Exploring the Linguistic Diversity in China
China, known as the largest populated country in the world, seems to be leading in every major manufacturing industry. It is said that China is shaping a new face for the industries and soon plans to become the leading country in the world.
With more than 56 ethnic groups in China, the diverse culture brings together a level of peace, harmony and major collaboration of not only traditions but languages as well.
What’s the Total Count of Languages in China?
China is quite popular for its vibrant traditions, cultures, festivals, and norms. Another distinguishing factor is its language.
Did You Know: UN celebrates Chinese Language Day on April 20th?
Chinese is honored as the world’s oldest language. Back in the day, Chinese characters were written on bones, clay and turtle shells.
Chinese is the official language of China, and the majority population speaks standard Chinese but it’s not the only language as per se. More than one Chinese dialect is spoken so it suffices to say each ethnic group represents their unique dialect. As of today, around 302 languages are being spoken in China, 276 of which are indigenous.
Due to political reasons, various Chinese dialects are in use in each region. Contrary to popular belief, Mandarin is just one of the dialects that happen to be more popular than the others. Similarly, other languages around the world vary in dialects like Portuguese in Brazil and Europe or Spanish in Spain.
Spoken by 1.3 billion people, the Chinese language is based on one of the world’s largest language families. With a large number of dialects being spoken around, Pǔtōnghuà is the official language since the early 1900s.
Keeping the Official Verdict in Mind:
The more China involves in overseas trades, the prospects of foreign business increases. Despite other dialects, Mandarin is the official dialect that is taught in schools and all aspects of life are highly dependent on this language.
As mentioned above, dialects vary in each region so according to the national policy, a native (or any business party) should be able to understand and speak the regional dialect.
Let’s take a Peek at the Chinese languages and Unique Dialects
To make it easy to understand, traditionally there are 7-10 groups of Chinese languages out of which mandarin is the largest one. Surprisingly some dialects are not well versed due to geographical isolation, which makes it hard to keep up with the language.
The Chinese language is an effort of its own; symbols are complex andx hard to understand as it is based on a pictogram. Now let’s take a look at some of the basic dialects for a better understanding;
The official language is known as Pǔtōnghuà or Northern Chinese. Spoken as the first language by the majority population of China, it has 1.082 billion speakers. Traditionally mandarin is subcategorized in four divisions;
Northern Mandarin – spoken in northeast provinces such as Manchuria, northern China and Beijing, the capital.
Northwestern Mandarin – spoken widely in Baoji and northwest provinces (Ningxia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Shaanxi, and Gansu).
Southwestern Mandarin – spoken in southwest China and other parts such as Yunnan.
Southern Mandarin – is well known in Nanjing, Guangdong, and Hainan.
According to these divisions, mandarin is based on four tones, level, rising, high rising and falling, with major differences in vowels and syllables.
Also known as Wúyuèyǔ, Goetian, and Changzhou, this dialect is spoken on the coastal areas in Shanghai.
As a second rank, it is spoken by 81.4 million speakers around the world, and besides, in other provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, etc. According to historical facts, it gained popularity during Ming Dynasty’s rule and as Wu became a metropolitan area for the merchants. Since then, Wu dialect has preserved its historical eight tones but evolved with time.
The vowels and consonants are the same with a litter variation over time.
You may be familiar with the other name for Yue, as Cantonese. Widely spoken in provinces of Guangdong, Hunan, and Hainan, it also widely spoken in other parts of the world like;
- Hong Kong
Similar to the Wu dialect, Cantonese is a well-preserved language since ancient times. With six tones and a few initial consonants, there are distinct syllables. It’s because of the merchants and Chinese immigrants overseas.
Currently, there are 62 million speakers of Yue in China, and therefore much widely known after Mandarin.
Another dominant Chinese dialect in southern China is Xiang. Mandarin has a major impact on this dialect as the majority of neighboring territories speaks the official dialect, which explains the similarities in both dialects.
For a better understanding, Xiang is further divided into two categories;
- New Xiang
- Old Xiang
The evolved version is spoken in Hunan’s capital, Changsha while the old version is predominant in Shuangfeng and other smaller areas in Hunan. With ancient roots, Old Xiang is similar to the Wu language. Five tones and initial consonants are in use even now.
Min is primarily spoken in Fujian and other parts of Taiwan, Hainan, Zhejiang, and Guangdong. It comes with a slightly varying pronunciation style known as Tang Min –a literary combination of grammar and vocabulary; it is divided into 5 variants;
- Min Nan (50.5 million speakers)
- Min Dong (10.3 million speakers)
- Min Bei (11 million speakers)
- Pu-Xian (92.6 million speakers)
- Min Zhong (3.5 million speakers)
Without any proper resources, it was difficult to find the original characters (from the historical point of view) but based on some minute findings it showed some similarities to mandarin characters and extinct Roman characters.
Mostly spoken in geographically isolated regions, it emphasizes its uniqueness from 13 sub-dialects, and each one is different!
With an estimated total of 48.5 million speakers worldwide, there are 43.5 million speakers in China. Despite the isolation factor, it is commonly practiced in the highly concentrated areas of Guangdong in the east, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hainan, Guangxi and Fujian in the south.
Similar to Cantonese, this dialect has 6 tones and shows resemblance with Gan and other minor dialects as well.
Besides China, it maps the areas of Brunei, Cambodia, hon gong, Taiwan, French guinea, Polynesia, Suriname, Singapore, and other neighboring countries. The immigration of natives to these areas became the source of the language in other countries.
Considering the linguistic diversity in China, it becomes challenging to localize your brand for Chinese market. In the business world, it is imperative to understand a native language, especially if you are concerned to expand business overseas. Not only it requires a complete understanding, but you will be requiring Chinese translation services as well to localize the brand’s image. Make sure you take professional assistance to get your brand localized as per the native language of the target audience.