|Early form Middle Mandarin||Signed forms Wenfa Shouyu|
|Native to China, Taiwan, Singapore|
Native speakers (has begun acquiring native speakers cited 1988, 2014) L2 speakers: 7% of China (2014)
Language family Sino-Tibetan Chinese Mandarin Beijing dialect Standard Chinese
Writing system Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Mainland Chinese Braille Taiwanese Braille Two-Cell Chinese Braille
Standard Chinese, also known as Modern Standard Mandarin, Standard Mandarin, or simply Mandarin, is a standard variety of Chinese that is the sole official language of both China and Taiwan, and also one of the four official languages of Singapore. Its pronunciation is based on the Beijing dialect, its vocabulary on the Mandarin dialects, and its grammar is based on written vernacular Chinese.
- Putonghua and Guoyu
- Late empire
- Modern China
- Current role
- Standard Chinese and the educational system
- Regional accents
- Writing system
Like other varieties of Chinese, Standard Chinese is a tonal language with topic-prominent organization and subject–verb–object word order. It has more initial consonants but fewer vowels, final consonants and tones than southern varieties. Standard Chinese is an analytic language, though with many compound words.
There exist two standardised forms of the language, namely Putonghua in Mainland China and Guoyu in Taiwan. Aside from a number of differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, Putonghua is written using simplified Chinese characters (plus Hanyu Pinyin romanization for teaching), while Guoyu is written using traditional Chinese characters (plus Bopomofo for teaching). There are many characters that are identical between the two systems.
In Chinese, the standard variety is known as:
Putonghua and Guoyu
In English, the governments of China and Hong Kong use Putonghua, Putonghua Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, and Mandarin, while those of Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, use Mandarin.
The term Guoyu had previously been used by non-Han rulers of China to refer to their languages, but in 1909 the Qing education ministry officially applied it to Mandarin, a lingua franca based on northern Chinese varieties, proclaiming it as the new "national language".
The name Putonghua also has a long, albeit unofficial, history. It was used as early as 1906 in writings by Zhu Wenxiong to differentiate a modern, standard Chinese from classical Chinese and other varieties of Chinese.
For some linguists of the early 20th century, the Putonghua, or "common tongue/speech", was conceptually different from the Guoyu, or "national language". The former was a national prestige variety, while the latter was the legal standard.
Based on common understandings of the time, the two were, in fact, different. Guoyu was understood as formal vernacular Chinese, which is close to classical Chinese. By contrast, Putonghua was called "the common speech of the modern man", which is the spoken language adopted as a national lingua franca by conventional usage.
The use of the term Putonghua by left-leaning intellectuals such as Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun influenced the People's Republic of China government to adopt that term to describe Mandarin in 1956. Prior to this, the government used both terms interchangeably.
In Taiwan, Guoyu (national language) continues to be the official term for Standard Chinese. The term Guoyu however, is less used in the PRC, because declaring a Beijing dialect-based standard to be the national language would be deemed unfair to speakers of other varieties and to the ethnic minorities. The term Putonghua (common speech), on the contrary, implies nothing more than the notion of a lingua franca.
During the government of a pro-Taiwan independence coalition (2000–2008), Taiwan officials promoted a different reading of Guoyu as all of the "national languages", meaning Hokkien, Hakka and Formosan as well as Standard Chinese.
Huayu, or "language of the Chinese nation", originally simply meant "Chinese language", and was used in overseas communities to contrast Chinese with foreign languages. Over time, the desire to standardise the variety of Chinese spoken in these communities led to the adoption of the name "Huayu" to refer to Mandarin.
This name also avoids choosing a side between the alternative names of Putonghua and Guoyu, which came to have political significance after their usages diverged along political lines between the PRC and the ROC. It also incorporates the notion that Mandarin is usually not the national or common language of the areas in which overseas Chinese live.
The term "Mandarin" is a translation of Guānhuà (官话/官話, literally "official's speech"), which referred to the lingua franca of the late Chinese empire. The Chinese term is obsolete as a name for the standard language, but is used by linguists to refer to the major group of Mandarin dialects spoken natively across most of northern and southwestern China.
In English, "Mandarin" may refer to the standard language, the dialect group as a whole, or to historic forms such as the late Imperial lingua franca. The name "Modern Standard Mandarin" is sometimes used by linguists who wish to distinguish the current state of the shared language from other northern and historic dialects.
The Chinese have different languages in different 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 official 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 language...
Chinese has long had considerable dialectal variation, hence prestige dialects have always existed, and linguae francae have always been needed. Confucius, for example, used yǎyán (雅言; "elegant speech") rather than colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty also referred to tōngyǔ (通语; "common language"). Rime books, which were written since the Northern and Southern dynasties, may also have reflected one or more systems of standard pronunciation during those times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite, pronunciations may have been very different, as the unifying factor of all Chinese dialects, Classical Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) began to use the term guānhuà (官话/官話), or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the courts. The term "Mandarin" is borrowed directly from Portuguese. The Portuguese word mandarim, derived from the Sanskrit word mantrin "counselor or minister", was first used to refer to the Chinese bureaucratic officials. The Portuguese then translated guānhuà as "the language of the mandarins" or "the mandarin language".
In the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies (正音书院/正音書院 Zhèngyīn Shūyuàn) in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the standard. But these attempts had little success, since as late as the 19th century the emperor had difficulty understanding some of his own ministers in court, who did not always try to follow any standard pronunciation.
Before the 19th century, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialect, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various dialects in the capital, Beijing. By some accounts, as late as the early 20th century, the position of Nanjing Mandarin was considered to be higher than that of Beijing by some and the postal romanization standards set in 1906 included spellings with elements of Nanjing pronunciation. Nevertheless, by 1909, the dying Qing dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as guóyǔ (国语/國語), or the "national language".
As the island of Taiwan had fallen under Japanese rule per the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, the term kokugo (Japanese: 國語, "national language") referred to the Japanese language until the handover to the ROC in 1945.
After the Republic of China was established in 1912, there was more success in promoting a common national language. A Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation was convened with delegates from the entire country. A Dictionary of National Pronunciation (国音字典/國音字典) was published in 1919, defining a hybrid pronunciation that did not match any existing speech. Meanwhile, despite the lack of a workable standardized pronunciation, colloquial literature in written vernacular Chinese continued to develop apace.
Gradually, the members of the National Language Commission came to settle upon the Beijing dialect, which became the major source of standard national pronunciation due to its prestigious status. In 1932, the commission published the Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (国音常用字汇/國音常用字彙), with little fanfare or official announcement. This dictionary was similar to the previous published one except that it normalized the pronunciations for all characters into the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect. Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.
After the Chinese Civil War, the People's Republic of China continued the effort, and in 1955, officially renamed guóyǔ as pǔtōnghuà (普通话/普通話), or "common speech". By contrast, the name guóyǔ continued to be used by the Republic of China which, after its 1949 loss in the Chinese Civil War, was left with a territory consisting only of Taiwan and some smaller islands. Since then, the standards used in the PRC and Taiwan have diverged somewhat, especially in newer vocabulary terms, and a little in pronunciation.
In 1956, the standard language of the People's Republic of China was officially defined as: "Pǔtōnghuà is the standard form of Modern Chinese with the Beijing phonological system as its norm of pronunciation, and Northern dialects as its base dialect, and looking to exemplary modern works in báihuà 'vernacular literary language' for its grammatical norms." By the official definition, Standard Chinese uses:
In the early 1950s, this standard language was understood by 41% of the population of the country, including 54% of speakers of Mandarin dialects, but only 11% of people in the rest of the country. In 1984, the proportion understanding the standard language nationally rose to 90% and the proportion understanding the standard language among the speakers of Mandarin dialects rose to 91%. A survey conducted by the Chinese Ministry of Education in 2007 indicated that 53.06% of the population were able to effectively communicate orally in Standard Chinese.
From an official point of view, Standard Chinese serves the purpose of a lingua franca — a way for speakers of the several mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese, as well as the Chinese minorities, to communicate with each other. The very name Putonghua, or "common speech," reinforces this idea. In practice, however, due to Standard Chinese being a "public" lingua franca, other Chinese varieties and even non-Sinitic languages, have shown signs of losing ground to the standard.
In both China and Taiwan, the use of Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the educational system and in the media has contributed to the spread of Mandarin. As a result, Mandarin is now spoken fluently, though often with some regional or personal variation from the standard in terms of pronunciation or lexicon, by most people in mainland China and Taiwan. In 2014, the Ministry of Education estimated that about 70% of the population of China spoke Standard Mandarin to some degree, but only one tenth of those could speak it "fluently and articulately".
Both mainland China and Taiwan use Standard Chinese in the official context and the governments are keen to promote its use as a national lingua franca. The PRC in particular has enacted a law (the National Common Language and Writing Law) which states that the government must "promote" Standard Mandarin. There is no explicit official intent to have Standard Chinese replace the regional varieties, but local governments have enacted regulations (such as the Guangdong National Language Regulations) which "implement" the national law by way of coercive measures to control the public use of regional spoken varieties and traditional characters in writing. In practice, some elderly or rural Chinese-language speakers do not speak Standard Chinese fluently, if at all, though most are able to understand it. But urban residents and the younger generations, who received their education with Standard Mandarin as the primary medium of education, are almost all fluent in a version of Standard Chinese, some to the extent of being unable to speak their local dialect.
In the predominantly Han areas in mainland China, while the use of Standard Chinese is encouraged as the common working language, the PRC has been somewhat sensitive to the status of minority languages and, outside the education context, has generally not discouraged their social use. Standard Chinese is commonly used for practical reasons, as, in many parts of southern China, the linguistic diversity is so large that neighboring city dwellers may have difficulties communicating with each other without a lingua franca.
In Taiwan, the relationship between Standard Chinese and other varieties, particularly Taiwanese Hokkien, has been more politically heated. During the martial law period under the Kuomintang (KMT) between 1949 and 1987, the KMT government revived the Mandarin Promotion Council and discouraged or, in some cases, forbade the use of Hokkien and other non-standard varieties. This produced a political backlash in the 1990s. Under the administration of Chen Shui-Bian, other Taiwanese varieties were taught in schools. The former President, Chen Shui-Bian, often spoke in Hokkien during speeches, while after the late 1990s, former President Lee Teng-hui, also speaks Hokkien openly.
In Hong Kong and Macau, which are now special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China, Cantonese has been the primary language spoken by the majority of the population, for historical and linguistic reasons. Cantonese remains the official government language of Hong Kong and Macau. After Hong Kong's handover from the United Kingdom and Macau's handover from Portugal, Putonghua is the language used by the governments of the two territories to communicate with the Central People's Government of the PRC. There have been widespread efforts to promote usage of Putonghua in Hong Kong since the handover, with specific efforts to train police and teachers.
In Singapore, the government has heavily promoted a "Speak Mandarin Campaign" since the late 1970s, with the use of other Chinese varieties in broadcast media being prohibited and their use in any context officially discouraged until recently. This has led to some resentment amongst the older generations, as Singapore's migrant Chinese community is made up almost entirely of people of south Chinese descent. Lee Kuan Yew, the initiator of the campaign, admitted that to most Chinese Singaporeans, Mandarin was a "stepmother tongue" rather than a true mother language. Nevertheless, he saw the need for a unified language among the Chinese community not biased in favor of any existing group.
Mandarin is now spreading overseas beyond East Asia and Southeast Asia as well. In New York City, United States, use of Cantonese that dominated the Manhattan Chinatown for decades is being rapidly swept aside by Mandarin, the lingua franca of most of the latest Chinese immigrants.
Standard Chinese and the educational system
In both the PRC and Taiwan, Standard Chinese is taught by immersion starting in elementary school. After the second grade, the entire educational system is in Standard Chinese, except for local language classes that have been taught for a few hours each week in Taiwan starting in the mid-1990s.
In December 2004, the first survey of language use in the People's Republic of China revealed that only 53% of its population, about 700 million people, could communicate in Standard Chinese. This 53% is defined as a passing grade above 3-B (a score above 60%) of the Evaluation Exam.
With the fast development of the country and the massive internal migration in China, the standard Putonghua Proficiency Test has quickly become popular. Many university graduates in mainland China and Hong Kong take this exam before looking for a job. Employers often require varying proficiency in Standard Chinese from applicants depending on the nature of the positions. Applicants of some positions, e.g. telephone operators, may be required to obtain a certificate. People raised in Beijing are sometimes considered inherently 1-A (A score of at least 97%) and exempted from this requirement. As for the rest, the score of 1-A is rare. According to the official definition of proficiency levels, people who get 1-B (A score of at least 92%) are considered qualified to work as television correspondents or in broadcasting stations. 2-A (A score of at least 87%) can work as Chinese Literature Course teachers in public schools. Other levels include: 2-B (A score of at least 80%), 3-A (A score of at least 70%) and 3-B (A score of at least 60%). In China, a proficiency of level 3-B usually cannot be achieved unless special training is received. Even though many Chinese do not speak with standard pronunciation, spoken Standard Chinese is widely understood to some degree.
The China National Language And Character Working Committee was founded in 1985. One of its important responsibilities is to promote Standard Chinese proficiency for Chinese native speakers.
The phoneme inventory of Standard Chinese consists of about two dozen consonants, of which only /n/, /ŋ/, and under certain circumstances the retroflex approximant /ɻ / can occur in the syllable coda, about half a dozen vowels, some of which form diphthongs, and four tones, one of which is marked with creaky voice. Statistically, vowels and tones are of similar importance in the language.
It is common for Standard Chinese to be spoken with the speaker's regional accent, depending on factors such as age, level of education, and the need and frequency to speak in official or formal situations. This appears to be changing, though, in large urban areas, as social changes, migrations, and urbanization take place.
Due to evolution and standardization, Mandarin, although based on the Beijing dialect, is no longer synonymous with it. Part of this was due to the standardization to reflect a greater vocabulary scheme and a more archaic and "proper-sounding" pronunciation and vocabulary.
Distinctive features of the Beijing dialect are the use of erhua, a final "er" (/ɻ /) sound, often as a diminutive, in vocabulary items that are left unadorned in descriptions of the standard such as the Xiandai Hanyu Cidian, as well as more neutral tones. An example of standard versus Beijing dialect would be the standard men (door) and Beijing menr.
Most Standard Chinese as spoken on Taiwan differs mostly in the tones of some words as well as some vocabulary. Minimal use of the neutral tone and erhua (final "er"; /ɻ/), and technical vocabulary constitute the greatest divergences between the two forms.
The stereotypical "southern Chinese" accent does not distinguish between retroflex and alveolar consonants, pronouncing pinyin zh [tʂ], ch [tʂʰ], and sh [ʂ] in the same way as z [ts], c [tsʰ], and s [s] respectively. Southern-accented Standard Chinese may also interchange l and n, final n and ng, and vowels i and ü [y]. Attitudes towards southern accents, particularly the Cantonese accent, range from disdain to admiration.
Many formal, polite and humble words that were in use in imperial China have not been used in daily conversation in modern-day Mandarin, such as jiàn (贱/賤 "my humble") and guì (贵/貴 "your honorable").
Although Chinese speakers make a clear distinction between Standard Chinese and the Beijing dialect, there are aspects of Beijing dialect that have made it into the official standard. Standard Chinese has a T–V distinction between the polite and informal "you" that comes from the Beijing dialect, although its use is quite diminished in daily speech. In addition, it also distinguishes between "zánmen" (we including the listener) and "wǒmen" (we not including the listener). In practice, neither distinction is commonly used by most Chinese, at least outside the Beijing area.
The following samples are some phrases from the Beijing dialect which are not yet accepted into Standard Chinese:
The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which have become accepted as Standard Chinese:
Chinese is a very analytic or isolating language, having almost no inflectional morphemes. It follows a similar sentence structure to English, frequently forming sentences in the order subject-predicate. The predicate can be an intransitive verb, a transitive verb followed by a direct object, a linking verb followed by a predicate nominative, etc.
Chinese differs from English in distinguishing between names of things, which can stand as predicate nominatives, and names of characteristics. Names of characteristics (e.g., green) cannot follow linking verbs. There is not an equivalent to the English predicate adjective. Instead, abstract characterizations such as "green", "angry", "hot", etc., stand as complete predicates in their own right. For example, 我不累. Wǒ bú lèi. A word-for-word version in English might be "I not tired." Another common phrase, 你好 (nǐ hăo), demonstrates this feature. While it gets translated into English as "hello", the transliteration is "You good".
Chinese additionally differs from English in that it forms another kind of sentence by stating a topic and following it by a comment. To do this in English, speakers generally flag the topic of a sentence by prefacing it with "as for." For instance, one might say, "As for the money that Mom gave us, I have already bought candy with it." Note that the comment in this case is itself a complete sentence with subject, verb, and object. The Chinese version is simply, 妈妈给我们的钱,我已经买了糖果. Māma gěi wǒmen de qián, wǒ yǐjīng mǎile táng le. This might be directly translated as "The money Mom gave us, I already bought candy," lacking a preface as in English.
Chinese does not inflect verbs for tense like English and other European languages. Instead it uses a combination of aspect markers for aspect and modality. In other words, it employs single syllables that indicate such things as (1) an action being expected or anticipated, (2) that the subject of the sentence has gone through some experience within a stated or implicit time period, (3) that a statement that was formerly not the case has now become true, i.e., that there has been a change of status, (4) that there still has not been a change in a condition previously noted, etc.
The time when something happens can be given by an explicit term such as "yesterday," by relative terms such as "formerly," etc.
Another major difference between the syntax of Chinese and languages like English lies in the stacking order of modifying clauses. 昨天发脾气的外交警察取消了沒有交钱的那些人的入境证. Zuótiān fāpíqì de wàijiāo jǐngchá qǔxiāole méiyǒu jiāoqián de nàxiē rén de rùjìngzhèng. Using the Chinese order in English, that sentence would be:"[Yesterday got angry] → foreign affairs policeman canceled [did not pay] → [those people]'s visas."
In more ordinary English order, that would be:"The foreign affairs policeman who got angry yesterday canceled the visas of those people who did not pay."
There are a few other features of Chinese that would be unfamiliar to speakers of English, but the features mentioned above are generally the most noticeable.
Standard Chinese is written with characters corresponding to syllables of the language, most of which represent a morpheme. In most cases, these characters come from those used in Classical Chinese to write cognate morphemes of late Old Chinese, though their pronunciation, and often meaning, has shifted dramatically over two millennia. However, there are several words, many of them heavily used, which have no classical counterpart or whose etymology is obscure. Two strategies have been used to write such words:
The government of the PRC (as well as some other governments and institutions) has promulgated a set of simplified forms. Under this system, the forms of the words zhèlǐ ("here") and nàlǐ ("there") changed from 這裏/這裡 and 那裏/那裡 to 这里 and 那里.
Chinese characters were traditionally read from top to bottom, right to left, but in modern usage it is more common to read from left to right.