China or the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a large country that is made up of several provinces and while Mandarin Chinese is a popular language, the variety of languages spoken in China is quite immense. As one of the world’s oldest civilizations, so many things from China have fascinated and influenced other nations not only in Asia but also in the western world. So many Chinese inventions changed the world and most of them, although updated and upgraded, are still used globally.
Significant contributions of China to the world
Out of the hundreds of inventions from China, some of the most important inventions are gunpowder and fireworks that were eventually used by the Chinese military during the Tang Dynasty. During the Han period, handmade paper was used in the Imperial court. The invention led to the popularity of the written word in China and the world. It also brought about the invention of the movable type of printing, using wooden blocks.
Between the 9th and 11th centuries, Chinese inventors solved navigation problems by inventing the compass, which eventually improved sea trade and inter-cultural contacts. They likewise developed the spinning wheel around the 11th century to keep up with the demand for silk fabrics from the West. In the 14th century, the Italians brought the spinning wheel to Europe, which revolutionized the production of a variety of threads for textiles.
Chinese kites were invented 2,000 years ahead of the invention of sails in Europe. The kites were not just flying toys but were also used as a messaging tool by the Chinese military. The kites led to their invention of moving sails that significantly contributed to the maritime might of the Chinese. The moving sails improved sailing techniques, compared to the mounted sails developed by Europeans and Arabs. The moving sails that were controlled by the sailors became the standard in the maritime industry for a long time.
Another significant contribution of the Chinese to the world is the production of porcelain, which was commonly referred to as ‘china.’ Porcelain production started in China around the 16th century BC. Decorated porcelain became popular during the Ming dynasty, with Chinese porcelain becoming one of the most coveted items by the wealthy families from the West.
Indeed, it is fascinating to discover the many things that China contributed to the world. As is often said, learning the language opens the doors to the countries’ culture. Even if you do not intend to study the Chinese language anytime soon, there are still plenty to learn about the languages of one of the largest countries in Asia.
In Asia, China is the second largest country and it is divided into different administrative units. It has 23 provinces, the municipalities of Chongqing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Beijing, the autonomous regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Guangxi plus Hong Kong and Macau, which are special administrative areas.
The population in China is not homogenous. It is made up of different ethnic groups and tribes, each with their distinct language. With such a large country, it is not impossible to have a variety of languages as well a different customs, traditions and practices.
Languages spoken in China
The 21st edition of Ethnologue states that there are 299 individual languages in China, a nation of almost 1.4 billion people, divided into 56 ethnic groups. These ethnic groups played a vital role in developing the different languages spoken in the country. Like other regions, most of the languages are geographically located. The most popular is Mandarin Chinese.
All the letters of the alphabet except for the letter F are represented in the languages spoken in China. The country even has languages named ‘E’ and ‘U.’ ‘E’ is a mixed language spoken in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that includes border areas in the autonomous counties of Luocheng Mulam, Xinglong, Xiatan, Simo, district of Yongle and the independent county of Rongshui Hmong. About 30,000 people speak this Chinese language.
The ‘U’ language is spoken by approximately 40,000 people who are living in the Southwest Yunnan Province, the counties of Changning and Shidian and the municipal prefecture of Baoshan. Some speakers may be located in Myanmar.
Standard Chinese, China’s national language
Among the languages spoken in China, Standard Chinese, also called Modern Standard Mandarin or Standard Mandarin, is one of the official languages in China as well as in Taiwan. It is the standardized version that is a mix of different features. Regarding usage, Mandarin borrowed some aspects from other dialects. Its grammar was borrowed from a written vernacular. The vocabulary is a combination of the Mandarin dialect while the pronunciation came from the Beijing dialect.
The mainland Chinese people call their languagePutonghua or ‘common speech’, which is called Guoyu (national language) in Taiwan. Being the lingua franca, Standard Mandarin is used for communication as mandated by law. While Mandarin Chinese is widely promoted and about 70% of mainland China’s population speaks it according to the country’s Ministry of Education, only about 10% are fluent speakers of the language.
Mandarin Chinese is part of the school curriculum in mainland China and Taiwan. The written form of Mandarin uses simplified Chinese characters of Putonghua and the traditional Chinese characters of Guoyu.
Cantonese, another official language
Cantonese is said to originate in Guangzhou, a port city. From there, Cantonese spread along the Pearl River Delta in the province of Guangdong. The Pearl River Delta comprises nine major cities and is known as the center of foreign trade since the era of the Silk Road until today. The language got its name where it came from, Guangzhou, which is also called Canton. Based on the Hong Kong Basic Law, Hong Kong’s official language is Cantonese. In the Special Administrative Region of Macau, Cantonese, together with Portuguese, are the official languages.
Linguists believe that Cantonese is the most preferred or most correct variant of Yue, another Chinese dialect. It is the lingua franca in the province of Guangzhou and the Guangxi region, which is very close to Guangzhou.
The variant of Cantonese in different regions is geographically defined; thus there is a Macau dialect, a Hong Kong dialect and a Guangzhou dialect.
China’s regional languages
For linguists and language learners, it is fascinating to learn all the different languages spoken in China. They are dominant in different regions of the country and are divided and sub-divided into several groups. Interestingly, thousands and even millions speak most of the major languages in China.
For example, Wu Chinese is a dialect that is primarily spoken in the country’s eastern region. It has six subgroups, namely:
About 80 million people speak Wu Chinese, which can also be divided into different varieties, including:
Wu Chinese is spoken mainly in Shanghai, the entire province of Zhejian and Jiangsu province’s southern half. Some of the famous Wu speakers were Cai Yuanpei, Lu Xun and Chiang Kai-shek. The Shanghai Opera and the Shaoxing Opera both use Wu Chinese in some of their performances.
Like the other regional languages, there is no mutual intelligibility among the speakers of the various Wu dialectical varieties.
Hokkien is also a primary regional language that belongs to the Southern Min group. It came from the Fujian province and spread around the southeastern regions of China. Around 37 million people speak Hokkien, which is used in Taiwan for public transport signage. Hokkien is divided into several dialects such as:
Other major languages or dialects
As mentioned, most of the languages spoken in China are geographically defined, meaning, the speakers of different languages are concentrated in different regions. Likewise, many of them are not mutually intelligible
Gan Chinese is dominant in China’s western parts such as the province of Jiangxi. Speakers of Gan Chinese are also found in Fujian, Hunan, Hubei and Anhui. The commonality within the same language group is often missing. For example, in Anfu county where Gan Chinese is spoken, it is divided into two dialects. The northern region speaks Baixiang Gua while the southern region speaks Nanxiang Hua. Interestingly, the two are mutually unintelligible, unless the persons are used to other dialects or are well educated.
Hakka Chinese is the dialect closest to Gan Chinese. Speakers of Hakka, are now located in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guangdong, Guizhou and Jiangxi. Some of the traditional locations of Hakka speakers are Fujian, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Zhejiang, Hunan and Sichuan. The name Hakka originated from the Hakka-speaking people or those who share the same ancestry instead of from a region.
People primarily speak Min Chinese on the southern coast of China, in the province of Fujian. About 70 million people who speak Min live in various parts of China, such as different areas in the Guangdong province, Hainan, the city of Jiangyin (province of Jiangsu) and counties in the southern part of Zhejiang, Liyang and Zhoushan archipelago. Southern Min is the most widely spoken variety off Fujian. In some areas, it is called Hokkien-Taiwanese. Like Gan, speakers of the different variants of Min cannot understand one another.
Xiang Chinese, which is also called Hunanese, originated from Hunan province and spoken in many parts of the provinces of Hubei and Guizhou as well as the northern parts of Guangxi. Many speakers of Xiang influenced Modern Chinese histories such as Ma Ying-jeou, Huang Xing, Xuo Zongtang and Mao Zedong.
Challenges translators face with Chinese translation projects
The languages included here are just some of the many languages spoken in China. However, they represent the challenges translators face when they handle a Chinese translation project. Most are mutually unintelligible and they have differences in characters, in the strokes and the pronunciation. You can only ensure the success of Chinese translation if you work with professional translators, mainly if you are thinking of localizing your website.
If you need translations in Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Hmong or any of the other Chinese languages, work with professional translators from Day Translations, Inc. All our translators are native speakers and live in-country, so you can be sure that they understand the nuances and characteristics of each Chinese language. Remove any misgivings you might have since the Chinese languages are intricate. Language is our passion and it is our company’s primary objective to deliver the most accurate translation in whatever language no matter the size of the project. So for your Chinese translation requirements, contact us at 1-800-969-6853. You can also send us an email at Contact us. We are open every day of the year, 24/7, so you are not going to miss any deadline. We also offer Chinese interpreting services – simultaneous, consecutive or over-the-phone and video remote interpreting. Whatever type of language services you need, Day Translations is your trusted linguistic partner.