Home 9 Guide to Language 9 Rich History of Mandarin Chinese Language: Alphabets Of Mandarin Language Its Variants And Influence
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Dec 20, 2023 | Guide to Language

What Is Mandarin Language?

What Is Mandarin Language?

The Chinese language, a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family, has evolved over millennia, with Mandarin emerging as its most prominent form. Standard Mandarin, based on the Beijing dialect, is the official language of China and Taiwan and one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is also widely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau, albeit not as the official language. This prevalence underscores its role as a common language that unifies the diverse Chinese people.

Mandarin language, also known as Standard Chinese, is a testament to the rich history of Mandarin. Its development from Old Mandarin to the current Standard Mandarin or Modern Standard Mandarin reflects China’s dynamic past. The intricate strokes and meanings of traditional Chinese characters are a core component of the Mandarin language. These characters are not just symbols of speech but also carry deep cultural significance.

The alphabet of Mandarin, though not an alphabet in the traditional sense, like in English, consists of thousands of Chinese characters. Each Chinese word is represented by one or more characters with unique pronunciation and meaning. This character-based system contributes to the complexity and beauty of the language.

In addition to being the national language of China, Mandarin’s influence extends to other Chinese dialects and languages. Southwestern Mandarin, for instance, is one of the many dialects spoken across the vast Chinese territory. Despite the presence of these dialects, Standard Mandarin serves as a lingua franca, promoting mutual understanding among speakers of various Chinese dialects.

The history of Mandarin is not just about the evolution of a language but also about the cultural and political shifts that shaped it. From its roots in Old Mandarin to its present status as a global language, Mandarin has been influenced by and has influenced countless societal changes. This is particularly evident in areas like Hong Kong and Macau, where Mandarin and other local languages play a vital role in everyday communication.

Ethnic Chinese and Chinese speakers worldwide, regardless of the dialects spoken in their regions, often learn Mandarin to connect with their heritage and communicate with a wider Chinese community. As the main language of the most populous country in the world, Mandarin is not just a tool for communication but a bridge that connects the past, present, and future of the Chinese people and their diaspora.

What Type of Language is Mandarin?

What Type of Language is Mandarin?<br />

Mandarin Chinese, a significant branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, is a fascinating linguistic phenomenon encompassing various forms and functions. It’s not just a single, monolithic language; instead, it’s a rich tapestry of dialects, variants, and styles that collectively form the Mandarin group within the broader family of Chinese languages.

Varieties of Chinese and Mandarin’s Place:

  • As one of the main varieties of Chinese, Mandarin occupies a unique position. It is often perceived as a standard language, especially in its form as Standard Mandarin, also known as Standard Chinese.
  • Mandarin Chinese language includes several dialects, each with its distinct characteristics. These dialects are often grouped regionally, such as Beijing Mandarin, Central Plains Mandarin, Lower Yangtze Mandarin, and Southwestern Mandarin.
  • Taiwanese Mandarin and Northwestern Mandarin are other notable variants, illustrating the geographical spread of Mandarin speakers.

Language Atlas of China and Mandarin:

  • The Language Atlas of China categorises the various language varieties and dialects across the country, highlighting the diversity within Mandarin itself. This includes different Mandarin dialects, each with unique linguistic features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects.

Mandarin in Usage:

  • Mandarin is not just the first language of many in China; it’s also adopted as the national language and is the official language in several regions, including Taiwan and Singapore.
  • In overseas Chinese communities, Mandarin is a vital link to heritage and culture, often learned as a second language.
  • The great dictionary of modern Chinese dialects and other scholarly works explore these nuances, making learning Mandarin an exploration of cultural diversity.

Mandarin’s Linguistic Features:

  • Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning that the tone in which a word is spoken can change its meaning.
  • The written language, traditionally using Traditional Chinese characters, has evolved over centuries. Modern spoken Mandarin, especially in education and media, often uses Simplified Chinese characters.
  • Mandarin uses a koiné language in its standard form, which is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin but includes features characteristic of other Mandarin variants.

Educational and International Context:

  • Mandarin Chinese is taught as a foreign language in many schools worldwide, reflecting its status as a primary global language.
  • The language of instruction in many educational institutions in China and Taiwan is Mandarin, emphasising its role in academia and professional contexts.

Diversity within Mandarin:

  • “Mandarin” encompasses various language groups within the family, indicating an often-overlooked diversity.
  • Mandarin is used in both spoken and written forms, with significant differences between the spoken dialects and the standardised written Mandarin.
  • In addition to Mandarin, various other Sino-Tibetan languages and dialects coexist in China, each contributing to the rich linguistic landscape of the region.

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Is Mandarin A Language Or A Dialect?

Is Mandarin A Language Or A Dialect?

Whether Mandarin is a language or a dialect is a topic of linguistic and sociopolitical discussion. In linguistic terms, Mandarin can be considered both a language and a part of a dialect continuum within the Chinese language family.

Mandarin as a Language:

  • Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China and Taiwan, and it is one of the most spoken native languages in the world. This wide usage underscores its status as a distinct language.
  • As a language, Mandarin has grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation systems that are distinct from other Chinese languages or dialects.
  • Mandarin Chinese is also known as Standard Mandarin or Standard Chinese Language, especially in its standardised form used in government, media, and education.
  • The Chinese writing system, used in written Mandarin, is a unifying feature across various Chinese languages. Still, the spoken forms are distinct enough for Mandarin to be considered a separate language.

Mandarin as Part of a Dialect Continuum:

  • Within the broader family of Chinese languages, Mandarin is one of the many forms of Chinese. This places it within a family of languages with historical and linguistic roots.
  • Spoken and written Chinese encompasses several language varieties and dialects, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken.
  • The different groups of Mandarin, such as Northeastern Mandarin, Beijing Mandarin, Southwestern Mandarin, etc., can be seen as dialects within the Mandarin language.

Mandarin in Sociopolitical Context:

  • The status of Mandarin Chinese as the official language in multiple countries and regions further solidifies its standing as a language. It’s the language used in government, legal affairs, and national communication.
  • In educational contexts, Mandarin Chinese is often the language of instruction, reinforcing its role as a primary communicative medium.
  • Mandarin Chinese speakers, who number in the billions, recognise and use it as a distinct language, not just a dialect of Chinese.

Other Related Variants:

  • In addition to Mandarin, other languages and dialects are related to it, like the Dungan language spoken in parts of Central Asia. These languages, while related to Mandarin, have their distinct characteristics.

See More: How Many Languages Are Spoken In Australia?


Mandarin Chinese Language History

Mandarin Chinese Language History

The early history of Mandarin can be traced back to the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), when China was ruled by many warring states, each with their own languages and cultures.

Establishing unified imperial rule under the Chinese empire marked a critical turning point in linguistic development within spoken and written Mandarin forms used amongst bureaucrats who could now communicate across boundaries, previously dividing them into self-contained regional dialects.

Mandarin was officially adopted as the national language to bridge regional differences and promote political stability. Mandarin only became widely used in China after being taught at school from 1931 when political power shifted into Japanese hands following Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during World War II.

Mandarin Chinese use increased exponentially throughout mainland China due to a necessity for citizens who were fluent in Japanese to communicate once Mandarin Chinese could be reaccessed.

It is believed that since then, Mandarin has been growing increasingly dominant over other dialects, such as Cantonese or Taiwanese. In certain areas where there are large numbers of speakers, e.g., Beijing, this dominance is even more pronounced, evidenced by the fact that some people have considered Mandarin the only Chinese dialect.

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What Countries Speak Mandarin As Their Official Language?

What Countries Speak Mandarin As Their Official Language?

Mandarin is spoken as an official language in the following countries:

The People’s Republic of China

Mandarin was made the official national language by law, with its speakers representing about 70% of China’s population. Mandarin is also considered one of six fundamental or “New High Yield” languages essential for Chinese children to learn through compulsory education within Mainland China. It is also listed among the world’s topmost spoken languages, with over 960 million native speakers worldwide.

Singapore

Mandarin became one of four official languages in Singapore after gaining independence from Malaysia during the 1965–1970 period. Since then, it has become a global city where English acts as the primary medium between different cultures even though Mandarin remains dominant, with all ethnic groups identifying themselves with Mandarin.

Taiwan

Mandarin was designated a significant Chinese language to be used in the Republic of China after WWII and is currently the official national language of both Mainland China and Taiwan. Mandarin is also spoken widely among all ethnic groups residing within the Taiwanese countryside due to its vast spread over most parts of the island. It is influenced by locals from mainland China who migrated into the southern part during the early 1900s for farming purposes.

Mandarin As A Second Language

In countries where Mandarin speakers are not dominant locally, it’s considered necessary as an international language and one that can provide opportunities for economic growth, such as China and Taiwan.

Mandarin is also used as a lingua franca among overseas Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where ethnic Malaysians mainly speak their national language of Bahasa Malaysian, while the rest use Mandarin at home or work to communicate with one another.

Brunei

Mandarin has been classified as a second official language since 2009, after English became official in September 2014. The British colonisers occupied Brunei for 100 years, from the 18th century until its independence in January 1984. All colonial laws were repealed during this time, ultimately replacing them with newly enacted local legislation without any traces left behind based on Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) principles.

Cambodia

Mandarin is one of Cambodia’s official languages in Cambodia, and it’s used as a lingua franca among people who don’t speak Cambodian locally, with Mandarin being introduced to locals by Chinese immigrants who migrated into the northern part during the 1970s.

Malaysia

Mandarin was designated as an official language in Peninsular Malaysia when Singapore separated from the Malaysian Federation in August 1965.

However, Mandarin continued to be widely spoken throughout Asian communities within major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, where ethnic Malaysians mainly use their national language of Bahasa Malay. In contrast, others continue using Mandarin at home or work due to its influence over nearby countries, including China and Taiwan.

However, there has been a recent decline in Mandarin speakers since English became the primary medium for international business transactions within the country, even though Mandarin is still widely used at home and work.

Thailand

Mandarin is, similarly, one of the official languages in Thailand, following its influence by Chinese immigrants who settled down in various parts of the northern part during the early 1900s. After being invited to come from China, Mandarin became a common language between different ethnic groups residing within the country, even though they mainly speak their national Thai language among themselves. Even the thai names are popular in China after Mandarin. You can now find several variations of the culture and heritages here.

How To Speak Chinese Mandarin Language?

How To Speak Chinese Mandarin Language?

Mandarin has several exciting features that make it well-suited for poetry and prose writing due to its concise nature regarding the actual word count required compared to English or other European languages.

Suppose you are looking to learn basic Mandarin Language. In that case, it has four tones that can completely change the meaning of words depending on how they are pronounced—this makes speaking Mandarin much harder than reading because even if you know what something says, you might say it incorrectly without realising it!

The Tone Structure

These Chinese words have distinct sounds that make them different from English, and Mandarin will seem utterly foreign to an English speaker.

Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning the pitch or tone at which you say something changes its meaning—this makes Mandarin much harder than languages like Spanish or French, where changing your intonation doesn’t change what words mean!

Mandarin tones are broken up into four main categories:

  • High level (55),
  • Rising (35),
  • Falling-rising (214) and
  • Falling (51).

Combining these tones can produce eight other specific tones, though they tend to be used less often in Mandarin Chinese.

Mandarin also has a neutral tone used in some instances, which means the pitch of your voice does not change when you speak Mandarin.

Mandarin uses consonants and vowels to form words but only contains about 400 sounds, while English has more than twice as many (about 900).

Mandarin Chinese was standardised using Peking Mandarin as its basis—it’s still widely spoken today despite massive changes since then!

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The Syllable Structure

The dialect uses some syllables made by consonants and vowels, just like English, but Mandarin also has some syllables that don’t contain any components!

Mandarin comprises monosyllabic words (with one vowel sound) and disyllabic words (with two-syllable words). Mandarin does not use the same structure for verbs and nouns; however—the verb comes first in Mandarin Chinese.

The syllable structure of Mandarin consists of an optional initial consonant + vowel (with or without tone) + optional final consonant (n or ng).

Its Vowels

Mandarin has a straightforward vowel system. Compared to nine in English, the language only contains seven pure vowels (a, e, I, o, u, and two diphthongs). Mandarin also lacks the long “e” sound—it can be replaced with any of the other three sounds depending on the context!

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The Consonants

Mandarin has a straightforward consonant system that only consists of 22 phonemes.

Mandarin doesn’t have many syllables containing consonants, unlike English, but it does use more varieties of the same sound.

  • In Mandarin Chinese, there is no contrast between voiceless and voiced stops and affricates, such as between /p – b/,/ or /ts – dz/, etc. Instead, there’s a difference between voiceless unaspirated and voiceless aspirated consonants, for example, p – p’, ts – ts.’ Even though in Pīnyīn, voiceless unaspirated /p/, /t/, and/k/ are written as b, d, and g, aspirated consonants are created with a strong puff of air. They’re indicated by a raised ‘h’ in the table above.
  • Nasal consonants /n/ and //ŋ/ may only occur at the end of syllables.
  • The tongue is curled to make retroflex consonants /ʂ/, /tʂ/, and /tš/. The underside of the tongue comes into contact with the roof of the mouth for these sounds.
  • The following letter is often confused with the h in hue: ɕ. It has the same sound as h but is broader, thicker, and weaker.
  • The sound written as /tɕ/ is comparable to the “ch” in cheese.
  • /ŋ/ is compared to “ng” in song.
  • Similarly, /ɻ/ is compared to “r” in red.

Grammar

Like all other Chinese languages, Mandarin is primarily an isolating or analytic language, meaning words generally have only one grammatical structure. Grammatical roles are conveyed using word order, particles, prepositions, and discourses rather than suffixes attached to nouns or verbs, such as in Indo-European languages. Compared with Indo-European languages, Chinese grammar may appear relatively basic due to the absence of inflections.

Nouns

Nouns in Chinese do not have a grammatical number, gender, or case. Nouns in Chinese do not have a grammatical number, gender, or case.

Mandarin Chinese uses measure words to indicate the size of a noun when it’s used in counting. Mandarin also has classifiers, which are modifiers that show the general category of an object being counted.

  1. Classifiers.
  2. Locative Markers.
  3. Progressive Markers.

Mandarin does not have articles but instead uses demonstratives at a near distance (this/these) and a far distance (that/those).

Verbs

Mandarin has a large number of Mandarin verbs. Mandarin uses classifiers with countable nouns to indicate the type of action being done. For example, to drink is 喝 hē for “classifier + beverage” and 食物 shíwù for “food.”

Mandarin does not have specific tenses or conjugations but instead expresses different time frames by using aspect markers such as “le” (一), which indicates an event happened in the past but still affects the present situation, or “zhe” (在), which means something is currently happening.

Mandarin also uses reduplication to indicate an extreme condition, similar to how English says something is delicious when using words like totally and very.

Sentence Markers

Mandarin uses particles to denote the structure of a sentence. Mandarin has no equivalent for auxiliary verbs. It can be inferred from context and situation rather than indicating grammatical role with conjugations or inflections.

Basic Mandarin Sentence Structure: 

Subject – Predicate Argument(s) – Adjective/Adverbial Clause.

Word Order

Mandarin is a topic-prominent language, meaning Mandarin sentences focus on the information being talked about rather than who said it or when. Mandarin uses Subject – Verb – Object word order with an optional additional element before the verb, such as a prepositional phrase that specifies time and location.

Vocabulary

Mandarin has borrowed many words from other Chinese dialects. To express ideas and concepts, bilingual individuals create new compound words by combining existing terms with the meaning of each. If you are looking to learn Chinese characters to become a Chinese NAATI Translator, transliterating borrowed names does not work well because Chinese characters are not well-suited to represent foreign sounds, and pronunciation varies among dialects.

In English, morphemes are the most minor units that can be combined to form words. The grammatical categories number, person, gender, case, tense, and aspect are not conveyed through inflections in Mandarin. The following is a list of popular Mandarin word-building methods.

  • Compounding.
  • Reduplication.
  • Prefixation.
  • Suffixation.
  • Borrowing.

Who uses the Traditional Chinese Language?

Who uses the Traditional Chinese Language?

Most people (about 1 billion) speak simplified Chinese as their first language, and many speak variants such as Mandarin or Cantonese. Traditional Chinese languages are used exclusively by Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, and specific overseas communities (including Americans living in China). They are also utilised in mainland China for artistic, academic, and commercial reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do they speak Mandarin in Australia?

Besides English, the most common language spoken in households in Australia is Mandarin Chinese, with at least 2.5% of the Australian population speaking this language, which equates to approximately 596,703 people.

Is Cantonese or Mandarin more common in Australia?

As for foreign languages, Cantonese is one of the most spoken languages in Australia, after English, Mandarin, Arabic, and Vietnamese

How many Mandarin speakers are there in Australia?

The current census report shows that more than 600,000 people in Australia speak Mandarin as their mother tongue. Which means a significant number of Australians speak Mandarin.

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