Varieties of Chinese


Notes


References


Citations


Works cited

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *Hatano Tarō (波多野太郎) (1963–1972). Chūgoku hōshi shoroku hōgen kaihen(中国方志所錄方言滙編) Yokohama Shiritsu Daigaku Kiyō(横濱市立大學紀要) Series A-33 no.147, A-34 no.150, A-36 no.154, A-37 no.161, A-40 no.172, A-42 no.182, A-45 no.189, Humanities science no .1, Humanities science no .3. Yokohama : Yokohama City University. *陈晓锦 & 甘于恩 (2010). 东南亚华人社区汉语方言概要(全三册). Guangzhou: 世界图书出版公司. .


External links

* ** , compiled by William Wang and Chin-Chuan Cheng (archived from the originals at City University of Hong Kong) ** compiled by Dylan W.H. Sung *
Chinese Dialects
search interface to the DOC database, at StarLing * ** CLDF dataset (Version v4.0). Zenodo. * *

by Dylan W.H. Sung (Phonology and Official Romanization Schemes) {{DEFAULTSORT:Varieties of Chinese Varieties of Chinese,