How many languages are spoken in China
Understand China : Dialects
If you want to make an impression as a foreigner in China, you should remember a tongue twister. Often they are not easy to pronounce, even for native speakers. For example, someone goes like this: Mama qi ma, ma man, mama ma ma. If you emphasize everything correctly, this sentence means: Mama rides a horse, the horse is slow, Mama scolds the horse. The problem for foreigners, however, is just that - the correct emphasis.
875 million people speak Mandarin Chinese
The high-level Chinese language mainly knows four tones. Depending on the tone, the syllable "ma" can have four different meanings. A high "ma" means: mother; a "ma" with a rising tone means: hemp; a "ma" with a falling and then rising tone is called a horse; a "ma" with a falling tone means: to scold. The tones are often difficult for Chinese students, because they not only have to memorize individual syllables, but also the corresponding tone. Even more difficult: some syllables have the same tone and still have a different meaning. They can only be distinguished in context. But there is consolation for frustrated Mandarin students: If they were to learn Cantonese, they would have to be able to distinguish nine tones.
There are a total of eight languages or dialect groups in China. Only one of them is standard Chinese or Mandarin, which is spoken by 875 million people. The Wu dialect is used in Shanghai, and Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and Canton. In addition, there are numerous local dialects that the rest of the Chinese find difficult or impossible to understand. But all of these languages have one thing in common: writing. This is also the reason why many films are subtitled on Chinese television. So all Chinese can understand them, even if the film is dubbed in one of the dialects.
Since 1955, all Chinese students have had to learn the high-level language, which is also called "Putonghua". Hong Kong has not been a British crown colony since 1997, and Putonghua has also been spoken there increasingly since then. In addition, in 1956 the communist government introduced the Pinyin transcription, the phonetic transcription of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet - a measure that makes it much easier for Western Chinese students to learn. Finally, the People's Republic of China has also simplified the characters, which, however, is not accepted everywhere for political reasons. Traditional characters continue to be used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
There are more than 50,000 characters
For beginners, the characters are another hurdle. They have to be learned individually. There are more than 50,000 characters in China, and a modern lexicon contains around 10,000 characters. Anyone who wants to read a newspaper should be able to use around 3000 of the most common characters. But there are also advantages of the Chinese language: the grammar is simple. There are no articles, tenses, gender forms, plural or verb inflections. "Ni shi Beijing ren" means: "You are Beijing person" or "You are from Beijing".
If you add the question word "ma" to the sentence, you get the meaning: "Are you from Beijing?" By the way, this is another meaning of the syllable "ma". It is pronounced on the fifth tone. And that is - neutral.
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