Chinese language interpreter – How many languages are spoken in China?

Interprete lingua cinese – Quante lingue si parlano in Cina?

Learning Chinese today, in the third millennium, means learning PuTongHua, i.e. the "standard" Mandarin, but few know that hundreds of languages are spoken in China - which for socio-political reasons in those parts are called dialects - and that each of them presents in turn several variations.

Referring to Chinese as a language is reductive, as well as incorrect. In fact, Chinese is a large and composite linguistic family, made up of hundreds of linguistic varieties that are profoundly different from each other. To understand this, a Chinese who speaks Cantonese is not able to understand another who uses the Beijing dialect, and vice versa.

How many languages are spoken in China?

So how many languages are spoken in China? Not counting all the dialect subgroups, we can say that 302 languages are spoken in China. In the People's Republic of China it is customary to say that the average accent changes every three miles you travel. And we are not that far from reality.

Why don't we speak only one language in China?

Why don't we only speak one language in China, Chinese? The reasons are to be found in the boundless extension of its territory and in its topography. Indeed, China is huge. We are talking about more than 9 and a half million square kilometers which, before the national unification in 1911, were governed for thousands of years by different dynasties. Furthermore, rivers and mountain ranges abound in this gigantic piece of land, which means that people from different, albeit neighboring, regions have never been able to come into contact with each other, and have thus ended up giving rise to separate linguistic basins. standing.

Although politicians and scholars were aware of the importance of unifying the country from a linguistic point of view, a decision in this direction was taken only in 1911, when Mandarin was chosen as the official language of China and it was therefore established that everyone should speak it. But why was mandarin chosen?

The Birth of Modern Standard Chinese

You have surely heard of Mandarin. After all, it is the largest Chinese linguistic group, as well as the official language of the nation. Mandarin is spoken by 71% of Chinese. But did you know that there are so many ways to speak Mandarin that people often struggle to understand each other even in the same province?

And that's because Mandarin has 93 dialects. The reason, also in this case, is to be found in the vastness of the territory in which it is spoken and in the influences that the language has undergone over the centuries, especially along the borders. Northern people live close to speakers of Altaic languages, a large language family that includes as many as 60 languages spoken in the Central Asian area by about 250 million people, while Southern Chinese have undergone totally different linguistic influences such as those of Thailand.

The modern version of Mandarin is actually based on how people speak in a small town called Wanping, about 200km from Beijing. Linguists traveled there in the 1950s to study how speech was articulated and then used those findings to standardize the pronunciation of Mandarin, with some modifications to make it easier for non-native speakers to learn.

Why was Mandarin chosen as the official language?

Many of the founders of the Kuomingtang party of Sun Yat-sen, father of modern China, were Cantonese and originally from present-day Guangzhou, with the result that much of the initial political activity was conducted in that dialect.

When the new republic was founded in 1911, the Kuomingtang briefly considered the feasibility of using Cantonese as the national language, but soon had to shelve the idea, for two main reasons:

1. Cantonese is a very difficult language to learn.

2. Mandarin was far more widespread than Cantonese as early as 1911. Almost everyone north of the Yellow River could at least understand Mandarin, including the entire province of Sichuan.

After all, Mandarin is Standard Chinese because it has a common denominator, which allows everyone to communicate effectively with each other. Hence the term “PuTongHua”, which literally means “universal/common dialect”. This is essentially an evolution of the term "GuoYu", meaning "national language" introduced by the republican government, which in turn derives from "GuanHua" or "court dialect" used by the Qing and Ming courts.

Mandarin is a convenient tool agreed upon by all as the national language, but it has no greater intrinsic superiority or authenticity than any other Chinese dialect.

In fact, it is partly an artificial construct, being derived

from the various northern dialects, mainly from the areas around Beijing, with some modifications added to make it more assimilable for non-native speakers. In historical terms, there are no "native" Mandarin speakers, although a large proportion of Northern Chinese speak dialects that are anthropologically similar to what we now call "standard" Mandarin.

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