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Chinese varieties and dialects

The term 'Chinese' refers to a group of dialects and local varieties which often are mutually incomprehensible when spoken but share one 'universal' writing system. Chinese writing is logographic, meaning that a symbol represents one word, syllable or concept rather than a sound. Chinese writing has influenced many languages of East Asia, including Japanese. While spoken Chinese varies strongly written Chinese is comprehensible to all varieties, including Japanese or Korean. This is especially fascinating as Japanese and Korean are not related to Chinese language but have only adopted the writing system!

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Mandarin is the most widely spoken form of Chinese. In addition it is official language in People's Republic China and Taiwan. The establishment of elementary schools throughout the two countries greatly advanced the importance of Mandarin as official language.

Official parlance insists that there are two different varieties of Mandarin: the one spoken in Taiwan as opposed to the one used in the PRC. However, this is based on politics rather than on linguistics as the differences are rather marginal or rather: there are much more variants of Mandarin throughout the two countries.

Other important dialect groups are Wu, Xiang, Cantonese, Min, Hakka and Gan. Within those groups many sub-variations occur which causes some linguists to doubt that Chinese actually is one single language. One of the reasons to consider Chinese to be a single language rather than a family of languages is that its speakers think of it as such.

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