Chinese language

What is commonly called Chinese ( Simplified Chinese : 汉语 ; Traditional Chinese : 漢語 ; Pinyin : Hànyǔ ) ( Simplified Chinese : 华语 ; Traditional Chinese : 華語 ; Pinyin : Huáyǔ ) ( Simplified Chinese : 中文 ; Pinyin : Zhōngwén ) is, na In fact, a language family that belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language. Approximately one fifth of the Earth’s inhabitants speak some form of Chinese as their mother tongue , making Chinese the most widely spoken language on the planet, although not the most widespread. citation needed ]

It is a tonal , isolating and, basically, monosyllabic language, tending to monosyllabism mainly in the written variant, while the spoken variants (notably Mandarin ) usually make wide use of syllabic and polysyllabic words. The lexical roots are, however, all monosyllabic. citation needed ]


The transliteration of the Chinese characters for languages that use the Latin alphabet can be made by the system Wade-Giles , created by the British diplomats and Sinologists Thomas Wade and Herbert A. Giles. After the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949 , a committee of philologists created a new system known as pinyin . As an example, in the Wade-Giles system ” Mao Tsé Tung ” is written , while in pinyin it is written ” Máo Zédōng “. To indicate tones, accents are used over vowels or numbers, at the end of each syllable.


The Chinese language has a wide variety of dialects, the difference between them being such that many are incomprehensible to each other. The language maintains unity because of the common origin of its different dialects and the fact that writing is common to all of them, transcribing not only sounds, which vary from region to region, but also concepts, which remain unchanged from region to region. The main dialects of Chinese are:

  • Mandarin , considered the official language of the Beijing region and, theoretically, spoken throughout China, including Taiwan , and also spoken in Singapore ;
  • Cantonese , spoken in Canton ( Canton province ), Hong Kong , Macau and the south-east of the country;
  • Shanghai , spoken in and around Shanghai ;
  • Sichuanese , spoken in central China ( Sichuan and Chongqing region );
  • Hakka ( Hacá ), spoken in the province of Canton , Fujian , Ainão , Jiangxi of mainland China, Hong Kong , Taiwan and southeast of the country.


Chinese manuscript in Vietnam .

The grammar of the Chinese language has a different structure from the European languages, so definitions such as “noun”, “adjective” and “verb” generally do not work in Chinese. For example, the Mandarin word 把 (bǎ), depending on the context, can be a verb meaning “grab”, a noun meaning “doorknob”, a preposition meaning “between”, a classifier for certain types of nouns and even a particle. [ 1 ]

Although Chinese has almost no inflection, there is a plural forming suffix. In Mandarin, the character 们 (men) is used for this purpose. This character is used only with pronouns and optionally with nouns referring to people. [ 2 ] For example:

  1. 我们 (wǒ men) = us
  2. 学生 or 学生 们 (xué shēng / xué shēng men) = students

Writing system edit edit source code ]

The Chinese writing system is logographic , that is, graphemes are logograms that denote words or morphemes . The Chinese writing , in all its variants , is characterized by the absence of an alphabet . Logograms do not transcribe speech sounds ( phonemes ), but meanings, and each grapheme can be pronounced in a completely different way according to the dialect.

Logograms are often referred to as ” ideograms ” or ” hieroglyphs “. However, ideograms represent ideas and not so much words or morphemes, and the writing systems of truly ideographic human languages ​​are rare. Each isolated grapheme is read as a different syllable. When the word has two syllables, each syllable that composes it is represented with a different grapheme.

Only a small percentage of the total synograms (another name for Chinese characters ) are actually ideograms or pictograms. For example: to represent the idea of ​​”brightness”, the representations of 日, “sun”, and 月, “moon” are combined, obtaining the ideogram 明. The repetition of a pictogram can lead to the creation of an ideogram. This is the case of 木, “tree”, and 林 “forest” and 森, “forest”, created through their duplication and triplication, respectively.

The most common type of characters (80% to 90%, depending on the authors) are the semantic-phonetic, constituted, as the name indicates, by two or more elements, the phonetic, which indicates the approximate pronunciation, and the semantic, indicative meaning, called radical. For example: in 河 hé, “rio”, and 湖 hú, “lago”, the three dashes on the left are the simplified pictogram for water, which is semantically related to “rio” and “lago”. finds the phonetic element. Combining 氵 “water” and 木 mù, you get “mù,” washing your hair “. This method is very productive for creating new characters. The names of many of the elements of the periodic table are formed in this way. 钚 bù, “plutonium”, consists of the stem for “metal”, 金 jīn, and the phonetic component 不 bù (“no”), or, as described in Chinese, “不 gives the sound and 金 gives the meaning “.

With the complexity and variety of objects to be named, many end up being designated by more than one logogram , so that the characters placed next to each other generate a new meaning. For example, the word “computer” (電腦) is represented with the words “electricity” (電) and “brain” (腦).

Map showing the distribution of different Chinese languages ​​in China .

Phonological structure 

The phonological structure of Chinese, like those of the other Sino-Tibetan languages , is characterized by the difference in the intonation of each word. Thus, the same syllable can have completely different meanings, depending on the intonation used – giving a certain musicality in the speech discourse. Due to this characteristic, there is no tonic accent. The number of possible tones varies from one dialect to another. In Mandarin , there are four tones plus a fifth neutral tone. In the hakka , there are six tones; in Taiwanese , seven tones; and, in Cantonese , nine tones.


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