Standard Mandarin, or
Standard Chinese, known by various names to native speakers, is the
official modern Chinese spoken
language used in mainland China and Taiwan, and is one
of the four official languages of Singapore.
phonology of Standard Mandarin is based on
the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, a large and diverse group of
Chinese dialects spoken across northern and
is largely drawn from this
group of dialects. The grammar
standardized to the body of modern literary works written in
, which in
practice follows the same tradition of the Mandarin dialects with
some notable exceptions. As a result, Standard Mandarin itself is
usually just called "Mandarin" in non-academic, everyday usage.
use "Mandarin" to
refer to the entire language. This convention is adopted in this
Standard Mandarin is officially known
In other parts of the world, the three names are used
interchangeably to varying degrees, Putonghua being the most
Guoyu received official recognition in 1909, when the
Dynasty determined Standard Mandarin as the "national
The name Putonghua
also has a long,
albeit unofficial, pedigree. It was used as early as 1906 in
writings by Zhu Wenxiong (朱文熊) to differentiate a modern, standard
language from classical Chinese
and Chinese dialects
For some linguists of the early 20th century, the
, or "common tongue", was conceptually different
from the Guoyu
, or "national language". The former was a
national prestige dialect or language, while the latter was the
standard. Based on common understandings of the
time, the two were, in fact, different. Guoyu
understood as formal vernacular
, which is close to classical Chinese
. By contrast,
was called the "the common speech of the modern
man", which is the spoken language adopted as a national lingua franca
by conventional usage.
The use of
the term Putonghua by left-leaning intellectuals such as
Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun
influenced the People's Republic of China government to adopt that term to describe Standard
Mandarin in 1956.
Prior to this, the government used both
, or "language of the Chinese nation
", originally simply meant
", and was used in
overseas communities to contrast Chinese dialects against foreign
languages. Over time, the desire to standardise the variety of
Chinese spoken in these communities led to the adoption of the name
"Huayu" to refer to standard Mandarin. This name also avoids
choosing a side between the alternative names of Putonghua
and Guoyu, which came to have political significance after
their usages diverged along political lines between the PRC and the ROC.
also incorporates the notion that Mandarin is usually not the
national or common language of the areas in which overseas Chinese
have always had
dialects; hence prestige dialects
have always existed, and linguae
have always been needed. Confucius
, for example, used yǎyán
), or "elegant speech", rather than
colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty
also referred to tōngyǔ
), or "common language". Rime books
, which were written since the Southern and Northern
, may also have reflected one or more systems of
times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably
unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite,
pronunciations may have been very different, as the unifying factor
of all Chinese dialects, Classical
, was a written standard, not a spoken one.
Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) began to use the term guānhuà
(官话), or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the
The term "Mandarin" comes
directly from the Portuguese. The word mandarim
used to name the Chinese bureaucratic officials (i.e., the
), because the Portuguese, under the
misapprehension that the Sanskrit word (mantri
) that was used
throughout Asia to denote "an official" had some connection with
the Portuguese word mandar
(to order somebody to do
something), and having observed that these officials all "issued
orders", chose to call them mandarins
. The use of the word
by the Portuguese for the Chinese officials, as
well as its putative connection with the Portuguese verb
is attested already in De
Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate
(1617) by Matteo Ricci
and Nicolas Trigault
From this, the Portuguese immediately started calling the special
language that these officials spoke amongst themselves (i.e.,
"Guanhua") "the language of the mandarins", "the mandarin language"
or, simply, "Mandarin". The fact that Guanhua was, to a certain
extent, an artificial language, based upon a set of conventions
(that is, the various Mandarin dialects for grammar and meaning,
and the specific dialect of the Imperial Court's locale for its
pronunciation), is precisely what makes it such an appropriate term
for Modern Standard Chinese (also the various Mandarin dialects for
grammar and meaning, and their dialect of Beijing for its
It seems that during the early part of this period, the standard
was based on the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin, but later the
influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking
various dialects in the capital, Beijing
the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy
Academies (正音書院 Zhèngyīn Shūyuàn
in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing
standard. But these attempts had little success since as late as
the 19th century the emperor had difficulty understanding some of
his own ministers in court, who did not always try to follow any
standard pronunciation. Although by some account, as late as the
early 20th century, the position of Nanjing Mandarin was considered
to be higher than that of Beijing by some and the Chinese Postal Map
standards set in 1906 included spellings with
elements of Nanjing pronunciation. Nevertheless, by 1909, the dying Qing Dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as
guóyǔ (国语), or the "national language".
China was established in 1912, there was more success in
promoting a common national language.
A Commission on the
Unification of Pronunciation
was convened with delegates from
the entire country, who were chosen as often due to political
considerations as they were for their linguistic expertise. A
Dictionary of National Pronunciation
(國音詞典) was published,
which was based on the Beijing dialect. Meanwhile colloquial
literature continued to develop apace vernacular Chinese, despite
the lack of a standardized pronunciation. Gradually, the members of
the National Language Commission came to settle upon the Beijing
dialect, which became the major source of standard national
pronunciation due to the prestigious status of that dialect. In
1932, the commission published the Vocabulary of National
Pronunciation for Everyday Use
(國音常用. 字彙), with little fanfare
or official pronunciation. This dictionary was similar to the
previous published one except that it normalized the pronunciations
for all characters into the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect.
Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard
language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.
Republic of China, established in 1949, continued the effort.
In 1955, the name guóyǔ
was replaced by pǔtōnghuà
(普通话), or "common speech". (By contrast, the name guóyǔ
continued to be used by the Republic of China which, after the 1949 loss in the Chinese Civil
War, had a territory consisting of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu Islands, and smaller islands.) Since then, the standards
used in mainland China and Taiwan
have diverged somewhat, especially in newer vocabulary terms, and a little in
The advent of the 20th century has seen many profound changes in
Standard Mandarin. Many formal,
polite and humble words
that were in use in imperial China have
almost entirely disappeared in daily conversation in modern-day
Standard Mandarin, such as jiàn
"my humble") and guì
The word 'Putonghua' was defined in October 1955 by the Minister of
Education Department in mainland China as follows:
is the common spoken language of the modern
group, the lingua franca
of all ethnic groups in the
country. The standard pronunciation of Putonghua is based on the
Beijing dialect, Putonghua is based on the Northern dialects
the Mandarin dialects], and the grammar policy is
modeled after the vernacular
used in modern
Chinese literary classics" .
mainland China and Taiwan, the use of
Standard Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the educational
system and in the media has contributed to the spread of Standard
As a result, Standard Mandarin is now spoken
fluently by most people in mainland China and Taiwan.
Kong and Macau, which are
administrative regions of the People's
Republic of China, Standard
Cantonese has been the primary language spoken by the majority
of the population, due to historical and linguistic reasons.
After Hong Kong's
handover from Britain
and Macau's handover from
, Standard Mandarin has become only slightly more
understood (but still not widely spoken) and is used by the
governments of the two territories to communicate with the Central People's Government
the PRC. Cantonese remains the official government language of Hong
Kong and Macau when not communicating with mainland China.
The standardized phonology
Mandarin is reproduced below. Actual reproduction varies widely
among speakers, as people inadvertently introduce elements of their
native dialects. By contrast, television
announcers are chosen for their
pronunciation accuracy and "neutral" accent.
The following is the consonant inventory of Standard Mandarin,
transcribed in the International Phonetic
All but occur in syllable onsets
"), whereas only , ,
and occur as syllable codas
- is often transcribed as (a voiced retroflex fricative). This
represents a variation in pronunciation among different speakers,
rather than two different phonemes.
- and are in complementary
distribution, the former being found only in onsets and the latter only in codas.
- These are not always considered independent phonemes. See
- These are commonly viewed as medials with null initials.
The retroflex consonants are flat apical postalveolar (Ladefoged
& Wu 1984; Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996:150-154). See
are in complementary distribution
the alveolar consonants
, which they derive
from historically. As a result, linguists prefer to classify as
of the other three series. The
Yale and Wade-Giles systems mostly treat the palatals as allophones
of the retroflex consonants; Tongyong Pinyin
mostly treats them as
allophones of the alveolars; and Chinese
treats them as allophones of the velars.
may be pronounced , which is characteristic of the speech of young women, and also of some men. This is considered rather effeminate and may also be substandard.
The null initial, written as an apostrophe in pinyin word-medially,
is most commonly realized as , though are common in nonstandard
dialects of Mandarin; some of these correspond to null in Standard
Mandarin but contrast with it in their dialect.
Corresponding chart in:
Mandarin has approximately half a dozen vowels. Phonetically, the
- , in the sequences
- , in
- , in
- , in (and an interjection )
- , in )
- , in , and as after
- , in (and an interjection )
- , in
- , as the bare syllabic nucleus
- , as the bare syllabic nucleus [despite the transcription, not
actually a syllabic fricative] after the alveolar sibilants
- , as the bare syllabic nucleus after the retroflex
- , in
- , in
- , in and as the bare syllabic nucleus
- , in
At first glance, these would appear to constitute a system of eight
phonemes: /a/ ( ), /e/ ( ), /o/ ( ), /ə/ ( ), /ɨ/ ( ), /i/ ( ), /u/
( ), and /y/ ( ). However, the mid vowels /e/, /o/, /ə/ are in
, and are therefore treated as a single phoneme .
Exceptions are the bare vowels and , which function only as
exclamations and can be treated as outside of the core system
(similar to the normal treatment of "hmm", "unh-unh", "shhh!" and
other English exclamations that violate usual syllabic
constraints), resulting in a six-vowel system.
It would also be possible to merge and , which are historically
related, since they are also in complementary distribution,
provided that the alveolo-palatal and retroflex consonant series
are not themselves merged. The result is a five-vowel system of , ,
, , and .
A smaller and more abstract system analyzes the vowels , and as the
surface form of the glides combined with a null meta-phoneme Ø. In
this system, shown below, there are just two vowel nuclei, and ;
various allophones result from a preceding glide (or null) and a
coda (or null; see erhua
for the additional
sequences afforded by the rhotic coda ). (The minimal vowel is
ascribed to the surface manifestation of all three values being
¹ Both pinyin
have an additional "o", used after "b p m f",
which is distinguished from "uo", used after everything else. "o"
is generally put into the first column instead of the third.
However, in Beijing pronunciation, these are identical.
² Another way to represent the four finals of this line is: , which
reflects Beijing pronunciation.
³ is pronounced when it follows an initial.
The sequence can be considered to be phonemically either or ;
likewise could be either or . Since and become and with the
addition of a suffix , the latter interpretation is generally
Mandarin syllables have the maximal form CGVCT
the first C is the initial consonant; G is one of the glides
; V is a vowel (or diphthong);
the second C is a coda, (if diphthongs like are analyzed as V) or
(if not); and T
is the tone. In traditional Chinese
phonology, C is called the "initial", G the "medial", and
"; sometimes the medial is
considered part of the rime.
Not counting tone distinctions or the rhotic coda, there are some
35 finals in Mandarin. They can be seen at:
Tables of all syllables (excluding tone and rhotic coda) are at:
The rhotic coda
Standard Mandarin also uses a rhotic
, . This usage is a unique feature of Standard
Mandarin; other dialects lack this sound. In Chinese, this feature
is known as Erhua
. There are two cases in
which it is used:
- In a small number of words, such as 二 èr "two", 耳 ěr "ear",
etc. All of these words are pronounced with no initial
- As a noun suffix
-兒/-儿 -r. The suffix combines with the final, and regular but
complex changes occur as a result.
The "r" final must be distinguished from the retroflex consonant
written in pinyin and in IPA. "The star rode a donkey" in some
rhotic English accents, and 我女兒入醫院/我女儿入医院 Wǒ nǚ'ér rù yīyuàn "My
daughter entered the hospital" in standard Mandarin, both have a
pronounced with a relatively lax tongue, whereas
the second /r/ sounds involves an active retraction of the tongue
and contact with the top of the mouth.
In other dialects of Mandarin, the rhotic consonant is sometimes
replaced by another syllable, such as li
, in words that
indicate locations. For example, 這兒/这儿 zhèr "here" and 那兒/那儿 nàr
"there" become 這裡/这里 zhèli and 那裡/那里 nàli, respectively.
The "ki-" sequence
Until a few centuries ago, some Mandarin Chinese words started with
the sound sequence "ki-" or "gi-" (Wade-Giles
"k'i-" and "ki-"). This changed in the
last two or three centuries to "qi-" and "ji-", at varying times in
different areas, but not in the dialect used in the Manchu
dynasty imperial court.
That is why some European
transcriptions of Chinese names contain "ki-". Examples are Peking
for Beijing, Nanking, Chungking, "-kiang" for
"-jiang" (= "river"), Fukien for Fujian (a
Relative pitch changes of the four tones
Mandarin, like all Chinese dialects, is a tonal language
. This means that tones
, just like consonants and vowels,
are used to distinguish words from each other. Many foreigners have
difficulties mastering the tones of each character, but correct
tonal pronunciation is essential for intelligibility because of the
vast number of words in the language that only differ by tone (i.e.
are minimal pairs
with respect to
tone). The following are the 4 tones of Standard Mandarin:
- First tone, or high-level
tone (陰平/阴平 yīnpíng, literal meaning: yin-level):
- : a steady high sound, as if it were being
sung instead of spoken.
- Second tone, or rising tone
(陽平/阳平 yángpíng, literal meaning: yang-level), or linguistically,
- : is a sound that rises from mid-level tone to high (e.g.,
- Third tone (low or dipping tone, 上聲/上声
shǎngshēng or shàngshēng, literal meaning: "up tone"):
- : has a mid-low to low descent; if at the end of a sentence or
before a pause, it is then followed by a rising pitch. Between
other tones it may simply be low.
- Fourth tone, falling tone
(去聲/去声 qùshēng, literal meaning: "away tone"), or
- : features a sharp fall from high to low, and is a shorter
tone, similar to curt commands. (e.g., Stop!)
Also called Fifth tone
(in Chinese: 輕聲/轻声 qīng shēng, literal meaning:
"light tone"), neutral tone is sometimes thought of as a lack of
tone. It usually comes at the end of a word or phrase, and is
pronounced in a light and short manner. The neutral tone has a
large number of allotones
: Its pitch
depends almost entirely on the tone carried by the syllable
preceding it. The situation is further complicated by the amount of
dialectal variation associated with it; in some regions, notably
Taiwan, the neutral tone is relatively uncommon.
Despite many examples of minimal pairs (for example, 要是 and 钥匙,
and yàoshi key
, respectively), it is
sometimes described as something other than a full-fledged tone for
technical reasons: Namely because some linguists feel that it
results from a "spreading out" of the tone on the preceding
syllable. This idea is appealing intuitively because without it,
the neutral tone requires relatively complex tone sandhi
rules to be made sense of; indeed,
it would have to have 4 separate allotones, one for each of the
four tones that could precede it. However, the "spreading" theory
incompletely characterizes the neutral tone, especially in
sequences where more than one neutrally toned syllable are found
The following are from Beijing
. Other dialects may be slightly different.
Realization of neutral tones
|Tone of first syllable
||Pitch of neutral tone
||玻璃 ( )
||伯伯 ( )
||喇叭 ( )
||兔子 ( )
represent the tones
on the vowels (e.g.,
Hanyu Pinyin, MPS II
as well. Others, like Wade-Giles
, use superscript
numbers at the end of each syllable.
The tone marks and numbers are rarely used outside of language
. Gwoyeu Romatzyh
is a rare example where
tones are not represented as special symbols
but using normal letters of the alphabet (although without a
To listen to the tones, see http://www.wku.edu/~shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm
(click on the blue-red yin yang symbol).
Pronunciation also varies with context according to the rules of
. The most prominent
phenomenon of this kind is when there are two third tones in
immediate sequence, in which case the first of them changes to a
rising tone, the second tone. In the literature, this contour is
often called two-thirds tone
or half-third tone
though generally, in Standard Mandarin, the "two-thirds tone" is
the same as the second tone. If there are three third tones in
series, the tone sandhi rules become more complex, and depend on
word boundaries, stress, and dialectal variations.
Tone sandhi rules at a glance
- When there are two 3rd tones ( ) in a row, the first syllable
becomes 2nd tone ( ), and the second syllable becomes a half-3rd
tone ( ). The half-3rd tone is a tone that only falls but does not
- : ex: 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ)
- When there are three 3rd tones in a row, things get more
- : If the first word is two syllables, and the second word is
one syllable, the first two syllables become 2nd tones, and the
last syllable stays 3rd tone:
- :: ex: 保管好 (bǎoguǎn hǎo) becomes
- : If the first word is one syllable, and the second word is two
syllables, the first syllable becomes half-3rd tone ( ), the second
syllable becomes 2nd tone, and the last syllable stays 3rd
- :: ex: 老保管 (lǎo bǎoguǎn) becomes
- When a 3rd tone is followed by a first, second or fourth tone,
or most neutral tone syllables, it usually becomes a half-3rd
- : ex: 美妙 (měimiào)
Rules for "一" and "不"
" ( ) and "不
" ( ) have special rules which do not apply
to other Chinese characters:
- When in front of a 4th tone syllable, "一" becomes 2nd tone.
- : ex: 一定 ( becomes
- When in front of a non-4th tone syllable, "一" becomes 4th tone.
- : ex. (1st tone)：一天 (
- : ex. (2nd tone): 一年 (
- : ex. (3rd tone): 一起 (
- When "一" falls between two words,
it becomes neutral tone.
- : ex: 看一看 ( ) becomes kànyikàn
- When counting sequentially, and for all other situations
"一" retains its root tone value of
1st tone. This includes when 一 is used at the end of a
multi-syllable word (regardless of the first tone of the next
word), and when 一 is immediately followed by any digit, including
another 一; hence 一 also retains its root tone value of 1st tone in
both syllables of the word "一一". However, it does not include
situations where 一一 is part of a longer word like 一一对应 or 一一如命
(these are pronounced and , although written and ). The word 不一一
(meaning "I won't go into details") is pronounced differently
depending on whether or not speakers interpret it as containing 一一
as a component word.
- When 一 is part of a cardinal
number, it is pronounced as 4th tone when before 千 or 百, but in
an ordinal number it is pronounced as
1st tone in these contexts.
- "不" becomes 2nd tone only when
followed by a 4th tone syllable.
- : ex: 不是 ( )
- When "不" comes between two words
in a yes-no question, it loses its tone (becomes neutral in
- : ex: 是不是 ( ) becomes shìbushì
Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones
Relationship between Middle Chinese
and modern tones:
V- = unvoiced initial consonant
L = sonorant
V+ = voiced
initial consonant (not
)Ping (平)Shang (上)Qu (去)Ru
(陰平, 1)Yang Ping
with no patternto Quto Yang Ping553521451to 51to 35
It is known that if the two morphemes
compound word cannot be ordered by grammar, the order of the two is
usually determined by tones — Yin Ping (1), Yang Ping (2), Shang
(3), Qu (4), and Ru, which is the plosive-ending tone that has
already disappeared. Below are some compound words that show this
rule. Tones are shown in parentheses, and R
The stress pattern of Chinese language is made up of three degrees
of stress. There are three stress patterns, which commonly occur in
the two-syllable compound words:
- Pattern One: Normal Stress + Primary Stress (\ + /)
- Pattern Two: Primary Stress + Unstressed (/ + o)
- Pattern Three: Primary Stress + Normal Stress (/ + \)
- Pattern One \ + /
- 字画儿 zìhuàr
- 音乐 yīnyuè
- 学校 xuéxiào
- 汽车 qìchē
- Pattern Two / + o
- 父亲 fùqin
- 喜欢 xǐhuan
- 东西 dōngxi
- Pattern Three / + \
- 农村 nóngcūn
- 社会 shèhuì
- 热情 rèqíng
Standard Mandarin and Beijing dialect
Due to evolution and standardization, Standard Mandarin, although
based on the Beijing dialect
, is no
longer synonymous with it. Part of this was due to the
standardization of Mandarin to reflect a greater vocabulary scheme
and a more archaic and "proper-sounding" pronunciation and
vocabulary. The areas near Beijing, especially the
cities of Chengde and Shijiazhuang in neighbouring Hebei province,
speak a form of Mandarin closest to its fully standardized
pronunciation; this form is generally heard on national and local
television and radio.
By the official definition of the People's Republic of China,
Standard Mandarin uses:
- The phonology or sound system of
Beijing. A distinction should be made
between the sound system of a dialect or language and the actual
pronunciation of words in it. The pronunciations of words chosen
for Standard Mandarin—a standardized speech—do not necessarily
reproduce all of those of the Beijing dialect. The pronunciation of
words is a standardization choice and occasional standardization
differences (not accents) do exist, between Putonghua and Guoyu, for
In fluent speech, Chinese speakers can easily tell the difference
between a speaker of the Beijing dialect and a speaker of Standard
Mandarin. Beijingers speak Standard Mandarin with elements of their
own dialect in the same way as other speakers.
- The vocabulary of Mandarin
dialects in general. This means that all slang and other elements deemed "regionalisms" are
excluded. On the one hand, the vocabulary of all Chinese dialects,
especially in more technical fields like science, law, and government, are very similar. (This is similar to
the profusion of Latin and Greek words in European languages.) This
means that much of the vocabulary of standardized Mandarin is
shared with all varieties of Chinese. On the other hand, much of
the colloquial vocabulary and slang found in Beijing dialect is not found in
Standard Mandarin, and may not be understood by people outside
- The grammar and usage of exemplary modern Chinese literature, such as the work
of Lu Xun, collectively known as "Vernacular Chinese" (baihua). Vernacular
Chinese, the standard written form of modern Chinese, is in turn
based loosely upon a mixture of northern (predominant), southern,
and classical grammar and usage.
This gives formal standard Mandarin structure a slightly different
feel from that of street Beijing dialect.
In theory the Republic of China in Taiwan defines standard Mandarin
differently, though in reality the differences are minor and are
concentrated mostly in the tones
small minority of words.
Speakers of Standard Mandarin generally have little difficulty
understanding the Beijing accent, which the former is based on.
Natives of Beijing commonly add a final "er" ( ) (兒音/儿音; pinyin:
éryīn) — commonly used as a diminutive
to vocabulary items, as well as use more neutral tones in their
speech. An example of Standard Mandarin versus the Beijing dialect
would be: standard men
(door) compared with Beijing
. These give the Beijing dialect a somewhat
distinctive lilt compared to Standard Mandarin spoken elsewhere.
The dialect is also known for its rich colloquialisms
Although Chinese speakers make a clear distinction between Standard
Mandarin and the Beijing dialect, there are aspects of Beijing
dialect that have made it into the official standard. Standard
Mandarin has a T-V distinction
between the polite and informal versions of you that comes from
Beijing dialect, but its use is quite diminished in daily speech.
In addition, there is a distinction between "zánmen
including the listener) and "wǒmen
not including the listener). In practice, neither
distinction is commonly used by most Chinese.
The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which
are not yet accepted into Standard Mandarin:
倍儿: bèir means 'very much'; 拌蒜: bàn suàn means 'stagger'; 不吝: bù
lìn means 'do not worry about'; 撮: cuō means 'eat'; 出溜: chū liū
means 'slip'; 大老爷儿们儿: dà lǎo yer menr means 'man, male';
The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which
have been already accepted as Standard Mandarin in recent
years.二把刀: èr bǎ dāo means 'not very skillful'; 哥们儿: gē ménr means
'good male friends', "buddies"; 抠门儿: kōu ménr means
Standard Mandarin and other dialects and languages
Although Standard Mandarin is now firmly established as the
in Mainland China, the national standard can
be somewhat different from the other dialects in the vast Mandarin
, to the point of being
to some extent unintelligible. However, pronunciation differences
within the Mandarin dialects are usually regular, usually differing
only in the tones. For example, the character for "sky" 天 is
pronounced with the high level tone in the Beijing dialect and in
Standard Mandarin (pinyin: tian), but is the falling tone in the
Although both Mainland China and Taiwan use Standard Mandarin in
the official context and are keen to promote its use as a national
, there is no official
intent to have Standard Mandarin replace the regional languages. As
a practical matter, speaking only Standard Mandarin in areas such
as in southern China or Taiwan can be a social handicap, as some
elderly or rural
Chinese-language speakers do
not speak Standard Mandarin fluently (although most do understand
it). In addition, it is very common for it to be spoken with the
speaker's regional accent, depending on factors as age, level of
education, and the need and frequency to speak correctly for
official or formal purposes. This situation appears to be changing,
though, in large urban centers
social changes, migrations, and urbanization
In the predominantly Han
, while the use of
Standard Mandarin is encouraged as the common working language, the
PRC has been sensitive to the status of minority languages and has
not discouraged their use. Standard Mandarin is very commonly used
reasons, as in many parts of
southern China the linguistic diversity is so large that
neighboring city dwellers may have difficulties communicating with
each other without a lingua franca
In Taiwan, the relationship between Standard Mandarin and other
languages in Taiwan, particularly Taiwanese Hokkien
, has been more heated
politically. During the martial law period under the Kuomintang
(KMT) between 1949 and 1987, the KMT
government discouraged or, in some cases, forbade the use of
Taiwanese Minnan and other vernaculars. This produced a political
backlash in the 1990s. Under the administration of Chen Shui-Bian
, other Taiwanese languages
were taught as an individual class, with dedicated textbooks and
course materials. The former President, Chen Shui-Bian, often spoke
in Taiwanese Minnan during speeches, while after late 1990s, former
President Lee Teng-hui
, also speaks
Taiwanese Minnan openly.
In Singapore, the government has heavily promoted a "Speak Mandarin Campaign
" since the
late 1970s. The use of other Chinese languages in broadcast
media is prohibited and their use in
any context is officially discouraged. This has led to some
resentment amongst the older generations, as Singapore's migrant
Chinese community is made up almost entirely of south Chinese
descent. Lee Kuan Yew
, the initiator of
the campaign, admitted that to most Chinese Singaporeans, Mandarin
was a "stepmother
tongue" rather than a
true mother language. Nevertheless, he saw the need for a unified
language among the Chinese community not biased in favor of any
Most Chinese (Beijingers included) speak Standard Mandarin with
elements of their own dialects (i.e. their "accents") mixed
For example, natives of Beijing, add a final "er" ( ) — commonly
used as a diminutive
— sound to
vocabulary items that other speakers would leave unadorned (兒音/儿音;
On the other hand, speakers from northeastern and southern China as
well as Taiwan often mix up zh and z, ch and c, q and c, sh and s,
x and s, h and f, r and l, and l and n because their own home
dialects often do not make these distinctions. As a result, it can
be difficult for people who do not have the standard pronunciation
to use pinyin
, because they do not
distinguish these sounds.
See List of Chinese
for a list of articles on individual dialects of
Chinese languages and how their features differ from Standard
Role of standard Mandarin
From an official point of view, Standard Mandarin serves the
purpose of a lingua franca
— a way for
speakers of the several mutually unintelligible Han Chinese
languages, as well as the Han and
communicate with each other. The very name Putonghua
"common speech", reinforces this idea. In practice, however, due to
Standard Mandarin being a "public" lingua franca, other languages
or dialects, both Han and non-Han, have shown signs of losing
ground to Standard Mandarin, to the chagrin of certain local
On Taiwan, Guoyu
(national language) continues to be the
official term for standard Mandarin. The term Guoyu
rarely used in Mainland China
because declaring a Beijing-dialect-based standard to be the
national language would be deemed unfair to other Chinese dialects
and ethnic minorities. The term Putonghua
on the contrary, implies nothing more than the notion of a lingua franca
. However, the term
does persist among many older Mainland Chinese, and
it is common in U.S. Chinese communities, even among Mainlanders.
Some in Taiwan, especially proponents of Taiwan independence
, also object to the
to refer to standardized Mandarin, on the
grounds that the "nation" referred to in the name of the language
is China and that Taiwan is or should be independent. They prefer
to refer to Mandarin with the terms "Beijing dialect" or
(writing of China). As with most things political in Taiwan
support the name for precisely the same reasons that others oppose
December 2004, the first survey of language
use in the People's Republic of China revealed that only 53% of its population, about 700
million people, could communicate in Standard Mandarin.
A survey by South China Morning Post
released in September 2006 gave the same result. This 53% is
defined as a passing grade above 3-B (i.e. error rate lower than
40%) of the Evaluation Exam. Another survey in 2003 by the China National
Language And Character Working Committee ( ) shows, if mastery of
Standard Mandarin is defined as Grade 1-A (an error rate lower than
3%), the percentages as follows are: Beijing 90%, Shanghai 3%, Tianjin 25%, Guangzhou 0.5%, Dalian 10%, Xi'an 12%,
Chengdu 1%, Nanjing 2%.
Consequently, foreign learners of
Mandarin usually opt to learn at Beijing, although learning grammar
and writing is not confined to that area.
With the fast development of China, more Chinese people leaving
rural areas for cities for job or study opportunities, and the
Mandarin Level Evaluation Exam ( ) has quickly become popular. Most
university graduates take this exam before looking for a job. Many
companies require a basic Mandarin Level Evaluation Certificate
from their applicants, barring applicants who were born or bred in
Beijing, since their Proficiency level is believed to be inherently
1-A ( )(Error rate: lower than 3%). As for the rest, the score of
1-A is rare. People who get 1-B (Error rate: lower than 8%) are
considered qualified to work as television correspondents or in
broadcasting stations. 2-A (Error rate: lower than 13%) can work as
Chinese Literature Course teachers in public schools. Other levels
include: 2-B (Error rate: lower than 20%), 3-A (Error rate: lower
than 30%) and 3-B (Error rate: lower than 40%). In China, a
proficiency of level 3-B usually cannot be achieved unless special
training is received. Even if most Chinese do not speak Standard
Mandarin with standard pronunciation, spoken Standard Mandarin is
understood by virtually everyone.
The China National Language And Character Working Committee was
founded in 1985. One of its important responsibilities is to
promote Standard Mandarin and Mandarin Level proficiency for
Chinese native speakers. (Its website link can be found in the
external links section
|What's your name?
|My name is...
||Wǒ jiào ...
|How are you?
||Nǐ hǎo ma? / Nǐ zěnmeyàng?
|I am fine, and you?
||Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
|I don't want it.
||Wǒ bú yào.
|Welcome! / You're welcome! / Don't be so polite!
||歡迎！/ 不用謝！/ 不客氣！
||欢迎！/ 不用谢！/ 不客气！
||Huānyíng! / Búyòng xiè! / Bù kèqì!
|Yes. / Correct.
||是。 / 對。
||是。 / 对。
||Shì. / Duì.
|No. / Incorrect.
||Bù. / Bú duì.
|How much money?
|How long (length)?
|Can you speak more slowly?
||Nín néng shuō de zài mànxiē ma?
|Good morning! / Good morning!
||早上好！ / 早安！
||早上好！ / 早安！
||Zǎoshang hǎo! / Zǎo'ān!
|How do you get to the airport?
||Qù jīchǎng zěnme zǒu?
|I want to fly to London on the eighteenth
||Wǒ xiǎng shíbā hào zuò fēijī dào Lúndūn.
|How much will it cost to get to Munich?
||Dào Mùníhēi xūyào duōshǎo qián?
|I don't speak Chinese too well.
||Wǒ de Zhōngwén jiǎng de bú tài hǎo.
- Yuan, Zhongrui. (2008) " 国语、普通话、华语 (Guoyu, Putonghua, Huayu)". China
Language National Language Committee, People's Republic of
- FOURMONT, Etienne. Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae
hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, latinè, & cum characteribus
Sinensium. Item Sinicorum Regiae Bibliothecae librorum
- Page 45 in the English translation, "China in the Sixteenth
Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci", Random House, New York,
1953. In the original Latin, vol. 1, p. 51: "Lusitani Magistratus
illos, à mandando fortasse, Mandarinos vocant, quo nomine
iam etiam apud Europæos Sinici Magistratus intelliguntur".
- From Louis Richard. L. Richard's comprehensive geography of the
Chinese empire and dependencies. Translated into English,
revised and enlarged by M. Kennelly, S.J. [Translation of
"Geographie de l'empire de Chine," Shanghai, 1905.] Shanghai:
T'usewei Press, 1908. p. iv.)
- Title:The languages of China, Author:S. Robert Ramsey,
Publisher:Princeton University Press, 1987, ISBN:0691066949,
9780691066943, chapter 1.
- Original text in Chinese: " "
- Yiya Chen and Yi Xu, Pitch Target of Mandarin Neutral
Tone ( abstract), presented at the 8th
Conference on Laboratory Phonology
- Wang Jialing, The Neutral Tone in Trysyllabic Sequences in
Chinese Dialects, Tianjin Normal University, 2004
- A Reference Grammar of Chinese Sentences by Henry Hung-Yeh
Tiee, p. XXVI
- Lee Kuan Yew (2000). From Third World to First: The Singapore
Story: 1965-2000. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-019776-5.
- Chao, Y.R., A Grammar of Spoken Chinese, University of
California Press, (Berkeley), 1968.
- Hsia, T., China’s Language Reforms, Far Eastern
Publications, Yale University, (New Haven), 1956.
- Ladefoged, Peter; & Maddieson, Ian. (1996). The sounds
of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN
0-631-19814-8 (hbk); ISBN 0-631-19815-6 (pbk).
- Ladefoged, Peter; & Wu, Zhongji. (1984). Places of
articulation: An investigation of Pekingese fricatives and
affricates. Journal of Phonetics, 12,
- Lehmann, W.P. (ed.), Language & Linguistics in the
People’s Republic of China, University of Texas Press,
- Lin, Y., Lin Yutang's Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern
Usage, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
- Milsky, C., "New Developments in Language Reform", The
China Quarterly, No.53, (January-March 1973),
- Norman, J., Chinese, Cambridge University Press,
- Ramsey, R.S.(1987). The Languages of China. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01468-X
- San Duanmu (2000) The Phonology of Standard Chinese
- Seybolt, P.J. & Chiang, G.K. (eds.), Language Reform in
China: Documents and Commentary, M.E. Sharpe, (White Plains),
- Simon, W., A Beginners' Chinese-English Dictionary Of The
National Language (Gwoyeu): Fourth Revised Edition, Lund
Humphries, (London), 1975.
- General Introduction of Chinese Language
Chinese - online mp3 podcasts and lessons in standard mandarin.
Also accompanying videos, character-writing tools, and hsk test
Chinese - Learn To Read And Write Chinese Characters - Online
Chinese character stroke order animations for over 12,000
frequently used Chinese characters, simplified and traditional,
with native speaker pronunciations, example phrases, writing
worksheet generation and character learning flashcards.
- Chinese / English / French online characters
Dictionary - Online MandarinChinese/English/French characters
Dictionary, Chinese tons, Chinese characters, Chinese
- Standard Mandarin Pinyin Table The complete
listing of all Pinyin syllables used in standard Mandarin, along
with native speaker pronunciation for each syllable.
- Stroke order for Chinese character Official
website of Taiwan's Ministry of Education
- Introductory Course for Mandarin Chinese
- New Asia--Yale-in-China Chinese Language Center
of the Chinese University of Hong
- The musical nature of the Four Tones of Chinese