Access the NEW Basecamp Support Portal

Chinese language

« Back to Glossary Index

Classification and History
– Chinese language is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, along with Burmese, Tibetan, and other languages in the Himalayas and Southeast Asian Massif.
– Reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan is less developed compared to Indo-European or Austroasiatic families due to difficulties in language diversity, lack of inflection, and language contact.
– The higher-level structure of the Sino-Tibetan family is still unclear.
– The first written records of Chinese appeared over 3,000 years ago during the Shang dynasty.
– Local varieties of Chinese became mutually unintelligible over time.
– Central governments have repeatedly attempted to establish a unified standard.
– The language has evolved through different stages such as Old Chinese and Middle Chinese.
– The standardization of Chinese has been an ongoing process throughout history.

Old and Middle Chinese
– Old Chinese is the earliest attested stage of the language, with examples found in divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones.
– Middle Chinese developed after Old Chinese and before Modern Chinese.
– The phonetic categories of Old Chinese can be reconstructed from ancient poetry rhymes.
– The Qieyun, a rime dictionary, recorded the pronunciations of different regions during the Middle Chinese period.

Standard Chinese
– Standard Chinese is the official language of both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China.
– It is one of the four official languages of Singapore and one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
– Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin.
– It uses a logography of Chinese characters for writing.
– Simplified characters have been promoted in mainland China since the 1950s, while traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Regional Varieties
– Chinese languages are divided into regional groups based on phonetic developments from Middle Chinese.
– Mandarin is the most widely spoken variety, followed by Min, Wu, and Yue.
– These regional varieties are often unintelligible to each other.
– Some transitional areas exist where limited intelligibility between different branches occurs.
– All varieties of Chinese are tonal to some degree and are largely analytic in structure.

Significance and Usage
– Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 1.3 billion native speakers.
– It plays a significant role in global trade, culture, and politics.
– Chinese characters have influenced the writing systems of neighboring countries like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
– Learning Chinese is increasingly popular for business and cultural exchange purposes.
– Chinese language education is supported by various institutions and programs worldwide.

Chinese language (Wikipedia)

Chinese (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語; pinyin: Hànyǔ; lit. 'Han language' or 中文; Zhōngwén; 'Chinese writing') is a group of languages spoken natively by the ethnic Han Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. Approximately 1.3 billion people, or around 16% of the global population, speak a variety of Chinese as their first language.

Chinese
汉语; 漢語; Hànyǔ or 中文; Zhōngwén
Hànyǔ written in traditional (top) and simplified (middle) forms, Zhōngwén (bottom)
Native to
Native speakers
1.35 billion (2017–2022)
Early forms
Standard forms
Dialects
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-1zh
ISO 639-2chi (B)
zho (T)
ISO 639-3zho – inclusive code
Individual codes:
cdo – Eastern Min
cjy – Jinyu
cmn – Mandarin
cpx – Pu-Xian Min
czh – Huizhou
czo – Central Min
gan – Gan
hak – Hakka
hsn – Xiang
mnp – Northern Min
nan – Southern Min
wuu – Wu
yue – Yue
csp – Southern Pinghua
cnp – Northern Pinghua
och – Old Chinese
ltc – Late Middle Chinese
lzh – Classical Chinese
Glottologsini1245
Linguasphere79-AAA
Map of the Chinese-speaking world
  Regions with a native Chinese-speaking majority.
  Regions where Chinese is not native but an official or educational language.
  Regions with significant Chinese-speaking minorities.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Han language
Simplified Chinese汉语
Traditional Chinese漢語
Literal meaningHan language
Chinese writing
Chinese中文
Literal meaningChinese writing
Han writing (esp. when distinguished from other languages of China)
Simplified Chinese汉文
Traditional Chinese漢文
Literal meaningHan writing
Ying, a speaker of Henan Chinese

Chinese languages form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The spoken varieties of Chinese are usually considered by native speakers to be dialects of a single language. However, their lack of mutual intelligibility means they are sometimes considered to be separate languages in a family. Investigation of the historical relationships among the varieties of Chinese is ongoing. Currently, most classifications posit 7 to 13 main regional groups based on phonetic developments from Middle Chinese, of which the most spoken by far is Mandarin with 66%, or around 800 million speakers, followed by Min (75 million, e.g. Southern Min), Wu (74 million, e.g. Shanghainese), and Yue (68 million, e.g. Cantonese). These branches are unintelligible to each other, and many of their subgroups are unintelligible with the other varieties within the same branch (e.g. Southern Min). There are, however, transitional areas where varieties from different branches share enough features for some limited intelligibility, including New Xiang with Southwestern Mandarin, Xuanzhou Wu Chinese with Lower Yangtze Mandarin, Jin with Central Plains Mandarin and certain divergent dialects of Hakka with Gan (though these are unintelligible with mainstream Hakka). All varieties of Chinese are tonal to at least some degree, and are largely analytic.

The earliest Chinese written records are oracle bone inscriptions dating from the Shang dynasty c. 1250 BCE. The phonetic categories of Old Chinese can be reconstructed from the rhymes of ancient poetry. During the Northern and Southern period, Middle Chinese went through several sound changes and split into several varieties following prolonged geographic and political separation. The Qieyun, a rime dictionary, recorded a compromise between the pronunciations of different regions. The royal courts of the Ming and early Qing dynasties operated using a koiné language known as Guanhua, based on the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin.

Standard Chinese is an official language of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan, one of the four official languages of Singapore, and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, and was first officially adopted in the 1930s. The language is written primarily using a logography of Chinese characters, largely shared by readers who may otherwise speak mutually unintelligible varieties. Since the 1950s, the use of Simplified characters has been promoted by the government of the People's Republic of China, with Singapore officially adopting them in 1976. Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and among Chinese-speaking communities overseas. Traditional characters are also in use in mainland China, despite them not being the first choice in daily use. For example, practising Chinese calligraphy requires the knowledge of traditional Chinese characters.


« Back to Glossary Index

Request an article

Please let us know what you were looking for and our team will not only create the article but we'll also email you to let you know as soon as it's been published.
Most articles take 1-2 business days to research, write, and publish.
Content/Article Request Form

Submit your RFP

We can't wait to read about your project. Use the form below to submit your RFP!
Request for Proposal

Contact and Business Information

Provide details about how we can contact you and your business.


Quote Request Details

Provide some information about why you'd like a quote.