Three Things You Didn’t Know About Mandarin Chinese

March 16, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Madarin Chinese MainlandMandarin Chinese is probably what most of us think of when we think about what language is spoken in the world’s largest country in terms of population. As a country, the U.S. has also been exposed to Cantonese, but Mandarin continues to be a synonym for the Chinese language, though there is more than just one.

With the economic development that China has been enjoying, as well as being a huge international power, many are beginning to believe that everyone’s second language should be Mandarin instead of Spanish or even English. They may be right, in which case we should all start calling up the local language school for lessons. However, until that happens, we can just focus on increasing translations into Mandarin, and check out these three facts about the language:

  1. Mandarin is actually a group of dialects

When in the West we talk about Mandarin, we generally mean one particular dialect, Standard Chinese, rather than an entire group of them. Eight dialects form the Mandarin Chinese dialect group, and they are all organized based on how they deal with one of the many tones used in Mandarin Chinese. The dialect groups within Mandarin are the following: Northeastern Mandarin, Beijing dialect, Jilu Mandarin, Jiaoliao Mandarin, Central Plains Mandarin, Lanyin Mandarin, Lower Yangtze/Jiang-Huai Mandarin, and Southwestern Mandarin. A few of these dialects are dialect subgroups themselves, adding to the complexity that is Mandarin Chinese. Standard Chinese is based off of the Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese, so you can see how the two became almost synonymous.

  1. Sets of tones will differ from area to area

Now that you know just how broad and unspecific it is to talk about Mandarin Chinese as if it were just one dialect and not a group of many, we can get into the reasoning behind the categorization of the different Mandarin dialects. As you may know, Chinese languages are known for using tones that non-native speakers often have trouble distinguishing. It is almost impossible to learn to speak any Chinese language fluently because of this. The set of tones will change depending on which dialect is being used, like if it is Classical Chinese used for writing poetry, then there is a specific set of tones for that. All of the dialects of Mandarin can be distinguished based on the sets of tones they use.

  1. Mandarin Chinese dialects have a high number of words with more than one syllable

Besides Shanghainese, Mandarin Chinese dialects have the highest number of polysyllabic words in their vocabularies than other varieties of Chinese. Throughout its existence, Mandarin has had to undergo many changes regarding the sounds used. There have also been issues with many homophones in the vocabulary, which have been dealt with by adding onto a word through the use of an affix, or simply creating a compound word. Another factor that contributes to the high number of polysyllabic words is something called “noun reduplication”, which can be seen in words like the word for Facebook (RenRen) and “baobao” for handbag.

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Category: Foreign Language

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