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Chinese Language

   Used by the Han people in China, the Chinese language has a long history, having established a fairly mature written language more than 3,000 years ago. 

     The Chinese language has more than 1.2 billion users. In addition to the Chinese mainland, Taiwan Province, Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, some people in Singapore and Malaysia use Chinese, and millions of overseas Chinese and foreign citizens of Chinese origin distributed around the world use various Chinese dialectsa as native language. It is also one of the working languages of the United Nations.  

     The standard language of Chinese is putonghua (Mandarin) which is called guoyu (national language) in Taiwan Province and huayu (Chinese language) in Singapore and Malaysia. The Chinese language presently has seven dialects: northern dialect, Wu dialect, Xiang or Hunan dialect, Gan dialect, Hakka, Yue or Guangdong dialect and Min dialect. Mandarin is the standard language as well as the common one of the Han people. 

Dialects

With a vast territory and huge population, China has many different dialects which are of great complexity. Divided into official and non-official dialects, they vary between different areas. The official dialects generally refer to the northern dialects, while the non-official dialects are often spoken in the southeast part of China. Below is a table showing the Chinese dialects in detail:

Categories Dialects Spoken in Areas of China
Official North China Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei Province, Henan Province, Shandong Province, Liaoning Province, Jilin Province, Heilongjiang Province, Part of Inner Mongolia
Northwest China Shanxi Province, Shaanxi Province, Gansu Province, Part of Qinghai Province, Ningxia Province and Inner Mongolia
Southwest China Most areas of Hubei Province (southeastern and eastern parts excluded ), Yunnan Province, Guizhou Province, Sichuan Province, north sides of Hunan Province and Guangxi Province
Yangtze-HuaiRiver Areas along the northern and southern banks of Yangtze River in Anhui Province, Northern areas of Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province (Huizhou excluded), Southern areas of Yangtze River (northernmost to Nanjing and southernmost to Zhenjiang)
Non-official Wu Southern part of Jiangsu Province; Zhejiang Province
Gan JiangxiProvince
Xiang HunanProvince; northern part of Guangxi Province
Yue GuangdongProvince; Southeast part of Guangxi Province
Min FujianProvince; Taiwan Province; Guangdong Province (Chaozhou, Shantou), Hainan Province
Hakka Eastern and northern part of Guangdong Province; Western part of Fujian Province; Southern part of Jiangxi Province; Taiwan Province

Due to the differences between each of the Chinese dialects, there are obvious obstacles to people speaking their own dialects and communicating with each other, especially among the non-official Chinese dialects.

English is a required course and universal education in China and has great popularity. Nowadays many Chinese people can speak basic English, especially the youth, students, and staff of service trades like hotels, restaurants, airlines, banks and post offices. In large cities there are more people who can communicate with foreigners in English than smaller towns & cities. Some may master a second foreign language like French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. However, in rural or remote areas, few people can speak English or other foreign languages.

Chinese Characters

The Chinese characters constitute one of mankind's oldest systems of writing, and have the most users in the world. There are many Chinese characters, totaling about 60,000, with about 6,000 basic ones. 

     Chinese characters have a long history. The oldest Chinese characters discovered till now are jiaguwen (ancient Chinese characters carved on tortoise shells or animal bones), dating back 3,400 years, which were already mature characters. As scientists estimate, Chinese characters have a history of about 5,000 years.

    Chinese characters originate from pictures for keeping records. From ancient to modern times, the form and structure of Chinese characters has changed a lot, evolving from jiaguwen, jinwen (ancient language used in inscriptions on ancient bronze objects), xiaozhuana (small seal character), lishub (official script), and kaishuc (regular script). The current script of Chinese characters is kaishu (regular script).  

There are mainly four word-formation methods as follows:  

    Pictography refers to the method to draw the form of a thing, such as

    Self-explanatory characters are made up by adding self-explanatory symbols on pictographs, or totally made up of symbols, such as , which is made up by adding a point on the cutting edge of a knife, pointing out the position of the blade.  

     Associative compounds are combination of two or more symbols to represent a new character of a new meaning. For instance, is a person leaning against a tree, meaning "rest". 

    Pictophonetic method is a word-formation method combining one element of a character indicating meaning and the other, sound, into a new word. Form element indicates the word's meaning and characteristic. Phonetic element indicates the pronunciation of the word. For example,  (lake) is composed of three dots indicating water and , indicating the sound.    

    In history, Chinese characters were borrowed by Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, thereby promoting international communication. In modern times, Chinese people have by many means solved the problem of inputting Chinese characters into computers to serve information processing. It has been borne out that Chinese characters are of vigorous vitality.
 

On the first line is the original Chinese characters.

A circle with a dot in it means the Sun. A moon shape with cloud around it is the Moon. What people mean by putting the Sun and the Moon together? It means light, bright...

On the right, there are two characters, one is pointing to top, and one is pointing down. So the left one means "up" and the right one means "down".

At the bottom, there are one line, meaning 1, two lines = 2, and three lines = 3.

Then with the mountain shape - a horizontal line with three vertical lines above it (with the middle one higher), people are expressing "mountain", and for water, they draw it like water.

That is the origin of the Chinese characters.

In the several thousands characters (two thousands are commonly used), the most basic characters are either the same of the nature, or has some meaning like 1, 2, 3...

Pronunciation and Characters

    If someone pronounce  (or Mountain) as Mountain, and pronounce 一 (or one) as one, as long as they write it the same way, they are still speaking Chinese!

From the middle of the last century, a general pronounciation was enforced to make it easy for people to communicate. This is called Putonghua  or Mandarin. Many people say basically two languages, with Putonghua and the local language.

I am convinced because of people share the same written language, China is always a united nation while empire like its size already broke into smaller countries. If China should have used a language the record the pronunciation, it should have already be the same situation as Europe - German, French, English... many very similar but different languages, thus became different countries.

Just because it is the shape of the nature, I still can directly read all the books written thousands of years ago without too much difficulty (a little bit). This is a miracle that I enjoy.

Hope this helps to bring some interest about Chinese to you.

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