China Guide

Chinese Language Guide to Its History, Characters and Style

Chinese Language

Chinese is one of the main world languages with approximately a fifth of the population speaking a variety of the Chinese language as their native dialect. The language is both analytic and tonal in style as it is a part of the Sino Tibetan family.

China has several different dialects within the Chinese language, Mandarin and Cantonese being two of the more popular. Each region generally had their own local variety of the language which tended to make life difficult for travelling and for trade. Fortunately things changed in the mid twentieth century when studying standard mandarin became compulsory in the Chinese educational system. So now you will find that most people can speak mandarin except some of the older generation.

The most tricky element of the language is the written concept as there are thousands of characters that make up the Chinese language. A well educated reader would understand up to seven thousand characters. Just a newspaper takes knowledge of a massive 3,000 characters! When you think about it in contrast to the English language which has 26 it seems slightly over board and rather complex for those learning and understanding it.

Chinese characters are said to have evolved from the hieroglyph form into its current form. Today the entire corpus holds over 20,000 characters, only half of which are commonly used. There are two systems of characters currently recognised; a traditional system and a simplified system. The simplified system was specifically developed to promote literacy in 1954. The characters are different to actual Chinese words which are made up of usually two or more characters therefore there are far more word compositions than characters themselves.

Like most languages, Chinese has loaned several of its words from other languages while maintaining parts of its Old Chinese roots. Old Chinese introduced a rich sound to the language which has been maintained throughout the years.