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China - dozen major spoken languages


The Chinese have had a written language for more than 3,000 years. Although the Chinese language comprises more than a dozen major spoken languages, most of which are mutually unintelligible and in effect separate tongues with their own dialects, all writing is done with the same script, or characters. This literary unity has been significant to the historical unity of the Chinese people since the Shang dynasty.

One of the most ambitious efforts of the Chinese Communist government since 1949 has been the modification of the Chinese language. The official spoken language of the Chinese is the Putonghua (“standard speech”) dialect of Mandarin, the dialect of North China. This dialect was declared the common language at the National Conference on Reform of the Chinese Written Language in 1955. Major efforts have also been directed towards modifying the written language. The use of simplified characters—traditional characters written with fewer strokes, or in a type of shorthand—has steadily increased. This has been done to facilitate the government’s goal of broader literacy.

Ethnic groups and language in China


Ethnic groups in China
Ethnic groups in China

In 1977 the Chinese made a formal request to the UN to have Pinyin (“phonetic spelling”) romanization used for the spelling of place-names in China. This method of transliteration was created by the Chinese in the late 1950s and has been undergoing steady modification. Some Chinese officials claim that Pinyin will ultimately replace Chinese characters as the written Chinese language; this is not expected to become a reality in the near future, however.

The Wade-Giles system remains a common alternative method of romanization. Throughout this article, Wade-Giles equivalents are given where appropriate in brackets after a Pinyin name. While Mandarin is a mother tongue for around 70 per cent of the population, China’s more than 70 million minority citizens have their own spoken languages, which include Zhuang, Buyi, Mongolian, Tibetan, Miao, Uygur, and Kazakh.

Formerly, many of the minority languages did not have a written form the Chinese government has encouraged the development of written scripts for these languages, using Pinyin. These groups are also now encouraged to continue traditions that will promote knowledge of their ethnolinguistic heritage, though they suffered discrimination during the Cultural Revolution. The Mandarin-based dialect is taught in schools, usually as a second language, and knowledge of it is requisite throughout China. Cantonese is the favoured language of Chinese outside China, owing to the predominance of emigrants originally from Guangdong (Canton) in the overseas Chinese communities and the importance of the Guangdong region in international trade. "China" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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