Foreign Service Institute Dicendi Biography & Facts
Chinese (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語; pinyin: Hànyǔ or also 中文; Zhōngwén, especially for the written language) is a group of languages that form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages family, spoken by the ethnic Han Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in Greater China. About 1.3 billion people (or approximately 16% of the world's population) speak a variety of Chinese as their first language.The spoken varieties of Chinese are usually considered by native speakers to be variants of a single language. Due to their lack of mutual intelligibility, however, they are classified as separate languages in a family by linguists, who note that the languages are as divergent as the Romance languages. Investigation of the historical relationships among the varieties of Chinese is just starting. 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 about 800 million speakers, or 66%), 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 Southwest Mandarin, Xuanzhou Wu 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 Shang dynasty-era oracle bone inscriptions, which can be dated to 1250 BCE. The phonetic categories of Old Chinese can be reconstructed from the rhymes of ancient poetry. During the Northern and Southern dynasties period, Middle Chinese went through several sound changes and split into several varieties following prolonged geographic and political separation. 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 (Guanhua) based on Nanjing dialect of Lower Yangtze Mandarin.
Standard Chinese (Standard Mandarin), based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, was adopted in the 1930s and is now an official language of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), one of the four official languages of Singapore, and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The written form, using the logograms known as Chinese characters, is shared by literate speakers of mutually unintelligible dialects. Since the 1950s, simplified Chinese characters have been promoted for use by the government of the People's Republic of China, while Singapore officially adopted simplified characters in 1976. Traditional characters remain in use in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other countries with significant overseas Chinese speaking communities such as Malaysia (which although adopted simplified characters as the de facto standard in the 1980s, traditional characters still remain in widespread use).
Linguists classify all varieties of Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, together with Burmese, Tibetan and many other languages spoken in the Himalayas and the Southeast Asian Massif. Although the relationship was first proposed in the early 19th century and is now broadly accepted, reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan is much less developed than that of families such as Indo-European or Austroasiatic. Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of inflection in many of them, and the effects of language contact. In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in mountainous areas that are difficult to reach and are often also sensitive border zones. Without a secure reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan, the higher-level structure of the family remains unclear. A top-level branching into Chinese and Tibeto-Burman languages is often assumed, but has not been convincingly demonstrated.
The first written records appeared over 3,000 years ago during the Shang dynasty. As the language evolved over this period, the various local varieties became mutually unintelligible. In reaction, central governments have repeatedly sought to promulgate a unified standard.
Old and Middle Chinese
The earliest examples of Chinese (Old Chinese) are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 BCE in the late Shang dynasty. The next attested stage came from inscriptions on bronze artifacts of the Western Zhou period (1046–771 BCE), the Classic of Poetry and portions of the Book of Documents and I Ching. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the phonology of Old Chinese by comparing later varieties of Chinese with the rhyming practice of the Classic of Poetry and the phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters. Although many of the finer details remain unclear, most scholars agree that Old Chinese differs from Middle Chinese in lacking retroflex and palatal obstruents but having initial consonant clusters of some sort, and in having voiceless nasals and liquids. Most recent reconstructions also describe an atonal language with consonant clusters at the end of the syllable, developing into tone distinctions in Middle Chinese. Several derivational affixes have also been identified, but the language lacks inflection, and indicated grammatical relationships using word order and grammatical particles.Middle Chinese was the language used during Northern and Southern dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE). It can be divided into an early period, reflected by the Qieyun rime book (601 CE), and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by rhyme tables such as the Yunjing constructed by ancient Chinese philologists as a guide to the Qieyun system. These works define phonological categories, but with little hint of what sounds they represent. Linguists have identified these sounds by comparing the categories with pronunciations in modern varieties of Chinese, borrowed Chinese words in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean, and transcription evidence. The resulting system is very complex, with a large number of consonants and vowels, but they are probably not all distinguished in any single dialect. Most linguists now believe it represents a diasystem encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading the classics.
Classical and literary forms
The relationship between spoken and written Chinese is rather complex ("diglossia"). Its spoken varieties have evolved at different rates, while written Chinese itself h.... Discover the Foreign Service Institute Dicendi popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Foreign Service Institute Dicendi books.