The Chinese Language
The Chinese language is thought to belong to the Sino-Tibetan classification of languages. Within this group is the Sinitic branch (i.e. Chinese and others) and the Tibeto-Burman branch. We are concerned only with the languages that are Chinese.
Within Chinese, exists several mutually unintelligible spoken forms which have been called "dialects", though to be more precise, they are languages in their own right. However, 'dialects' is as good a word as any, because it shows that the languages of Chinese are somehow related.
Its is always good to begin by acquainting ourselves geographically, with the a map of China, and its many provinces. It will be seen that the dialects (apart from Hakka) are traditionally associated in name by the geographical location.
Chinese today is thought to have seven major dialect groups. Click on the following links for more information about the phonology of a representative of each group. The IPA symbols were created by the author and appear as gif images.
- Speakers in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Sichuan, Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Guangxi.
- BeiFangHua [ ] ('northern speech' due to the northern provinces that it is mainly found in), GuanHua [ ] ('language of officialdom'), GuoYu [ ] (the 'national language' a term favoured by the nationalist and Taiwan), PuTongHua [ ] (the 'common language' a term favoured by the Chinese communists, hence mainland China.) The usual paragon of Mandarin is based on the speech patterns of Beijing (Peking), known as Putonghua.
- Speakers in Jiangsu, Shanghai, Anhui, and Zhejiang
- Main paragon is the SuZhou (Soochow) dialect, though the Shanghai accent is gaining prominence due to the region's modern financial center for trade and commerce. In Chinese, the character "Wu" [ ] is an abbreviation used for Zhejiang Province for centuries.
- Speakers found mainly in Fujian, but also in Guangdong, and Taiwan
- There are two main branches of the Min family, the Northern (typified by Fuzhou (Foochow)) and Southern Min ( typified by Chaozhou (Chaochow)). Because the Min language family is diverse in its phonological makeup, we also include the dialect of Xiamen between the two above cities. The area of Fujian is abbreviated by character "Min" [ ] in Chinese.
- Found in Guangdong and Guangxi
- Cantonese has its paragon in the speech of GuangZhou (Canton, Kwangtung). There are also a number of varieties of Yue, such as the SiYi group. The area of Guangdong is abbreviated by "Yue" [ ] in Chinese, (in Cantonese, Yuet).
- Speakers in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hunan, Guangxi, Sichuan, Taiwan and Hainan
- Hakka (Kejia) [ ] speakers cover an broad belt across southern China, all the way to the southern coasts. It is the only dialect group which is not named after a region. The paragon for this dialect is found in Meixian (Moiyen, Moiyan), located in the north east of Guangdong.
Found in Jiangxi, Hubei, Zhejiang and Fujian
- This dialect has close similarities with Hakka, and some people have lumped them together as a Hakka-Gan dialect. Its name derives from the chinese abbreviation "Gan" [ ] for the province of JiangXi. The paragon is taken to be the speech found in the city of Nanchang.
- Found in Hunan
- "Xiang" [ ] is the Chinese abbreviation for the province of Hunan. In the past this dialect has been called Hunanese. Changsha is usually taken as a representative paragon of Xiang.
To reduce this further, we can think of Wu, Yue, Min, Gan and Xiang dialects as principly from Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, and Hunan provinces respectively, whilst Mandarin is a Northern Chinese dialect, and that Hakka reaches across southern China.
To concentrate on just the paragons, Wu dialects take the Suzhou dialect, Yue takes on the Guangzhou dialect, Fuzhou, Xiamen and Chaozhou from the north east, east and southeast of Min influence, Gan takes on the speech of Nanchang, whilst Xiang is represented by Changsha. The northern mandarin paragon is hails from Beijing as represented by Putonghua, whilst Hakka is principly the dialect found in Meixian.
© Dylan W.H. Sung 1999 onwards.
This page was first created on Friday 30th July 1999,
and was recently updated on Thursday 25th April 2002.
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