Varieties of Chinese

Chinese, also known as Sinitic,[lower-alpha 1] is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. Variation is particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast of mainland China. The varieties are typically classified into several groups: Mandarin, Wu, Min, Xiang, Gan, Hakka and Yue, though some varieties remain unclassified. These groups are neither clades nor individual languages defined by mutual intelligibility, but reflect common phonological developments from Middle Chinese.

Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
  • Chinese
Early forms
ISO 639-5zhx
Primary branches of Chinese according to the Language Atlas of China
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese漢語
Simplified Chinese汉语
Hanyu PinyinHànyǔ
Literal meaning"Language of the Han"

Chinese varieties differ most in their phonology, and to a lesser extent in vocabulary and syntax. Southern varieties tend to have fewer initial consonants than northern and central varieties, but more often preserve the Middle Chinese final consonants. All have phonemic tones, with northern varieties tending to have fewer distinctions than southern ones. Many have tone sandhi, with the most complex patterns in the coastal area from Zhejiang to eastern Guangdong.

Standard Chinese, a form of Mandarin, takes its phonology from the Beijing dialect, with vocabulary from the Mandarin group and grammar based on literature in the modern written vernacular. It is one of the official languages of China.

Taiwanese Mandarin is one of the official languages of Taiwan.[4] Standard Singaporean Mandarin is one of the four official languages of Singapore.[5] Chinese (specifically, Mandarin Chinese)[6] is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.