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Mandarin Chinese

This article is about the group of Chinese dialects. For

the ocial language, Putonghua, see Standard Chinese.
For the administrative language of China during the
Ming and Qing dynasties, see Mandarin (late imperial
lingua franca).

missionaries learned this standard language in the 16th

century, they called it Mandarin, from its Chinese
name Gunhu (/), or language of the ocials.* [7]
In everyday English,Mandarinrefers to Standard Chinese, which is often called simplyChinese. Standard
Chinese is based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing, with some lexical and syntactic inuence
from other Mandarin dialects. It is the ocial spoken language of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the ofcial language of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan),
and one of the four ocial languages of the Republic of
Singapore. It also functions as the language of instruction
in the PRC and in Taiwan. It is one of the six ocial languages of the United Nations, under the nameChinese
. Chinese speakers refer to the modern standard language

Mandarin ( * i/mndrn/; simplied Chinese: ;

traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Gunhu; literally:
speech of ocials) is a group of related varieties of
Chinese spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. Because most Mandarin dialects are found in
the north, the group is also referred to as the northern
dialect(s)". When the Mandarin group is taken as one language, as is often done in academic literature, it has more
native speakers (nearly a billion) than any other language.
A northeastern-dialect speaker and a southwesterndialect speaker may have diculty communicating, except through the standard language. Nonetheless, there is
much less variation across the huge Mandarin area than
between the non-Mandarin varieties of southeast China.
This is 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.

Ptnghu ( / , literally common

speech) in China,
Guy (, literallynational language) in Taiwan, or
Huy ( / ) in Malaysia, Singapore and

The capital has been within the Mandarin area for most
of the last millennium, making these dialects very inuential. 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, which is
also referred to as Mandarin, is the ocial language
of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan (Republic of China) and one of the four ocial languages of
Singapore. It is also one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities

but not as Gunhu.* [8]

Linguists use the termMandarinto refer to the diverse
group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern
China, which Chinese linguists call Gunhu. The alternative term Bifnghu (/), orNorthern
dialect(s)", is used less and less among Chinese linguists.
By extension, the termOld MandarinorEarly Mandarinis 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 classied in linguistics as members ofMandarin(or so-calledNorthern dialects) in a broader sense. Within Chinese social or cultural discourse, there is not a common Mandarinidentity 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 namefor example Sichuan dialect, Hebei dialect or Northeastern dialect, all being regarded as distinct from the standard language.


The English word mandarin(from Portuguese mandarim, from Malay menteri, from Sanskrit mantrin, meaningminister or counsellor) originally meant an ocial
of the Ming and Qing empires.* [4]* [5]* [lower-alpha 1]
Since their native varieties were often mutually unintelligible, these ocials communicated using a Koin language based on various northern varieties. When Jesuit



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 dier in some details, but
overall show many of the features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects, such as the reduction and disappearance of nal plosives and the reorganization of the
Middle Chinese tones.* [13]

The thousands of modern local varieties of Chinese

developed from regional variants of Old Chinese and
Middle Chinese. Traditionally, seven major groups of
dialects have been recognized. Aside from Mandarin,
the other six are Wu, Gan and Xiang in central China,
and Min, Hakka and Yue on the southeast coast.* [9] The
Language Atlas of China (1987) distinguishes three further unclassied groups: Jin Chinese (split from Mandarin), Huizhou Chinese in Zhejiang and Pinghua (a trade
language in Guangxi and Yunnan).* [10]* [11]
In Middle Chinese, initial stops and aricates showed
a three-way contrast between tenuis, voiceless aspirated
and voiced consonants. There were four tones, with the
2.1 Old Mandarin
fourth, or entering tone, a checked tone comprising syllables ending in plosives (-p, -t or -k). Syllables
Main article: Old Mandarin
with voiced initials tended to be pronounced with a lower
After the fall of the Northern Song (9591126) and dur- 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 dierently in each of the
major groups.* [14]
The Zhongyuan Yinyun shows the typical Mandarin fourtone system resulting from a split of the eventone
and loss of the entering tone, with its syllables distributed
across the other tones (though their dierent origin is
marked in the dictionary). Similarly, voiced plosives and
aricates have become voiceless aspirates in the even
tone and voiceless non-aspirates in others, another distinctive Mandarin development. However, the language
still retained a nal -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).* [15]
The ourishing vernacular literature of the period also
shows distinctively Mandarin vocabulary and syntax,
though some, such as the third-person pronoun t (),
can be traced back to the Tang dynasty.* [16]

2.2 Vernacular literature

A page of the Menggu Ziyun, covering the syllables tsim to lim

ing the reign of the Jin (11151234) and 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 and sanqu poetry.* [12]

Until the early 20th century, formal writing and even

much poetry and ction was done in Literary Chinese,
which was modeled on the 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 aected the various spoken varieties, its economy of expression was
greatly valued. For instance, (y, wing) is unambiguous in written Chinese, but has over 75 homophones in
Standard Chinese.

The rhyming conventions of the new verse were codied

in a rime dictionary called the Zhongyuan Yinyun (1324).
A radical departure from the rime table tradition that had The literary language was less appropriate for recording


Koin of the Late Empire

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 (/; bihu). In
many cases, this written language reected Mandarin varieties, and since pronunciation dierences were not conveyed in this written form, this tradition had a unifying
force across all the Mandarin-speaking regions and beyond.* [17]

The Chinese have dierent languages in
dierent provinces, to such an extent that they
cannot understand each other.... [They] also
have another language which is like a universal and common language; this is the ocial
language of the mandarins and of the court; it
is among them like Latin among ourselves....
Two of our fathers [Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci] have been learning this mandarin
Alessandro Valignano, Historia del
principio y progresso de la Compaa de Jess
en las Indias Orientales (15421564)* [19]

Hu Shih, a pivotal gure of the rst half of the twentieth

century, wrote an inuential and perceptive study of this
Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people living
literary tradition, entitled Bihu Wnxush (A History
in many parts of South China spoke only their local vaof Vernacular Literature).
riety. As a practical measure, ocials of the Ming and
Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin vari2.3 Koin of the Late Empire
eties, known as Gunhu. Knowledge of this language
was thus essential for an ocial career, but it was never
Main article: Mandarin (late imperial lingua franca)
formally dened.* [8]
Ocials varied widely in their pronunciation; in 1728,
the Yongzheng Emperor, unable to understand the accents of ocials 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 (
, Zhngyn Shyun) 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 nals with -n
the characteristic Mandarin four-tone system in
open syllables, but retaining a nal glottal stop in
entering tonesyllables
retention of the distinction between palatalized velars and dental aricates, the source of the spellings
Pekingand Tientsinfor modern Beijing
and Tianjin.* [20]
As the last two of these features indicate, this language
was a koin based on dialects spoken in the Nanjing
area, though not identical to any single dialect.* [21] 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 based the rst EnglishChinese dictionary on
Zhongguo Guanhua (), or Medii Regni Communis this koin as the standard of the time, though he conceded
Loquela (Middle Kingdom's Common Speech), used on the that the Beijing dialect was gaining in inuence.* [22] By
frontispiece of an early Chinese grammar published by tienne the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had
Fourmont (with Arcadio Huang) in 1742* [18]
become dominant and was essential for any business with
the imperial court.* [23]



Standard Chinese

3 Geographic distribution and dialects

See also: List of varieties of Chinese
Most Han Chinese living in northern and southwestern

Main article: 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 denition of a standard national
language (traditional Chinese: ; simplied Chinese:
; pinyin: Guy; WadeGiles: Kuo-y ). After
much dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an abortive attempt at an articial pronunciation, the National Language Unication Commission nally settled on the Beijing dialect in 1932. The
People's Republic, founded in 1949, retained this standard, calling it ptnghu (simplied Chinese: ;
traditional Chinese: ; literally:common speech Distribution of the eight subgroups of Mandarin plus Jin Chinese,
which many linguists include as part of Mandarin, according to
).* [24]
The national language is now used in education, the media, and formal situations in both the PRC and the ROC
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 language of education, the
media, formal speech and everyday life remains the local Cantonese, although the standard language is now
very inuential and taught in schools.* [25] In Mandarinspeaking areas such as Sichuan, the local dialect is the
mother tongue of most of the population. The era of
mass education in Standard Chinese has not erased these
regional dierences, and people may be either diglossic
or speak the standard language with a notable accent.
From an ocial point of view, the PRC and ROC governments maintain their own forms of the standard under dierent names. Technically, both Ptnghu and
Guy base their phonology on the Beijing accent, though
Ptnghu also takes some elements from other sources.
Comparison of dictionaries produced in the two areas will
show that there are few substantial dierences. However,
both versions of school-standardChinese are often
quite dierent from the Mandarin dialects that are spoken
in accordance with regional habits, and neither is wholly
identical to the Beijing dialect. Ptnghu and Guy
also have some dierences from the Beijing dialect in
vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics.

the Language Atlas of China (1987) [10]

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.* [26]* [27]
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.* [lower-alpha 2]
Most of northeastern China, except for Liaoning, did not
receive signicant settlements by Han Chinese until the
18th century,* [31] and as a result the Northeastern Mandarin dialects spoken there dier little from the Beijing
dialect. The Manchu people of the area now speak these
dialects exclusively; their native language is only maintained in Xinjiang, where Xibe, a modern dialect, is spoken.

The frontier areas of Northwest and Southwest 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.* [32] However, long-established cities even
very close to Beijing, such as Tianjin, Baoding, Shenyang,
The written forms of Standard Chinese are also essen- and Dalian, have markedly dierent dialects.
tially equivalent, although simplied characters are used Unlike their compatriots on the southeast coast, few Manin Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore while peo- darin speakers engaged in overseas emigration until the
ple in Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong generally use late 20th century, but there are now signicant commutraditional characters.
nities of them in cities across the world.* [33]



The classication of Chinese dialects evolved during the

20th century, and many points remain unsettled. Early
classications tended to follow provincial boundaries or
major geographical features. In 1936, Wang Li produced the rst classication based on phonetic criteria,
principally the evolution of Middle Chinese voiced initials. His Gunhu group included dialects of northern and southwestern China, as well as those of Hunan
and northern Jiangxi. Li Fang-Kuei's classication of
1937 distinguished the latter two groups as Xiang and
Gan, while splitting the remaining Gunhu into Northern, Lower Yangtze and Southwestern Gunhu groups.
The widely accepted seven-group classication of Yuan
Jiahua in 1960 kept Xiang and Gan separate, with Mandarin divided into Northern, Northwestern, Southwestern
and JiangHuai (Lower Yangtze) dialects.* [9]* [34]
The linguist Li Rong proposed that the northwestern dialects of Shanxi and neighbouring areas that retain a
nal glottal stop in the Middle Chinese entering tone
(plosive-nal) category should constitute a separate toplevel group called Jin.* [35] He used this classication in
the Language Atlas of China (1987).* [10] Many other linguists continue to include these dialects in the Mandarin
group, pointing out that the JiangHuai dialects also retain the glottal stop.* [36]

valley, and southern Xinjiang. There are signicant phonological dierences, 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.* [38]
Lanyin Mandarin, spoken in Gansu province (with
capital Lanzhou) and Ningxia autonomous region (with capital Yinchuan), as well as northern
Lower Yangtze Mandarin (or JiangHuai), 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 signicant phonological and lexical
changes to varying degrees, and intelligibility with
Beijing is limited. JiangHuai has been signicantly
inuenced by Wu Chinese.
Southwestern Mandarin, spoken in the provinces
of Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, 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.* [29]* [30]

The Language Atlas of China calls the remainder of ManThe Atlas also includes several unclassied Mandarin
darin a supergroup, divided into eight dialect groups
dialects spoken in scattered pockets across southeastdistinguished by their treatment of the Middle Chinese
ern China, such as Nanping in Fujian and Dongfang
entering tone (see Tones below):* [37]
on Hainan,* [39] Another Mandarin variety of uncertain
classication is apparently Gyami, recorded in the 19th
Northeastern Mandarin, spoken in Manchuria ex- century in the Tibetan foothills, who the Chinese apparcept the Liaodong Peninsula. This dialect is closely ently did not recognize as Chinese.* [40]
related to Standard Chinese, with little variation in
lexicon and very few tonal dierences.

4 Phonology

Beijing dialect in Beijing and environs such as

Chengde and Hebei. The Beijing dialect forms the
basis of Standard Chinese. Some people in areas See also: Standard Chinese phonology
of recent large-scale immigration, such as northern Xinjiang, speak the Beijing dialect or something Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a
very close to it.
glide, a vowel, a nal, and tone. Not every syllable that is
possible according to this rule actually exists in Mandarin,
Jilu Mandarin, spoken in HebeiJi
) and Shandong as there are rules prohibiting certain phonemes from ap(Lu) provinces except the Shandong Peninsula, pearing with others, and in practice there are only a few
including Tianjin dialect. Tones and vocabulary are hundred distinct syllables.
markedly dierent. In general, there is substantial
Phonological features that are generally shared by the
intelligibility with Beijing Mandarin.
Mandarin dialects include:
Jiaoliao Mandarin, spoken in Shandong (Jiaodong)
and Liaodong Peninsulas. Very noticeable tonal
the palatalization of velars and alveolar sibilants
changes, dierent in avourfrom JiLu Manwhen they occur before palatal glides;
darin, but with more variance. There is moderate
the disappearance of nal plosives and /-m/ (alintelligibility with Beijing.
though in many JiangHuai Mandarin and Jin di Central Plains Mandarin, spoken in Henan province,
alects, an echo of the nal plosives is preserved as a
the central parts of Shaanxi in the Yellow River
glottal stop);


the reduction of the six tones inherited from Middle 4.2 Finals
Chinese after the tone split to four tones;
Most Mandarin dialects have three medial glides /j/, /w/
the presence of retroex consonants (although these and // (spelled i, u and in pinyin), though their inciare absent in many dialects of Southwestern and dence varies. The medial /w/, is lost after apical initials
Northeastern Mandarin);
in several areas.* [42] Thus Southwestern Mandarin has
/tei/rightwhere the standard language has dui /twei/.
the historical devoicing of plosives and sibilants
Southwestern Mandarin also has /kai kai xai/ in some
(also common to most non-Mandarin varieties).
words where the standard has jie qie xie /tj tj j/.
This is a stereotypical feature of southwestern Mandarin,
since it is so easily noticeable. E.g. hai shoefor stan4.1 Initials
dard xie, gai streetfor standard jie.
The maximal inventory of initials of a Mandarin dialect is Mandarin dialects typically have relatively few vowels.
as follows, with bracketed pinyin spellings given for those Syllabic fricatives, as in standard zi and zhi, are common in Mandarin dialects, though they also occur elsepresent in the standard language:* [41]
where.* [44] The Middle Chinese o-glides /j/ and /w/ are
Most Mandarin-speaking areas distinguish between generally preserved in Mandarin dialects, yielding several
the retroex initials /t t / from the apical sibilants diphthongs and triphthongs in contrast to the larger sets
groups (and
/ts ts s/, though they often have a dierent distribu- of monophthongs common in other dialect
tion than in the standard language. In many dialects
of the northeast and southeast the retroex initials The Middle Chinese coda /m/ was still present in Old
have merged with the alveolar sibilants, so that zhi Mandarin, but has merged with /n/ in the modern dibecomes zi, chi becomes ci, and shi becomes si.* [42] alects.* [42] In some areas (especially the southwest) nal
// has also merged with /n/. This is especially prevalent
The alveolo-palatal sibilants /t t / are the re- in the rhyme pairs -en/-eng /n / and -in/-ing /in i/.
sult of merger between the historical palatalized ve- As a result, jngoldand jngcapitalmerge in those
lars /kj kj xj/ and palatalized alveolar sibilants /tsj dialects.
tsj sj/.* [42] In about 20% of dialects, the alveolar sibilants failed to palatalize, remaining separate The Middle Chinese nal stops have undergone a varifrom the alveolo-palatal initials. (The unique pro- ety of developments in dierent Mandarin dialects (see
nunciation used in Beijing opera falls into this cate- Tones below). In JiangHuai dialects and some northgory.) On the other side, in some dialects of eastern western dialects they have merged as a nal glottal stop.
they have been lost, with varying eects
Shandong, the velar initials have failed to palatalize. In other dialects
on the vowel.* [42] As a result, Beijing Mandarin and
Many southwestern Mandarin dialects mix /f/ and Northeastern Mandarin underwent more vowel mergers
/xw/, substituting one for the other in some or all than many other varieties of Mandarin. For example:
cases.* [43] For example, fei /fei/ to yand hui R-coloring, a characteristic feature of Mandarin, works
/xwei/ dustmay be merged in these areas.
quite dierently in the southwest. Whereas Beijing dialect generally removes only a nal /j/ or /n/ when adding
In some dialects, initial /l/ and /n/ are not distinthe rhotic nal -r //, in the southwest the -r replaces
guished. In Southwestern Mandarin, these sounds
nearly the entire rhyme.
usually merge to /n/; in JiangHuai Mandarin, they
usually merge to /l/.* [43]
People in many Mandarin-speaking areas may use 4.3 Tones
dierent initial sounds where Beijing uses initial
r- //. Common variants include /j, /l/, /n/ and In general, no two Mandarin-speaking areas have exactly
/w/.* [42]
the same set of tone values, but most Mandarin-speaking
areas have very similar tone distribution. For example, the
Some dialects have initial // corresponding to the dialects of Jinan, Chengdu, Xi'an and so on all have four
zero initial of the standard language.* [42] This ini- tones that correspond quite well to the Beijing tones of []
tial is the result of a merger of the Middle Chinese (55), [] (35), [] (214), and [] (51). The exception
zero initial with // and //.
to this rule lies in the distribution of syllables formerly
Many dialects of Northwestern and Central Plains ending in a stop consonant, which* are treated dierently
Mandarin have /pf pf f v/ where Beijing has /tw in dierent dialects of Mandarin. [45]
tw w w/.* [42] Examples include /pfu/pigfor Middle Chinese stops and aricates had a three-way disstandard zh /tu/, /fei/waterfor standard shu tinction between tenuis, voiceless aspirate and voiced
/wei/, /v/ softfor standard run /wan/. (or breathy voiced) consonants. In Mandarin dialects

the voicing is generally lost, yielding voiceless aspirates
in syllables with a Middle Chinese level tone and nonaspirates is other syllables.* [33] 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.* [46]
The following examples from the standard language illustrate the regular development common to Mandarin
dialects (recall that pinyin d denotes a non-aspirate /t/,
while t denotes an aspirate /t/):
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 nal stops have disappeared in
most Mandarin dialects, with the syllables distributed
over the other four modern tones in dierent 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.* [47] For
example, the three characters , all tsjek in Middle
Chinese (William H. Baxter's transcription), are now pronounced j, j and j respectively. Older dictionaries such
as Mathews' ChineseEnglish Dictionary mark characters
whose pronunciation formerly ended with a plosive with
a superscript 5; however, this tone number is more commonly used for syllables that always have a neutral tone
(see below).
In JiangHuai dialects, a minority of Southwestern dialects (e.g. Minjiang) and Jin (sometimes considered
non-Mandarin), former nal plosives were not deleted entirely, but were reduced to a glottal stop //.* [47] This development is shared with the non-Mandarin Wu dialects,
and is thought to represent the pronunciation of Old Mandarin. In line with traditional Chinese phonology, dialects
such as JiangHuai and Minjiang are thus said to have ve
tones instead of four. However, modern linguistics considers these syllables as having no phonemic tone at all.

5 Vocabulary
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
axes such as lao- (), -zi (), -(e)r (/), and tou (/), or by compounding, e.g. by combining two
words of similar meaning as in cngmng (), made
from elements meaninghurriedandbusy. A distinctive feature of southwestern Mandarin is its frequent use
of noun reduplication, which is hardly used in Beijing.
In Sichuan, one hears baobaohandbagwhere Beijing
uses bao'r. There are also a small number of words that
have been polysyllabic since Old Chinese, such as hdi
() buttery.
The singular pronouns in Mandarin are w () I,
n (/) you, nn () you (formal)", and t
(//) he/she/it, with -men (/) added for
the plural. Further, there is a distinction between the plural rst-person pronoun znmen (/), which is
inclusive of the listener, and wmen (/), which
may be exclusive of the listener. Dialects of Mandarin
agree with each other quite consistently on these pronouns. While the rst 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 / nonyouand
yi he/she).* [50]
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 htng () alley.
Southern Chinese varieties have borrowed from Tai,* [51]
Austroasiatic,* [52] and Austronesian languages.

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
Although the system of tones is common across Man- vocabularyterms dealing with science, law, or governdarin dialects, their realization as tone contours varies ment.
widely:* [49]
* Dialects in and around the Nantong area typically have
many more than 4 tones, due to inuence from the neighbouring 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 dicult or impossible
to discriminate. These atonal syllables also occur in nonMandarin dialects, but in many southern dialects the tones
of all syllables are made clear.* [47]

6 Grammar
See also: Chinese grammar
Chinese varieties of all periods have traditionally been
considered prime examples of analytic languages, relying on word order and particles instead of inection
or axes to provide grammatical information such as
person, number, tense, mood, or case. Although modern varieties, including the Mandarin dialects, use a small
number of particles in a similar fashion to suxes, they

are still strongly analytic.* [53]

The basic word order of subjectverbobject 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

JiangHuai dialects, the objects occur in the reverse order.* [54]* [55]
Most varieties of Chinese use post-verbal particles to indicate aspect, but the particles used vary. Most Mandarin
dialects use the particle -le () to indicate the perfective
aspect and -zhe (/) for the progressive aspect. Other
Chinese varieties tend to use dierent particles, e.g. Cantonese jo2 and gan2 / respectively. The experiential aspect particle -guo (/) is used more widely,
except in Southern Min.* [56]
The subordinative particle de () is characteristic of
Mandarin dialects.* [57] Some southern dialects, and a
few JiangHuai dialects, preserve an older pattern of subordination without a marking particle, while in others a
classier fulls the role of the Mandarin particle.* [58]
Especially in conversational Chinese, sentence-nal
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 (),
which is used in most northern dialects to denote obviousness or contention, is replaced by yo () in southern


the common term assigned by linguists to this

group of languages implies a certain homogeneity
which is more likely to be related to the sociopolitical context than to linguistic reality, since most of
those varieties are not mutually intelligible.* [29]
A speaker of only standard Mandarin might take
a week or two to comprehend even simple Kunminghua with ease and then only if willing to
learn it.* [30]
[3] The development is purely due to the preservation of an
early glide which later became /j/ and triggered patalization, and does not indicate the absence of a vowel merger.

9 References
[1]Vrldens 100 strsta sprk 2010(The World's 100
Largest Languages in 2010), in Nationalencyklopedin
[2] (Taiwan) (2009)
[3] Nordho, Sebastian; Hammarstrm, Harald; Forkel,
Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). Mandarin
Chinese. Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology.
[4] China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Mathew
[5]mandarin, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1 (6th
ed.). Oxford University Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-19920687-2.
[6] Razfar & Rumenapp (2013), p. 293.
[7] Coblin (2000), p. 537.
[8] Norman (1988), p. 136.
[9] Norman (1988), p. 181.

See also
Chinese dictionary
Transcription into Chinese characters
Written Chinese
List of languages by number of native speakers


[1] A folk etymology deriving the name from Mn d rn (

"Manchu big man) is without foundation.* [6]
[2] For example:
Hence we see that even Mandarin includes within
it an unspecied number of languages, very few of
which have ever been reduced to writing, that are
mutually unintelligible.* [28]

[10] Wurm et al. (1987).

[11] Kurpaska (2010), pp. 5556.
[12] Norman (1988), pp. 4849.
[13] Norman (1988), pp. 4951.
[14] Norman (1988), pp. 3436, 5254.
[15] Norman (1988), pp. 4950.
[16] Norman (1988), pp. 111132.
[17] Ramsey (1987), p. 10.
[18] Fourmont, Etienne (1742). Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, latin, & cum characteribus Sinensium.
[19] Coblin (2000), p. 539.
[20] Kaske (2008), pp. 4852.
[21] Coblin (2003), p. 353.

[22] Morrison, Robert (1815). A dictionary of the Chinese language: in three parts, Volume 1. P.P. Thoms. p. x. OCLC
[23] Coblin (2000), pp. 540541.

[57] Norman (1988), p. 196.

[58] Yue (2003), pp. 113115.

Works cited

[24] Ramsey (1987), pp. 315.

[25] Zhang & Yang (2004).
[26] Norman (1988), pp. 183190.
[27] Ramsey (1987), p. 22.
[28] Mair (1991), p. 18.
[29] Escure (1997), p. 144.
[30] Blum (2001), p. 27.
[31] Richards (2003), pp. 138139.
[32] Ramsey (1987), p. 21.
[33] Norman (1988), p. 191.
[34] Kurpaska (2010), pp. 25, 4142, 49, 53.
[35] Yan (2006), p. 61.
[36] Kurpaska (2010), pp. 5556, 7475.
[37] Kurpaska (2010), p. 75.
[38] Rimsky-Korsako Dyer (197778), p. 351.
[39] Kurpaska (2010), pp. 6768.
[40] Mair (1990), pp. 56.
[41] Norman (1988), pp. 139141, 192.
[42] Norman (1988), p. 193.
[43] Norman (1988), p. 192.
[44] Norman (1988), p. 194.
[45] Norman (1988), pp. 194196.
[46] Norman (1988), pp. 194195.
[47] Norman (1988), p. 195.
[48] Li Rong's 1985 article on Mandarin classication, quoted
in Yan (2006), p. 61 and Kurpaska (2010), p. 89.
[49] Norman (1988), pp. 195196.
[50] Norman (1988), pp. 182, 195196.
[51] Ramsey (1987), pp. 3638.
[52] Norman, Jerry; Mei, Tsu-lin (1976).The Austroasiatics
in ancient South China: some lexical evidence. Monumenta Serica 32: 274301.
[53] Norman (1988), p. 10.
[54] Norman (1988), p. 162.
[55] Yue (2003), pp. 105106.
[56] Yue (2003), pp. 9093.

Blum, Susan Debra (2001), Portraits ofprimitives":

Ordering human kinds in the Chinese nation, Rowman & Littleeld, ISBN 978-0-7425-0092-1.
Coblin, W. South (2000),A brief history of Mandarin, Journal of the American Oriental Society
120 (4): 537552, doi:10.2307/606615, JSTOR
(2003), Robert Morrison and the Phonology
of Mid-Qng Mandarin, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 13 (3): 339
355, doi:10.1017/S1356186303003134.
Escure, Genevive (1997), Creole and dialect continua: standard acquisition processes in Belize and
China (PRC), John Benjamins, ISBN 978-90-2725240-1.
Kaske, Elisabeth (2008), The politics of language in
Chinese education, 18951919, BRILL, ISBN 97890-04-16367-6.
Kurpaska, Maria (2010), Chinese Language(s): A
Look Through the Prism of The Great Dictionary
of Modern Chinese Dialects, Walter de Gruyter,
ISBN 978-3-11-021914-2.
Mair, Victor H. (1990), Who were the Gymi?"
(PDF), Sino-Platonic Papers 18 (b): 18. (Archive)

(1991), What Is a Chinese Dialect/Topolect"?

Reections on Some Key
Sino-English Linguistic terms (PDF), SinoPlatonic Papers 29: 131.

Norman, Jerry (1988), Chinese, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-29653-3.

Razfar, Aria; Rumenapp, Joseph C. (2013), Applying Linguistics in the Classroom: A Sociocultural Approach, Routledge, ISBN 978-1-136-21205-5.
Ramsey, S. Robert (1987), The Languages of
China, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691-01468-5.
Richards, John F. (2003), The unending frontier:
an environmental history of the early modern world,
University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-52023075-0.
Rimsky-Korsako Dyer, Svetlana (197778),Soviet Dungan nationalism: a few comments on their
origin and language, Monumenta Serica 33: 349
362, JSTOR 40726247.



Wurm, Stephen Adolphe; Li, Rong; Baumann,

Theo; Lee, Mei W. (1987), Language Atlas of
China, Longman, ISBN 978-962-359-085-3.
Yan, Margaret Mian (2006), Introduction to Chinese Dialectology, LINCOM Europa, ISBN 978-389586-629-6.
Yue, Anne O. (2003), Chinese dialects: grammar, in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J.
(eds.), The Sino-Tibetan languages, Routledge, pp.
84125, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
Zhang, Bennan; Yang, Robin R. (2004), "Putonghua
education and language policy in postcolonial Hong
Kong, in Zhou, Minglang (ed.), Language policy in
the People's Republic of China: theory and practice
since 1949, Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 143
161, ISBN 978-1-4020-8038-8.


Further reading

Dwyer, Arienne M. (1995), From the Northwest

China Sprachbund: Xnhu Chinese dialect data,
Yuen Ren Society Treasury of Chinese Dialect Data
1: 143182.
Novotn, Zdenka (1967), Contributions to the
Study of Loan-Words and Hybrid Words in Modern
Chinese, Archiv orientln 35: 613649.
Shen, Zhongwei (2011), The origin of
Mandarin, Journal of Chinese Linguistics 39 (2):


Historical Western language texts

Balfour, Frederic Henry (1883), Idiomatic Dialogues in the Peking Colloquial for the Use of Student,
Shanghai: oces of the North-China Herald.
Grainger, Adam (1900), Western Mandarin: or the
spoken language of western China, with syllabic and
English indexes, Shanghai: American Presbyterian
Mission Press.
Mateer, Calvin Wilson (1906), A course of Mandarin lessons, based on idiom (revised 2nd ed.),
Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press.
Stent, George Carter; Hemeling, Karl (1905). A
Dictionary from English to Colloquial Mandarin
Chinese. Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs.
Whymant, A. Neville J. (1922), Colloquial Chinese
(northern) (2nd ed.), London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner & Company.


11 External links
Tones in Mandarin Dialects : Comprehensive
tone comparison charts for 523 Mandarin dialects.
(Compiled by James Campbell) Internet Archive



Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses


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