The Mandarin Chinese dialect

9 May

The Mandarin dialect, also known as Northern Chinese, Pinyin and Guanhua, is the official language of China and is used as the official language in media, schools and government. Due to the fact that Mandarin is the first language of 70% of Chinese people, it is the country’s most widely spoken dialect and has become one of the most important languages in the world. The Mandarin Chinese dialect can be divided into four main categories: Southwest Mandarin, Southern Mandarin, North-western Mandarin and Northern Mandarin. The Northern Mandarin dialect is the most important of these, and it is the basis for modern standard Chinese, known as Guoyo or Putonghua.

Mandarin’s has become increasingly important in China since the early 1900s, when Chinese leaders met to decide on a common linguistic framework to promote throughout the country. They decided that Mandarin, focused in Beijing and the surrounding areas, would provide the basis for a common Chinese language, which has come to be today’s standard Chinese language (Putonghua). There are a large number of different languages and dialects in China, most of which are regional and not very widely spoken or understood. Most Chinese dialects differ so much that a speaker of one dialect is unlikely to be able to understand one of another dialect. These differences are so large that they have been compared to those between modern romance languages, such as French, Italian and Spanish.

Mandarin has not only become the most important language in China, it has also has gained international significance, becoming one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Due to the fact that such a large number of Chinese people speak Mandarin as their first language, the Chinese language has a greater number of native speakers than any other language in the world. What’s more, as a result of China’s rapid economic growth, Mandarin has grown in international importance, with many people outside of China now wishing to pick up the language.



4 Responses to “The Mandarin Chinese dialect”

  1. cjf3g11 May 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    With the increase of mandarin, what about the minority languages of china?
    Despite government efforts to protect minority languages, they are still faced with the danger of disappearing due to modernization. There are 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China and more than 100 of the country’s dialect languages are in danger of dying out. Han people, who account for more than 90 percent of the population in China, along with the other larger groups such as Hui, speak Mandarin as their main language. Therefore, the spread of Mandarin leaves many languages of smaller groups, such as the traditionally shamanistic Hezhe, Oroqen and Ewenki people who live in China’s far northeast, marginalized and under threat. With the modernizing campaign to spread Mandarin and encourage the use of English in China as the most useful foreign language, many of the younger generations have failed to learn local dialects.

    There have been moves by the government to develop a vocal database of all China’s dialects and languages to assist with preservation efforts. In addition, Chinese written characters and ancient literature have also been modernized. They argue that Digitalization is the only way to pass on precious documents to future generations, but that china will still need more support from the public and the government to speed up protection. They highlight that this is not just important because of their heritage but also because the traditional characters hold the wisdom and philosophies of the Chinese people, and they should be promoted as the society moves upwards.

    In relation to the globalisation of mandarin, we face the issue of: what makes a language global? It has been argued that language does not become a global language because of: its intrinsic structural properties, the size of its vocabulary, its great literature in the past, it’s association with a great culture or religion, furthermore it also has little to do with the number of native speakers who speak it. So then, is Mandarin actually Global?

    In the past decade, classes for Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) has dramatically increased and the board “National Flagship Language Initiative” has classified Chinese as an as a ‘critical need language’. This sharp rise of Chinese foreign language learners supports the point that a shift in economic relations has a profound effect on the popularity and the use of a language. Therefore it is clear that what drives a language as a global language will come from the outer and expanding circle (including the mass media and the internet), rather than the number of speakers in the inner circle.


  2. timhaythorne May 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Mandarin is certainly of growing importance, and I think a good question to ask would be about the future: Will Mandarin overtake English as the worlds most widely spoken language?

    Of course, Mandarin is spoken all over China which means there are millions upon millions who already speak the language, but it is so far yet to break out of the country like English has done over the past century.

    As China expands business across the world, Chinese companies are keen to hire both English and Mandarin speaking employees, and more often than not these will be Chinese employees and not English.

    Chinese is a much more complex language to learn, as firstly it does not involve the germanic alphabet, and when translated to pinyin it has difficult accents to pronounce throughout.

    BBC (2012) believe that China will become a dominant language, but expect it to coexist with English in the long-term future, instead of dominating as the world’s most spoken language. A quote at the end really sums up how English is too deeply rooted in culture and society globally already, “English will remain popular so long as Hollywood exists.”



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