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Chinese Language Essential Facts

Last updated on May 17th, 2021 at 02:17 pm

Chinese Language Facts

The Chinese language is unique and fascinating in the world of human languages and linguistics.  It holds the title of being the most widely used language in the world, with one fifth of the population speaking Chinese as their native tongue.  It is spoken in numerous Asian regions, in addition to several more regions of the world containing Chinese communities. This figure is forecasted to grow in the years to come.

In contrast with other languages, Chinese has a level of complexity that comes from the fact that there are several dialects in the spoken form and two sets of alphabets for the Chinese written form of the language.

A Unique Written System

Unlike most written languages, written Chinese is not based on an alphabetical system.  If you open a Chinese newspaper or book, you will see a wide array of intricate and decorative looking symbols.  Each symbol tells its own story, by conveying a single concept and sound. When put together on a page, the symbols are like notes on a sheet of music: in different combinations, the symbols create a variety of different meanings and moods.  These symbols are known as the characters of the written Chinese system, of which there are approximately over 80,000.

The written system can be further broken down into two forms: Traditional and Simplified.  Traditional Chinese is the original form of the written language.  Simplified Chinese is the modern form of the written system and is characterized as having less pen strokes per character than a Traditional Chinese character, which makes Simplified Chinese exactly what it sounds like it is- simpler to read and write.  Both forms are used in varying degrees of regularity in different Chinese speaking regions.  Simplified Chinese was adopted in Singapore schools in 1969, and in Mainland China in 1956.

Different Dialects in Different Regions

There are numerous Chinese dialects, and several regions of speakers for each dialect.  The most popular dialects of the Chinese language include: Mandarin, Cantonese, Xiang (Hunanese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Min (Fujian, Hokkien, Taiwanese), Hakka and Gan.  Mandarin is the most widely used dialect, and is considered the “common language”.  Many Chinese speak Mandarin, in addition to their local dialect.  During vacation in Taipei, I noticed several citizens were fluent in Hokkien (Taiwanese language) and very familiar with- if not absolutely fluent in speaking Mandarin.

Chinese is also a tonal language, the meaning of a word changes according to the tone used.

The first crucial step to providing high quality Chinese translation is to work closely with the client to determine his or her target market. After that, you can identify the proper written form to use in a written/printed document. For interpretation services, you will need to determine the proper dialect to use to communicate effectively with your Chinese audience.

Flora Yu
Flora Yu
Flora was born and raised in New York to parents from Hong Kong and Taiwan. She has a degree in Accounting. She is fluent in Mandarin, and contributes a unique perspective as someone who was raised in 2 different cultures. She finds humor and opportunities to learn as she constantly searches for the balance between the East and West.