Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages spoken across most of northern and southwestern
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 population of around 1.4 billion. Covering approximately 9.6& ...
. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of the phonology of
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 Chi ...
. Because Mandarin originated in
North China North China, or Huabei (; literally "China's north") is a geographical region of China, consisting of the provinces of Beijing Beijing ( ), Chinese postal romanization, alternatively romanized as Peking ( ), is the Capital city, capit ...

North China
and most Mandarin languages and dialects are found in the north, the group is sometimes referred to as Northern Chinese (, ''běifānghuà'', 'northern speech'). Many varieties of Mandarin, such as those of the Southwest (including Sichuanese) and the Lower Yangtze (including the old capital Nanjing), are not mutually intelligible or are only partially intelligible with the standard language. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in lists of languages by number of native speakers (with nearly a billion). Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, spoken by 70 percent of all Chinese speakers over a large geographical area, stretching from
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 Kunm ...
in the southwest to
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomo ...
in the northwest and
Heilongjiang Heilongjiang (; formerly romanized as Heilungkiang) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division within a country or state. The term derives from the ancient Roman '' provincia'', which was the major territorial an ...
in the northeast. This is generally attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication in the North China Plain compared to the more mountainous south, combined with the relatively recent spread of Mandarin to frontier areas. Most Mandarin varieties have four tones. The final stops of
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
have disappeared in most of these varieties, but some have merged them as a final glottal stop. Many Mandarin varieties, including the Beijing dialect, retain
initial consonants, which have been lost in southern varieties of Chinese. The capital has been within the Mandarin area for most of the last millennium, making these dialects very influential. Some form of Mandarin has served as a national lingua franca since the 14th century. In the early 20th century, a standard form based on the Beijing dialect, with elements from other Mandarin dialects, was adopted as the national language. Standard Chinese is the official language of the China, People's Republic of China and Taiwan (Republic of China) and one of the four official languages of Singapore. In several List of insurgent groups in Myanmar, rebel group-controlled, multiethnic regions of Myanmar, Mandarin is either an official language (such as in Wa State) or the lingua franca (such as in Shan State Special region 4). It is used as one of the working languages of the United Nations. It is also one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities internationally and the most commonly Chinese as a foreign language, taught Chinese variety.


The English word "mandarin" (from Portuguese language, Portuguese ''mandarim'', from Malay language, Malay ''menteri'', from Sanskrit ''mantrī'', ''mantrin'', meaning 'minister or counsellor') originally meant an mandarin (bureaucrat), official of the Ming dynasty, Ming and Qing dynasty, Qing empires. Since their native varieties were often mutually unintelligible, these officials communicated using a Koiné language based on various northern varieties. When Jesuit missionaries learned this standard language in the 16th century, they called it "Mandarin", from its Chinese name ''Guānhuà'' () or 'language of the officials'. In everyday English, "Mandarin" refers to
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 Chi ...
, which is often called simply "Chinese". Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect, particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing, with some lexical and syntactic influence from other Mandarin dialects. It is the official spoken language of the China, People's Republic of China (PRC), the ''de facto'' official language of the Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) and one of the four official languages of Singapore. It also functions as the language of instruction in Mainland China and in Taiwan. It is one of the Official languages of the United Nations, six official languages of the United Nations, under the name "Chinese". Chinese speakers refer to the modern standard language as * ''Pǔtōnghuà'' (, literally 'common speech') in Mainland China, * ''Guóyǔ'' (, literally 'national language') in Taiwan or * ''Huáyǔ'' (, literally 'Huaxia, Hua (Chinese) language') in southeast Asia, but not as ''Guānhuà''. Linguists use the term "Mandarin" to refer to the diverse group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, which Chinese linguists call ''Guānhuà''. The alternative term ''Běifānghuà'' () or "Northern dialects", is used less and less among Chinese linguists. By extension, the term "Old Mandarin" or "Early Mandarin" is used by linguists to refer to the northern dialects recorded in materials from the Yuan dynasty. Native speakers who are not academic linguists may not recognize that the variants they speak are classified in linguistics as members of "Mandarin" (or so-called "Northern dialects") in a broader sense. Within Chinese social or cultural discourse, there is not 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 their speakers. Speakers of forms of Mandarin other than the standard typically refer to the variety they speak by a geographic name—for example Sichuanese Mandarin, Sichuan dialect, Hebei dialect or Northeastern Mandarin, Northeastern dialect, all being regarded as distinct from the standard language.


The hundreds of modern local varieties of Chinese developed from regional variants of Old Chinese and
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
. Traditionally, seven major groups of dialects have been recognized. Aside from Mandarin, the other six are Wu Chinese, Wu, Gan Chinese, Gan and Xiang Chinese, Xiang in central China and Min Chinese, Min, Hakka Chinese, Hakka and Yue Chinese, Yue on the southeast coast. The ''Language Atlas of China'' (1987) distinguishes three further groups: Jin Chinese, Jin (split from Mandarin), Huizhou Chinese, Huizhou in the Huizhou region of Anhui and Zhejiang and Pinghua in Guangxi and
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 Kunm ...

Old Mandarin

After the fall of the Song dynasty#Northern Song, 959–1126, Northern Song (959–1126) and during the reign of the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), Jin (1115–1234) and Yuan dynasty, Yuan (Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech developed based on the dialects of the North China Plain around the capital, a language referred to as Old Mandarin. New genres of vernacular literature were based on this language, including verse, drama and story forms, such as the ''Qu (poetry), qu'' and ''sanqu'' poetry. The rhyming conventions of the new verse were codified in a rime dictionary called the ''Zhongyuan Yinyun'' (1324). A radical departure from the rime table tradition that had evolved over the previous centuries, this dictionary contains a wealth of information on the phonology of Old Mandarin. Further sources are the 'Phags-pa script based on the Tibetan alphabet, which was used to write several of the languages of the Mongol empire, including Chinese and the ''Menggu Ziyun'', a rime dictionary based on 'Phags-pa. The rime books differ in some details, but overall show many of the features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects, such as the reduction and disappearance of final plosives and the reorganization of the Middle Chinese tones. In Middle Chinese, initial stop consonant, stops and affricate consonant, affricates showed a three-way contrast between tenuis consonant, tenuis, voiceless aspirated and voiced consonants. There were four tones (Middle Chinese), four tones, with the fourth or "entering tone", a checked tone comprising syllables ending in plosives (''-p'', ''-t'' or ''-k''). 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. When voicing was lost in all languages except the Wu subfamily, this distinction became phonemic and the system of initials and tones was rearranged differently in each of the major groups. The ''Zhongyuan Yinyun'' shows the typical Mandarin four-tone system resulting from a split of the "even" tone and loss of the entering tone, with its syllables distributed across the other tones (though their different origin is marked in the dictionary). Similarly, voiced plosives and affricates have become voiceless aspirates in the "even" tone and voiceless non-aspirates in others, another distinctive Mandarin development. However, the language still retained a final ''-m'', which has merged with ''-n'' in modern dialects and initial voiced fricatives. It also retained the distinction between velars and alveolar sibilants in palatal environments, which later merged in most Mandarin dialects to yield a palatal series (rendered ''j-'', ''q-'' and ''x-'' in pinyin). The flourishing vernacular literature of the period also shows distinctively Mandarin vocabulary and syntax, though some, such as the third-person pronoun ''tā'' (他), can be traced back to the Tang dynasty.

Vernacular literature

Until the early 20th century, formal writing and even much poetry and fiction was done in Literary Chinese, which was modeled on the Chinese classics, classics of the Warring States period and the Han dynasty. Over time, the various spoken varieties diverged greatly from Literary Chinese, which was learned and composed as a special language. Preserved from the sound changes that affected the various spoken varieties, its economy of expression was greatly valued. For example, (''yì'', "wing") is unambiguous in written Chinese, but has over 75 homophones 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 Chi ...
. The literary language was less appropriate for recording materials that were meant to be reproduced in oral presentations, materials such as plays and grist for the professional story-teller's mill. From at least the Yuan dynasty, plays that recounted the subversive tales of China's Robin Hoods to the Ming dynasty novels such as ''Water Margin'', on down to the Qing dynasty novel ''Dream of the Red Chamber'' and beyond, there developed a literature in written vernacular Chinese (白话/白話, ''báihuà''). In many cases, this written language reflected Mandarin varieties and since pronunciation differences were not conveyed in this written form, this tradition had a unifying force across all the Mandarin-speaking regions and beyond. Hu Shih, a pivotal figure of the first half of the twentieth century, wrote an influential and perceptive study of this literary tradition, entitled ''Báihuà Wénxuéshǐ'' ("A History of Vernacular Literature").

Koiné of the Late Empire

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people living in many parts of South China spoke only their local variety. As a practical measure, officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as ''Guānhuà''. Knowledge of this language was thus essential for an official career, but it was never formally defined. Officials varied widely in their pronunciation; in 1728, the Yongzheng Emperor, unable to understand the accents of officials from Guangdong and Fujian, issued a decree requiring the governors of those provinces to provide for the teaching of proper pronunciation. Although the resulting Academies for Correct Pronunciation () were short-lived, the decree did spawn a number of textbooks that give some insight into the ideal pronunciation. Common features included: * loss of the Middle Chinese voiced initials except for ''v-'' * merger of ''-m'' finals with ''-n'' * the characteristic Mandarin four-tone system in open syllables, but retaining a final glottal stop in "entering tone" syllables * retention of the distinction between Palatalization (sound change), palatalized velars and dental affricates, the source of the spellings "Peking" and "Tientsin" for modern "Beijing" and "Tianjin". As the last two of these features indicate, this language was a Koiné language, koiné based on dialects spoken in the Nanjing area, though not identical to any single dialect. This form remained prestigious long after the capital moved to Beijing in 1421, though the speech of the new capital emerged as a rival standard. As late as 1815, Robert Morrison (missionary), Robert Morrison based the A Dictionary of the Chinese Language, first English–Chinese dictionary on this koiné as the standard of the time, though he conceded that the Beijing dialect was gaining in influence. By the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had become dominant and was essential for any business with the imperial court.

Standard Chinese

In the early years of the Republic of China, intellectuals of the New Culture Movement, such as Hu Shih and Chen Duxiu, successfully campaigned for the replacement of Literary Chinese as the written standard by written vernacular Chinese, which was based on northern dialects. A parallel priority was the definition of a standard national language (). After much dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an abortive attempt at Old National Pronunciation, an artificial pronunciation, the National Languages Committee, National Language Unification Commission finally settled on the Beijing dialect in 1932. The People's Republic, founded in 1949, retained this standard, calling it ''pǔtōnghuà'' (). Some 54% of speakers of Mandarin varieties could understand the standard language in the early 1950s, rising to 91% in 1984. Nationally, the proportion understanding the standard rose from 41% to 90% over the same period. The national language is now used in education, the media and formal occasions in both Mainland China and Taiwan but not in Hong Kong and Macau. This standard can now be spoken intelligibly by most younger people in Mainland China and Taiwan with various regional accents. In Hong Kong and Macau, because of their colonial and linguistic history, the sole language of education, the media, formal speech and everyday life remains the local Cantonese. Mandarin is now common and taught in many schools but still has yet to gain traction with the local population. In Mandarin-speaking areas such as Sichuan and Chongqing, the local dialect is the native tongue of most of the population. The era of mass education in Standard Chinese has not erased these regional differences, and people may be either diglossia, diglossic or speak the standard language with a notable accent. From an official point of view, the mainland Chinese and the Taiwanese governments maintain their own forms of the standard under different names. Technically, both ''Pǔtōnghuà'' and ''Guóyǔ'' base their phonology on the Beijing accent, though ''Pǔtōnghuà'' also takes some elements from other sources. Comparison of dictionaries produced in the two areas will show that there are few substantial differences. However, both versions of "school-standard" Chinese are often quite different from the Mandarin varieties that are spoken in accordance with regional habits, and neither is wholly identical to the Beijing dialect. ''Pǔtōnghuà'' and ''Guóyǔ'' also have some differences from the Beijing dialect in vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics. The written forms of Standard Chinese are also essentially equivalent, although Simplified Chinese characters, simplified characters are used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia, while people in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan generally use Traditional Chinese characters, traditional characters.

Geographic distribution

Most Han Chinese living in northern and southwestern China are native speakers of a dialect of Mandarin. The North China Plain 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 varieties, with great internal diversity, particularly in Fujian. However, the varieties of Mandarin cover a huge area containing nearly a billion people. As a result, there are pronounced regional variations in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and many Mandarin varieties are not mutually intelligible. Most of northeastern China, except for Liaoning, did not receive significant settlements by Han Chinese until the 18th century, and as a result the Northeastern Mandarin dialects spoken there differ little from the Beijing dialect. The Manchu people of the area now speak these dialects exclusively; their native language is only maintained in northwestern
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomo ...
, where Xibe language, Xibe, a modern dialect, is spoken. The frontier areas of Northwest China were colonized by speakers of Mandarin dialects at the same time, and the dialects in those areas similarly closely resemble their relatives in the core Mandarin area. The Southwest was settled early, but the population fell dramatically for obscure reasons in the 13th century, and did not recover until the 17th century. The dialects in this area are now relatively uniform. However, long-established cities even very close to Beijing, such as Tianjin, Baoding, Shenyang, and Dalian, have markedly different dialects. Unlike their compatriots on the southeast coast, few Mandarin speakers engaged in Chinese emigration, overseas emigration until the late 20th century, but there are now significant communities of them in cities across the world.


The classification of Chinese dialects evolved during the 20th century, and many points remain unsettled. Early classifications tended to follow provincial boundaries or major geographical features. In 1936, Wang Li (linguist), Wang Li produced the first classification based on phonetic criteria, principally the evolution of
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
voiced initials. His Mandarin group included dialects of northern and southwestern China, as well as those of Hunan and northern Jiangxi. Li Fang-Kuei's classification of 1937 distinguished the latter two groups as Xiang Chinese, Xiang and Gan Chinese, Gan, while splitting the remaining Mandarin dialects between Northern, Lower Yangtze and Southwestern Mandarin groups. The widely accepted seven-group classification of Yuan Jiahua in 1960 kept Xiang and Gan separate, with Mandarin divided into Northern, Northwestern, Southwestern and Jiang–Huai (Lower Yangtze) subgroups. Of Yuan's four Mandarin subgroups, the Northwestern dialects are the most diverse, particularly in the province of Shanxi. The linguist Li Rong (linguist), Li Rong proposed that the northwestern dialects of Shanxi and neighbouring areas that retain a final glottal stop in the Middle Chinese entering tone (plosive-final) category should constitute a separate top-level group called Jin Chinese, Jin. He used this classification in the ''Language Atlas of China'' (1987). Many other linguists continue to include these dialects in the Mandarin group, pointing out that the Lower Yangtze dialects also retain the glottal stop. The southern boundary of the Mandarin area, with the central Wu Chinese, Wu, Gan and Xiang groups, is weakly defined due to centuries of diffusion of northern features. Many border varieties have a mixture of features that make them difficult to classify. The boundary between Southwestern Mandarin and Xiang is particularly weak, and in many early classifications the two were not separated. Zhou Zhenhe and You Rujie include the New Xiang dialects within Southwestern Mandarin, treating only the more conservative Old Xiang dialects as a separate group. The Huizhou Chinese, Huizhou dialects have features of both Mandarin and Wu, and have been assigned to one or other of these groups or treated as separate by various authors. Li Rong and the ''Language Atlas of China'' treated it as a separate top-level group, but this remains controversial. The ''Language Atlas of China'' calls the remainder of Mandarin a "supergroup", divided into eight dialect groups distinguished by their treatment of the Middle Chinese entering tone (see #Tones, Tones below): * Northeastern Mandarin (98 million), spoken in Manchuria except the Liaodong Peninsula. This dialect is closely related to Standard Chinese, with little variation in lexicon and very few tonal differences. * Beijing Mandarin (division of Mandarin), Beijing Mandarin (27 million), spoken in Beijing and environs such as Chengde and northern Hebei, as well as some areas of recent large-scale immigration, such as northern
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomo ...
. The Beijing dialect forms the basis of Standard Chinese. This classification is controversial, as a number of researchers view Beijing and Northeastern Mandarin as a single dialect group. * Jilu Mandarin (89 million), spoken in Hebei ("Ji") and Shandong ("Lu") provinces except the Shandong Peninsula, including Tianjin dialect. Tones and vocabulary are markedly different. In general, there is substantial intelligibility with Beijing Mandarin. * Jiaoliao Mandarin (35 million), spoken in Shandong Peninsula, Shandong (Jiaodong) and Liaodong Peninsulas. Very noticeable tonal changes, different in "flavour" from Ji–Lu Mandarin, but with more variance. There is moderate intelligibility with Beijing. * Central Plains Mandarin (186 million), spoken in Henan province, the central parts of Shaanxi in the Yellow River valley, eastern Gansu and southern
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomo ...
. There are significant phonological differences, with partial intelligibility with Beijing. The Dungan language spoken in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan belongs to this group. Dungan speakers such as the poet Iasyr Shivaza have reported being understood by speakers of the Beijing dialect, but not vice versa. * Lanyin Mandarin (17 million), spoken in central and western Gansu province (with capital Lanzhou) and Ningxia autonomous region (with capital Yinchuan), as well as northern
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomo ...
. * Lower Yangtze Mandarin (or Jiang–Huai, 86 million), spoken in the parts of Jiangsu and Anhui on the north bank of the Yangtze, as well as some areas on the south bank, such as Nanjing in Jiangsu, Jiujiang in Jiangxi, etc. There are significant phonological and lexical changes to varying degrees, and intelligibility with Beijing is limited. Lower Yangtze Mandarin has been significantly influenced by Wu Chinese. * Southwestern Mandarin (260 million), spoken in the provinces of Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou,
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 Kunm ...
, and the Mandarin-speaking areas of Hunan, Guangxi and southern Shaanxi. There are sharp phonological, lexical, and tonal changes, and intelligibility with Beijing is limited to varying degrees. The ''Atlas'' also includes several unclassified Mandarin dialects spoken in scattered pockets across southeastern China, such as Nanping in Fujian and Dongfang, Hainan, Dongfang on Hainan. Another Mandarin variety of uncertain classification is apparently Gyami, recorded in the 19th century in the Tibetan foothills, who the Chinese apparently did not recognize as Chinese.


A syllable consists maximally of an initial consonant, a medial semivowel, glide, a vowel, a coda, and tone (linguistics), tone. In the traditional analysis, the medial, vowel and coda are combined as a ''final''. Not all combinations occur. For example, Standard Chinese (based on the Beijing dialect) has about 1,200 distinct syllables. Phonological features that are generally shared by the Mandarin dialects include: * the palatalization (sound change), palatalization of velar consonants and voiceless alveolar fricative, alveolar sibilants when they occur before palatal approximant, palatal glides; * one syllable contains maximum four phonemes (maximum three vowels and no consonant cluster) * the disappearance of final stop consonants and /-m/ (although in many Lower Yangtze Mandarin and Jin Chinese dialects, an echo of the final stops is preserved as a glottal stop); * the presence of retroflex consonants (although these are absent in many Southwestern Mandarin, Southwestern and Northeastern Mandarin dialects); * the historical consonant voicing and devoicing, devoicing of stops and sibilants (also common to most non-Mandarin varieties).


The maximal inventory of initials of a Mandarin dialect is as follows, with bracketed pinyin spellings given for those present in the standard language: * Most Mandarin-speaking areas distinguish between the retroflex initials from the apical sibilants , though they often have a different distribution than in the standard language. In most dialects of the southeast and southwest the retroflex initials have merged with the alveolar sibilants, so that ''zhi'' becomes ''zi'', ''chi'' becomes ''ci'', and ''shi'' becomes ''si''. * The alveolo-palatal sibilants are the result of merger between the historical palatalized velars and palatalized alveolar sibilants . In about 20% of dialects, the alveolar sibilants did not palatalize, remaining separate from the alveolo-palatal initials. (The unique pronunciation used in Peking opera falls into this category.) On the other side, in some dialects of eastern Shandong, the velar initials did not undergo palatalization. * Many southwestern Mandarin dialects mix and , substituting one for the other in some or all cases. For example, ''fei'' "to fly" and ''hui'' "grey" may be merged in these areas. * In some dialects, initial and are not distinguished. In Southwestern Mandarin, these sounds usually merge to ; in Lower Yangtze Mandarin, they usually merge to . * People in many Mandarin-speaking areas may use different initial sounds where Beijing uses initial ''r-'' . Common variants include , , and . * Some dialects have initial corresponding to the zero initial of the standard language. This initial is the result of a merger of the Middle Chinese zero initial with and . * Many dialects of Northwestern and Central Plains Mandarin have where Beijing has . Examples include "pig" for standard ''zhū'' , "water" for standard ''shuǐ'' , "soft" for standard ''ruǎn'' .


Most Mandarin dialects have three medial glides, , and (spelled ''i'', ''u'' and ''ü'' in pinyin), though their incidence varies. The medial , is lost after apical initials in several areas. Thus Southwestern Mandarin has "correct" where the standard language has ''dui'' . Southwestern Mandarin also has in some words where the standard has ''jie qie xie'' . This is a stereotypical feature of southwestern Mandarin, since it is so easily noticeable. E.g. ''hai'' "shoe" for standard ''xie'', ''gai'' "street" for standard ''jie''. Mandarin dialects typically have relatively few vowels. Syllabic fricatives, as in standard ''zi'' and ''zhi'', are common in Mandarin dialects, though they also occur elsewhere. The Middle Chinese off-glides and are generally preserved in Mandarin dialects, yielding several diphthongs and triphthongs in contrast to the larger sets of monophthongs common in other dialect groups (and some widely scattered Mandarin dialects). The Middle Chinese coda was still present in Old Mandarin, but has merged with in the modern dialects. In some areas (especially the southwest) final has also merged with . This is especially prevalent in the rhyme pairs ''-en/-eng'' and ''-in/-ing'' . As a result, ''jīn'' "gold" and ''jīng'' "capital" merge in those dialects. The Middle Chinese final stops have undergone a variety of developments in different Mandarin dialects (see #Tones, Tones below). In Lower Yangtze Mandarin, Lower Yangtze dialects and some north-western dialects they have merged as a final glottal stop. In other dialects they have been lost, with varying effects on the vowel. As a result, Beijing Mandarin and Northeastern Mandarin underwent more vowel mergers than many other varieties of Mandarin. For example: R-colored vowel, R-coloring, a characteristic feature of Mandarin, works quite differently in the southwest. Whereas Beijing dialect generally removes only a final or when adding the rhotic final ''-r'' , in the southwest the ''-r'' replaces nearly the entire rhyme.


In general, no two Mandarin-speaking areas have exactly the same set of tone (linguistics), tone values, but most Mandarin-speaking areas have very similar tone ''distribution''. For example, the dialects of Jinan, Chengdu, Xi'an and so on all have four tones that correspond quite well to the Beijing dialect tones of (55), (35), (214), and (51). The exception to this rule lies in the distribution of syllables formerly ending in a stop consonant, which are treated differently in different dialects of Mandarin.
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese language, Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded ...
stops and affricates had a three-way distinction between tenuis, voiceless aspirate and voiced (or breathy voiced) consonants. In Mandarin dialects the voicing is generally lost, yielding voiceless aspirates in syllables with a Middle Chinese level tone and non-aspirates in other syllables. Of the four tones of Middle Chinese, the level, rising and departing tones have also developed into four modern tones in a uniform way across Mandarin dialects; the Middle Chinese level tone has split into two registers, conditioned on voicing of the Middle Chinese initial, while rising tone syllables with voiced obstruent initials have shifted to the departing tone. The following examples from the standard language illustrate the regular development common to Mandarin dialects (recall that pinyin ''d'' denotes a non-aspirate , while ''t'' denotes an aspirate ): In traditional Chinese phonology, syllables that ended in a stop in Middle Chinese (i.e. /p/, /t/ or /k/) were considered to belong to a special category known as the "entering tone". These final stops have disappeared in most Mandarin dialects, with the syllables distributed over the other four modern tones in different ways in the various Mandarin subgroups. In the Beijing dialect that underlies the standard language, syllables beginning with original voiceless consonants were redistributed across the four tones in a completely random pattern. For example, the three characters , all ''tsjek'' in Middle Chinese (Baxter's transcription for Middle Chinese, William H. Baxter's transcription), are now pronounced ''jī'', ''jǐ'' and ''jì'' respectively. Older dictionaries such as ''Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary'' mark characters whose pronunciation formerly ended with a stop with a superscript 5; however, this tone number is more commonly used for syllables that always have a neutral tone (see below). In Lower Yangtze dialects, a minority of Southwestern dialects (e.g. Minjiang dialect, Minjiang) and Jin Chinese (sometimes considered non-Mandarin), former final stops were not deleted entirely, but were reduced to a glottal stop . (This includes the dialect of Nanjing on which the Postal Romanization was based; it transcribes the glottal stop as a trailing ''h''.) This development is shared with Wu Chinese and is thought to represent the pronunciation of Old Mandarin. In line with traditional Chinese phonology, dialects such as Lower Yangtze and Minjiang are thus said to have five tones instead of four. However, modern linguistics considers these syllables as having no phonemic tone at all. Although the system of tones is common across Mandarin dialects, their realization as tone contours varies widely: * Dialects in and around the Nantong area typically have many more than 4 tones, due to influence from the neighbouring Wu Chinese, Wu dialects. Mandarin dialects frequently employ neutral tones in the second syllables of words, creating syllables whose tone contour is so short and light that it is difficult or impossible to discriminate. These atonal syllables also occur in non-Mandarin dialects, but in many southern dialects the tones of all syllables are made clear.


There are more polysyllabic words in Mandarin than in all other major varieties of Chinese except Shanghainese. This is partly because Mandarin has undergone many more sound changes than have southern varieties of Chinese, and has needed to deal with many more homophones. New words have been formed by adding affixes such as ''lao-'' (), ''-zi'' (), ''-(e)r'' (/), and ''-tou'' (/), or by compounding, e.g. by combining two words of similar meaning as in ''cōngmáng'' (), made from elements meaning "hurried" and "busy". A distinctive feature of southwestern Mandarin is its frequent use of noun reduplication, which is hardly used in Beijing. In Sichuan, one hears ''bāobāo'' () "handbag" where Beijing uses ''bāo'r'' (). There are also a small number of words that have been polysyllabic since Old Chinese, such as () "butterfly". The singular pronouns in Mandarin are () "I", ( or ) "you", () "you (formal)", and (, or /) "he/she/it", with - (/) added for the plural. Further, there is a distinction between the plural first-person pronoun (/), which is inclusive of the listener, and (/), which may be exclusive of the listener. Dialects of Mandarin agree with each other quite consistently on these pronouns. While the first and second person singular pronouns are cognate with forms in other varieties of Chinese, the rest of the pronominal system is a Mandarin innovation (e.g., Shanghainese has ''non'' / "you" and ''yi'' "he/she"). Because of contact with Mongolian and Manchurian peoples, Mandarin (especially the Northeastern varieties) has some loanwords from these languages not present in other varieties of Chinese, such as () "alley". List of Chinese dialects, Southern Chinese varieties have borrowed from Tai languages, Tai, Austroasiatic languages, Austroasiatic, and Austronesian languages. There are also many Chinese words which come from foreign languages such as () from golf; () from bikini; () from hamburger. In general, the greatest variation occurs in slang, in kinship terms, in names for common crops and domesticated animals, for common verbs and adjectives, and other such everyday terms. The least variation occurs in "formal" vocabulary—terms dealing with science, law, or government.


Chinese varieties of all periods have traditionally been considered prime examples of analytic languages, relying on word order and particles instead of inflection or affixes to provide grammatical information such as Grammatical person, person, Grammatical number, number, Grammatical tense, tense, Grammatical mood, mood, or Grammatical case, case. Although modern varieties, including the Mandarin dialects, use a small number of particles in a similar fashion to suffixes, they are still strongly analytic. The basic word order of subject–verb–object is common across Chinese dialects, but there are variations in the order of the two objects of ditransitive sentences. In northern dialects the indirect object precedes the direct object (as in English), for example in the Standard Chinese sentence:
In southern dialects, as well as many southwestern and Lower Yangtze dialects, the objects occur in the reverse order. Most varieties of Chinese use post-verbal particles to indicate grammatical aspect, aspect, but the particles used vary. Most Mandarin dialects use the particle ''-le'' (了) to indicate the perfective aspect and ''-zhe'' (着/著) for the progressive aspect. Other Chinese varieties tend to use different particles, e.g. Cantonese ''zo2'' 咗 and ''gan2'' 紧/緊 respectively. The experiential aspect particle ''-guo'' (过/過) is used more widely, except in Southern Min. The subordinative particle ''de'' (的) is characteristic of Mandarin dialects. Some southern dialects, and a few Lower Yangtze dialects, preserve an older pattern of subordination without a marking particle, while in others a classifier (linguistics), classifier fulfils the role of the Mandarin particle. Especially in conversational Chinese, sentence-final particle (grammar), particles alter the inherent meaning of a sentence. Like much vocabulary, particles can vary a great deal with regards to the locale. For example, the particle ''ma'' (嘛), which is used in most northern dialects to denote obviousness or contention, is replaced by ''yo'' (哟) in southern usage. Some characters in Mandarin can be combined with others to indicate a particular meaning just like prefix and suffix in English. For example, the suffix -er which means the person who is doing the action, e.g. teacher, person who teaches. In Mandarin the character 師 functions the same thing, it is combined with 教, which means teach, to form the word teacher. List of several common Chinese prefixes and suffixes:

See also

* Chinese dictionary * Transcription into Chinese characters * Written Chinese * Languages of China * List of varieties of Chinese * ''Linguistic Atlas of Chinese Dialects'' * List of languages by number of native speakers



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Further reading

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Historical Western language texts

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External links

Tones in Mandarin Dialects :
Comprehensive tone comparison charts for 523 Mandarin dialects. (Compiled by James Campbell) – Internet Archive mirror {{Authority control Mandarin Chinese, Articles containing video clips Chinese languages in Singapore Languages of China Languages of Taiwan Languages of Hong Kong Languages of Macau Languages of Singapore Languages of Malaysia Subject–verb–object languages Vertical vowel systems