Chinese 101

Chinese (汉语/漢語, Pinyin: Hànyǔ; 华语/華語, Huáyǔ; or 中文, Zhōngwén) is a language (or language family) that forms part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. About one-fifth of the people in the world speak some form of Chinese as their native language.

In general, all varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. However, Chinese is also distinguished by a high level of internal diversity. Regional variation among different variants/dialects is comparable to the Romance language family: many variants of spoken Chinese are different enough to be mutually incomprehensible. There are between six and twelve main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most populous by far is Mandarin (c. 800 million), followed by Wu (c. 90 million), and Cantonese (c. 80 million). The identification of the varieties of Chinese as "languages" or "dialects" is a controversial issue. If Chinese is classified as a single language rather than a group of languages, it is the most widely spoken language in the world. However, to do so would equate to classifying the languages of Southern Europe as a single language.

The standardized form of spoken Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect, a member of the Mandarin group; it is described in the article "Standard Mandarin." Standard Mandarin is the official language of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China or Taiwan, as well as one of four official languages of Singapore (together with English, Malay, and Tamil). Chinese—de facto, Standard Mandarin—is one of the six official languages of the United Nations (alongside English, Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish). Spoken in the form of Standard Cantonese, Chinese is one of the official languages of Hong Kong (together with English) and of Macau (together with Portuguese).

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