Chinese

The language

With 1.3 billion speakers, Chinese is spoken mainly in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. There are also communities of Chinese speakers worldwide.

chinese lanterns. Photo by Dominik Gehl

The dialects

Chinese people often refer to Chinese as a single language with different dialects or varieties. However, non-Chinese linguists consider these varieties to be separate languages as there is little mutual intelligibility between them.
A distinction is made in Chinese between spoken and written language. The main dialect groups of China are: Guan / Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Min, Hakka, Xiang and Gan.
Mandarin is the most widely spoken of all Chinese dialects, with close to 850 million speakers in mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan, among others.
The Yue dialects, also known as Cantonese, are used for everyday communication in China, while in Hong Kong and Macau, it is the official spoken variety used for education, business, government, and the media.

The script

Chinese is written with characters representing sound and meaning. A single character represents a syllable and words can be made up of one or more syllables. Although there are only 1,700 types of syllable in spoken Chinese, compared to over 8,000 in English, there are tens of thousands of characters. This means that multiple characters exist for each syllable, and each character has a different meaning.

Translation

When translating from Chinese to English, the word count decreases. This is because one English word often requires two or three words in Chinese.

Chinese culture

Alongside Babylon, India and Egypt, China is one of the Four Ancient Civilizations. As of 2015, 48 Chinese sites were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List; China is second only to Italy for World Heritage sites. Ancient Chinese architecture includes the Imperial Palace in Beijing, the largest ancient palatial architecture in the world, and features beautifully ornate gardens. When it comes to food, rice and noodles are staples, and the Chinese seek to produce a harmony between five key flavours: salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter. Tea is an important part of Chinese culture, with a historic role in daily life as well as economic development.