China, the land of…. a multitude of dialects!

China, the land of…. a multitude of dialects!


Excuse me? What did you just say? Sorry, I didn’t understand! Sorry? What? WHAAAAAT??!!

InternChina - China world of dialects
InternChina – world of dialects source

I would assume all of you know what I am talking about. Living in a different country without being fluent in the main language spoken can be very difficult. Mandarin is considered one of the hardest languages to learn in the world with a variety of seven major groups of dialects in China. In addition to that Mandarin is spoken in Taiwan, and Singapor. All in all roughly about 1.3 billion people speak it worldwide. The official national language of China is Pŭtōnghuà, a type of Mandarin spoken in the capital Beijing, according to the Order of the President of the People’s Republic of China.

Mandarin dialects are spoken by 71.5 percent of the population, followed by Wu (8.5 percent), Yue (also called Cantonese; 5 percent), Xiang (4.8 percent), Min (4.1 percent), Hakka (3.7 percent) and Gan (2.4 percent).
Jerry Norman, a former professor of linguistics at the University of Washington author of “Chinese (Cambridge Language Surveys)” (Cambridge University Press, 1988) once said that “The Chinese dialectal complex is in many ways analogous to the Romance language family in Europe. To take an extreme example, there is probably as much difference between the dialects of Peking [Beijing] and Chaozhou as there is between Italian and French.”

How big do you think China is compared to Italy and France combined? Don’t worry, I had to look it up myself and the answer is 10x! So, considering how massive China is compared to European countries it makes perfect sense to have a multitude of different dialects in one country, don’t you think?

I can tell you a perfect example regarding the differences in dialects from first hand experience. Prior to my arrival in China I had no knowledge of any Chinese and that is why I am attending a weekly class where they teach me the Beijing dialect. I live in Chengdu which is in the Sichuan province which means that they don’t quite speak the Beijing dialect. Far from it actually because the two dialects differ in phonology, vocabulary, and even grammar.


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