Chinese language facts
- All Chinese dialects share one writing system of about 40.000
symbols which are 'universally' comprehensible. Spoken Chinese
varieties often are mutually incomprehensible.
- Mandarin is the most widely spoken form of Chinese. It
is official language in People's Republic China, Hong Kong (which
is now once more part of the PRC) and Taiwan.
Other important dialect groups are Wu, Xiang, Cantonese, Min,
Hakka and Gan.
Due to historic reasons, most Chinese-speaking people in the United
States speak Cantonese.
- Written Chinese was developed about 4000 years ago. It
consists of more than 40.000 logographic symbols, meaning that
a symbol represents one syllable or concept rather than a sound
as does the phonetic system. Chinese writing has influenced
many languages of East Asia, including Japanese. It has remained
immensely stable over the millennia. Only recently has the PRC
attempted to simplify it and to institute a romanized version
called Pinyin, representing the sounds.
To be considered a literate one needs to study at least 3000
Originally, Chinese has written from right to left in vertical
columns. Taiwan has retained this vertical writing, but in the
PRC the writing was changed to rows from left to right as in
Some characteristics of Chinese language
- Chinese is a tonal language
The meaning of a word changes according to its tone. There are
4 tones in Mandarin Chinese: flat, rising, falling then rising
and falling. Other dialects feature up to 9 different tones.
- All words have only one grammatical form only
There is no grammatical distinction between singular or plural,
no declination of verbs according to tense, mood and aspect.
The distinction between singular or plural is accomplished by
sentence structure. Tenses are indicated by adverbs of time ('yesterday',
'later') or particles.
Sounds great? Well, 2 different types of aspects which are unlike
anything in any European language give information as to the relevancy
of an occurrence and a complex system of suffixes to distinguish
the direction, possibility, and success of an action help complicate
this apparently easy grammar
- Questions are formed by usage of particles, the word
order (mostly Subject, Verb, Object) remains unchanged
- Formal/informal address
Second person nín is used instead of general n§ to
show deference. Various terms, too, help express deference and
are used when speaking to an older or especially respected person.