Sinitic languages
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The Sinitic languages, often synonymous with "Chinese languages", constitute the major 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
. It is frequently proposed that there is a primary split between the Sinitic languages and the rest of the family (the Tibeto-Burman languages), but this view is rejected by an increasing number of researchers. The Bai languages, whose classification is difficult, may be an offshoot of
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of 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 ...
and thus Sinitic; otherwise Sinitic is defined only by the many
varieties of Chinese 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, w ...
, and usage of the term "Sinitic" may reflect the linguistic view that
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 ...
constitutes a family of distinct languages, rather than variants of a single language.


Population

The estimated number of speakers of the larger branches of the Sinitic languages, derived from statistics or estimates (2020) and rounded:


Languages

Dialectologist Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible Sinitic languages. They 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 generally become more pronounced as distances increase, though there are also some sharp boundaries. *? Macro-Bai ** Bai languages **
Caijia Caijia () is an endangered Sino-Tibetan Sino-Tibetan, also known as Trans-Himalayan in a few sources, is a family of more than 400 languages, second only to Indo-European in number of native speakers. The vast majority of these are the 1.3 bill ...
** Longjia († ?) **Luren language, Luren († ?) *Varieties of Chinese, Chinese **Ba-Shu Chinese, Ba-Shu († ?) ***Minjiang dialect (disputed) **Min Chinese, Min ***Inland Min ****Northern Min (''Minbei'') ****Shaojiang Min, Shaojiang ****Central Min (''Minzhong'') ***Coastal Min ****Eastern Min (''Mindong'', incl. Fuzhou dialect) ****Puxian Min ****Southern Min (''Minnan'') *****Hokkien (incl. Amoy dialect and Taiwanese Minnan, Taiwanese) *****Chaoshan Min, Chaoshan (incl. Teochew dialect) *****Longyan Min, Longyan *****Zhenan Min, Zhenan *****Datian Min, Datian (disputed) *****Zhongshan Min, Zhongshan (disputed, some dialects may be Eastern Min) ****Leizhou Min, Leizhou ****Hainanese (''Qiongwen'') **Guan (Northern Chinese) ***Jin Chinese, Jin ***Central Mandarin Chinese (incl. Standard Chinese and Dungan language, Dungan, spoken by Hui people, Hui Chinese in Central Asia, and Taz dialect, Taz, of the Russian Far East) ***Lower Yangtze Mandarin (incl. Nanjing dialect) ***Southwestern Mandarin (incl. Chengdu-Chongqing dialect, Sichuanese dialect) ***Changyi Xiang (New Xiang) **Xiang Chinese, Xiang/Hunanese (Old Xiang) ***Loushao Xiang ***Jixu Xiang (Chenxu Xiang) ***Yongquan Xiang ***Hengzhou Xiang **Huizhou Chinese, Huizhou ***Yanzhou Hui ***Jingzhan Hui ***Xiuyi Hui ***Jishe Hui ***Qide Hui (Qiwu Hui) **Wu Chinese, Wu ***Oujiang Wu (incl. Wenzhounese dialect) ***mainstream Wu ****Central Wu *****Taihu Wu (incl. Shanghainese dialect) *****Taizhou Wu ****Chuqu Wu ****Wuzhou Wu ****Xuanzhou Wu **Gan–Hakka ***Hakka Chinese, Hakka ***Gan Chinese, Gan ****Chang-Du Gan, Changdu ****Yi-Liu Gan, Yiliu ****Jicha Gan, Jicha ****Fuguang Gan, Fuguang ****Ying-Yi Gan, Yingyi ****Da-Tong Gan, Datong ****Leizi Gan, Leizi ****Dongsui Gan, Dongsui ****Huaiyue Gan, Huaiyue **Yue Chinese, Yue ***Yuehai (incl. Standard Cantonese, Cantonese dialect) ***Siyi Yue (incl. Taishanese dialect) ***Yong-Xun Yue (incl. Nanning dialect) ***Goulou Yue (incl. Bobai dialect) ***Luo-Guang Yue ***Gao-Yang Yue ***Qin-Lian Yue ***Wu-Hua Yue **Pinghua ***Northern Ping ***Southern Ping There are additional, unclassified varieties, including: *Shaozhou Tuhua *Badong Yao language, Badong Yao *Danzhou hua, Danzhou *Junjiahua, Junjia *Linghua, Lingling *Maihua, Mai *Shehua, She *Waxiang Chinese, Waxiang *Yeheni language, Yeheni ("Yao")


Internal classification

The traditional, dialectological classification of Chinese languages is based on the evolution of the sound categories of Middle Chinese. Little comparative work has been done (the usual way of reconstructing the relationships between languages), and little is known about mutual intelligibility. Even within the dialectological classification, details are disputed, such as the establishment in the 1980s of three new top-level groups: Huizhou Chinese, Huizhou, Jin Chinese, Jin and Pinghua, despite the fact that Pinghua is itself a pair of languages and Huizhou may be half a dozen. Like Bai, the Min Chinese, Min languages are commonly thought to have split off directly from
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of 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 evidence for this split is that all Sinitic languages apart from the Min group can be fit into the structure of the ''Qieyun'', a 7th-century rime dictionary. However, this view is not universally accepted.


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 (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 models. Iwata argues that innovations have been transmitted from the north across the Huai River to the Lower Yangtze Mandarin area and from there southeast to the Wu area and westwards along the Yangtze River valley and thence to southwestern areas, leaving the hills of the southeast largely untouched.


A quantitative study

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 Chinese, Gan in one group and Min Chinese, Min (samples at Fuzhou, Xiamen, Chaozhou), Hakka Chinese, Hakka, and Yue Chinese, 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 dialect, Meixian Hakka, and the deepest phonological difference was between Wenzhounese (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 Chinese, 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) grouped only weakly with the Southern Min dialects of Amoy dialect, Xiamen and Teochew dialect, Chaozhou on the two objective criteria and was actually slightly closer to Hakka and Yue on the subjective criteria.


Explanatory notes


References


Citations

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Works cited

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