Standard Chinese

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by ShakeyX, Apr 18, 2013.

  1. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    This relates to chinese but also all languages with a standardized form.

    So I understand that in the country of China there are many variations (sometimes called dialects but can be mutually unintelligible). So I just wanted a really lamen step by step explanation of Standardized Chinese. What makes it different from Mandarin? Why is it different from just saying Mandarin is the official languages, what differences does it have.. etc..

    Thanks, Jake
  2. tarlou Senior Member

    Below is my understanding.

    Just as all other languages in the world, the old Chinese language develops into very different types of dialects/languages. But there are some differences from the European languages.
    1. Chinese culture is mostly an agricultural civilization. That is, people don't travel. So almost in any city in China, there can be several dialects. For two different places across the country, it is likely that people do not understand each other at all.
    2. Chinese does not have an alphabet and is written in a way quite independent from the pronunciation. People in different places read the same books even if they pronounce the words completely differently. This helps maintain Chinese one language. (Some linguists consider Chinese as several languages while some consider it as one language.)

    Nowadays, Chinese has several big branches (see Mandarin, Yue (also known as Cantonese), Wu, Hakka, etc. Here is a picture:
    These branches differ not only at pronunciations but also preferences on words and grammars. People from two branches have a lot of difficulties in understanding each other.

    Mandarin is the most widely used. People speaking different Mandarin dialects can basically understand each other. (This may not be true for the other branches, in which dialects are more complicated.) However, the differences (mostly tones) between Mandarin dialects are still very very significant.

    Standard Chinese is one dialect of Mandarin. It was invented based on Beijing accent. It is the official language or one of the official languages in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore (but they name standard Chinese in different ways). Standard-Chinese speakers (actually learners) from different places may speak slightly differently, because they are affected by their own dialects. I'm not sure about the dialects of English. But to me, the differences between the standard American English and the standard British English have the same extent as the differences inside 'Standard Chinese'.

    (Sometimes people use Mandarin to refer to standard Chinese. When foreigners learn Mandarin, they are actually learning standard Chinese.)
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  3. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    I've never heard of "Standard Chinese" as an official term, unless it's intended as a translation of "Putonghua", which is commonly referred to outside of China as "Mandarin". Mandarin is the officially standardized version of Chinese, which is based on the variety of Chinese spoken in the northeastern region (which includes Beijing) of the country, and which also incorporates some features and vocabulary from other regions of China. This is the popular usage of the term "Mandarin".

    "Mandarin" is also used as a technical term to indicate a major family of dialects covering many parts of China. This is easily confused with the one above but they are not the same, and if you're not discussing the linguistic map of China, you can safely ignore this latter, technical usage.

    PS: I didn't see the above post while writing this, so there may be points the two posts agree and differ.

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