Mandarin (// (listen); simplified Chinese: 官话; traditional Chinese: 官話; pinyin: Guānhuà; lit. 'speech of officials') is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of the phonology of Standard Chinese. Because Mandarin originated in North China and most Mandarin dialects are found in the north, the group is sometimes referred to as Northern Chinese (simplified Chinese: 北方话; traditional Chinese: 北方話; pinyin: běifānghuà; lit. 'northern speech'). Many varieties of Mandarin, such as those of the Southwest (including Sichuanese) and the Lower Yangtze, are not mutually intelligible or are only partially intelligible with the standard language. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in lists of languages by number of native speakers (with nearly a billion).
|官話 / 官话 |
|Native to||China, Taiwan, Singapore, and overseas communities|
|Region||most of Northern and Southwestern China (see also Standard Chinese)|
|920 million (2017)|
L2 speakers: 200 million (no date)
Official language in
Mandarin area in mainland China and Taiwan, with Jin (sometimes treated as a separate group) in light green
|Literal meaning||Officials' speech|
|Literal meaning||Northern speech|
Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, spoken by 70 percent of all Chinese speakers over a large geographical area, stretching from Yunnan in the southwest to Xinjiang in the northwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast. This is generally attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication in the North China Plain compared to the more mountainous south, combined with the relatively recent spread of Mandarin to frontier areas.
Most Mandarin varieties have four tones. The final stops of Middle Chinese have disappeared in most of these varieties, but some have merged them as a final glottal stop. Many Mandarin varieties, including the Beijing dialect, retain retroflex initial consonants, which have been lost in southern varieties of Chinese.
The Chinese capital has been within the Mandarin-speaking area for most of the last millennium, making these dialects very influential. Some form of Mandarin has served as a lingua franca for government officials and the courts since the 14th century. By the early 20th century, a standard form based on the Beijing dialect, with elements from other Mandarin dialects, was adopted as the national language. Standard Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, as well as one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is also used as one of the working languages of the United Nations. Recent increased migration from Mandarin-speaking regions of China and Taiwan has now resulted in the language being one of the more frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities. It is also the most commonly taught Chinese variety.