Mandarin (普通话 / 汉语 / 国语 / 华语)
Mandarin is a variety of Chinese spoken mainly in China, Taiwan,
and Singapore by about 1.3 billion people. It is the main language of government,
the media and education in China and Taiwan, and one of the four official
languages in Singapore. Mandarin is also spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia,
Mongolia, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, the USA,
Vietnam, Laos, the UK and Mauritius.
Mandarin at a glance
Native names: 普通话 (pʰu˩˧ tʰɔŋ˥ hua˥˩); 汉语 (han˥˩ y˧˩˥); 國語 (kuɔ˩˥ y˧˩˥); 华语/華語 (hua˩˥ y˧˩˥)
Linguistic affliation: Sino-Tibetan, Sinitic, Chinese
Number of speakers: c. 1.3 billion
Spoken in: PRC, Taiwan, Singapore, and many other countries
First written: 12th century
Writing system: Chinese script (traditional and simplified versions)
Status: official language in the PRC and ROC, one of the official languages in Singapore
Mandarin is known as 普通话 [普通話]
(pŭtōnghuà - common language), 北京话 [北京話]
(bĕijīnghuà - Beijing language) or
汉语 [漢語] (hànyŭ - Han language) in China,
(guóyŭ - national language) in Taiwan, and
(huáyŭ - Chinese language) in Singapore and Malaysia.
During the reign of the Jin (1115-1234) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, a common
language, known as Old Mandarin began to emerge in northern China. It was used in
literature, along Classical/Literary Chinese, and written with either the Chinese
script, or the 'Phags-pa script.
Mandarin, in some form or another, has been used as the lingua franca in China
since the 14th century, particularly among officials. Until the middle of the 19th
century this lingua franca was based on Nanjing dialects, but since then northern
dialects, particularly the Beijing dialect, have risen to prominence.
The officials called their language 官话 [官話] (guānyŭ) or
"official language". The word Mandarin comes from Portuguese mandarim,
from Malay menteri (minister), from Hindi मंत्री
(mantrī - secretary), from Sanskrit मन्त्रिन्
(mantrin - counselor, minster), and originally meant an official of the Chinese empire.
In the 1930s there was much dispute about which version of Mandarin to adopt
as the national language or guóyǔ (国语 [國語]).
There were advocates for northern and southern dialects, and atempts to create
an artificial pronunciation. Eventually in 1932 the National Language Unification
Commission (国语推行委员会 [國語推行委員會]) decided to adopt
Beijing dialect. This became the official language of China. After the founding
of the People's Republic of China in 1949 it was renamed pǔtōnghuà
(普通话 [普通話]) or "common speech".
Written Chinese is based on spoken Mandarin and is known as
汉语 [漢語] (hànyŭ) or 中文 (zhōngwén). Speakers
of other varieties of Chinese have to learn the grammar and vocabulary
of Mandarin in order to read and write in Chinese.
Phonetic transcription systems for Mandarin
The official romanization system used in China and in Western publications
about China is hànyŭ pīnyīn (Chinese phonetic spelling)
or simply pīnyīn. It was developed in the Soviet Union in 1931
for use by Chinese immigrants living there. A slightly revised version
was adopted in China in 1958.
In China pīnyīn is used for road signs, maps, brand names, computer
input, Chinese Braille, telegrams, semaphore and for many other purposes.
It also appears in books for children and foreign learners of Chinese.
The United Nations and the International Standards Organisation (ISO)
both recognise pīnyīn as the standard romanization for Mandarin.
Pīnyīn uses all the letters of the Latin alphabet (except v) in the
- a b c ch d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s sh t u w x y z zh
Comparison of pīnyīn and other transcription systems
Bopomofo / Zhùyīn fúhào
This system was devised by the Commission on the Unification of
Pronunciation (讀音統一會) between 1912 and
1913. It was adopted as the official transcription system for Mandarin in
China in 1928, though was abandoned in favour of Hànyŭ
Pīnyīn after 1949, and has been used in Taiwan since then.
Zhùyīn fúhào, which is more popularly known
as bopomofo (after the names of the first 4 symbols), is used
in Taiwan in dictionaries, children's books, text books for foreigners
and some newspapers and magazines to show the pronunciation of characters.
It is also used to show the Taiwanese pronunciation of characters and to
write Taiwanese words for which no characters exist.
Bopomofo consists of 37 symbols derived from Chinese characters: 21
initials (consonants) and 16 finals (vowels, diphthongs, triphthongs
or vowels + n or ng). Finals can stand alone and some initials can as well.
When combined with characters, Bopomofo is usually written on the right
of each character.
The Wades-Giles romanization was devised by Thomas Francis Wade (1818-1895),
a British ambassador in China and Chinese scholar who was the first
professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. Wade published the first
ever Chinese textbook in English in 1867. The system was refined in
1912 by Herbert Allen Giles (1845-1935), a British diplomat in China.
Until 1998, Wade-Giles was the main romanization system used to represent
the sounds of Mandarin in Western publications. It is still used in
Taiwan for transliterating place names, street names and people's names.
However, as it is not taught in schools, few people know how to use
it properly. For example, in Wade-Giles Taipei should be written T'ai-Pei
or T'ai²-Pei³ (Táibĕi in pīnyīn).
Without the apostophe, the t is pronounced like "d".
In 1998 Taipei City government adopted a modified version of
pīnyīn to write the names of streets,
districts, etc, in Taipei City. In this new system, Taipei is written TaiBei.
The Wades-Giles system is still used elsewhere in Taiwan.
Comparison of Wade-Giles and other transcription systems
The Yale romanization system was developed by Yale University in the
1950s and 60s as an aid to teaching Mandarin and Cantonese to Americans.
Today it used mainly for romanizing Cantonese,
though it does appear in some Mandarin dictionaries and textbooks.
Comparison of Yale and other transcription systems
Gwoyeu Romatzyh was devised by the Committee for National Language
Romanization between 1926 and 1928, when it was adopted as the official
romanization system of Mandarin in China. It was first used in Gwoin
Charnyonq Tzyhuey (Gúoyīn Chángyòng Zìhuì
- "Glossary of Frequently Used Chinese") published in 1932.
Gwoyeu Romatzyh is still used in Mandarin textbooks published
by the Mandarin Daily News (Gwoyeu Ryhbaw) in Taipei. The Mandarin
Daily News is also the only Chinese newspaper I have come across which includes
bopomofo transcriptions of characters.
Gwoyeu Romatzyh uses differences in spelling to indicate different
Comparison of Gwoyeu Romatzyh and other transcription systems
The Palladius system for transcribing Chinese using the Cyrillic alphabet was devised
by Pyotr Ivanovich Kafarov (Пётр Ива́нович
Кафа́ров) (1817 – 1878), a Russian
sinologist and monk who spent 30 years in China with the Russian Orthodox Mission. Palladius
(Палла́дий), which was his monastic name,
published many manuscripts about China, and also compiled a Russian-Chinese dictionary.
Comparison of Palladius and other transcription systems
Alternative scripts for Chinese languages invented by visitors to this site
Information about Mandarin |
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