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Mandarin Chinese

In Chinese linguistics, Mandarin () is a group of related varieties or dialects spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. Because most Mandarin dialects are found in the north, the group is also referred to, particularly among Chinese speakers, as the "northern dialect(s)" (). A northeastern-dialect speaker and a southwestern-dialect speaker can hardly communicate except through the standard language, mainly because of the differences in tone. Nonetheless, the variation within Mandarin is less significant than the much greater variation found within several other varieties of Chinese, and this is thought to be due to a relatively recent spread of Mandarin across China, combined with a greater ease of travel and communication compared to the more mountainous south of China.

Mandarin dialects, particularly the Beijing dialect, form the basis of Standard Chinese, which is also referred to "Mandarin" (also referred to as Putonghua () or Guoyu ()). Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin is the official language of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China and one of the four official languages of Singapore. When the Mandarin group is taken as one language, as is often done in academic literature, it has more native speakers (nearly a billion) than does any other language. For most of Chinese history, the capital has been within the Mandarin area, making these dialects very influential. Since the early 20th century, a form of standardized Mandarin (described above) has been the official and de facto national standard language in China and it is today one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities internationally.



The English word "mandarin" (from Portuguese mandarim, from Malay menteri, from Hindi mantri, from Sanskrit mantrin, meaning "minister or counsellor"), originally meant an official of the Chinese empire.[1][2] As their home dialects were varied and often mutually unintelligible, these officials communicated using a koin based on various northern dialects. When Jesuit missionaries learned this standard language in the 16th century, they called it Mandarin, from its Chinese name Gu nhu ( / ), or "language of the officials".[3]

In everyday English, "Mandarin" refers to Standard Chinese, which is often called simply "Chinese". Standard Chinese is based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing, with some lexical and syntactic influence from other Mandarin dialects. It is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the official language of the Republic of China (R.O.C./Taiwan), and one of the four official languages of the Republic of Singapore. It also functions as the language of instruction in the PRC and in Taiwan. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, under the name "Chinese". Chinese speakers refer to the modern standard language as P t nghu (on the mainland), Gu y (in Taiwan) or Hu y (in Malaysia and Singapore), but not as Gu nhu .[4]

This article uses the term "Mandarin" in the sense used by linguists, referring to the diverse group of Mandarin dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, which Chinese linguists call Gu nhu . The alternative term B if nghu (), or "Northern dialect(s)", is used less and less among Chinese linguists. By extension, the term "Old Mandarin" is used by linguists to refer to the northern dialects recorded in materials from the Yuan dynasty.

Native speakers who are not academic linguists may not recognize that the variants they speak are classified in linguistics as members of "Mandarin" (or so-called "Northern dialects") in a broader sense. Within Chinese social or cultural discourse, there is not a common "Mandarin" identity based on language; rather, there are strong regional identities centred on individual dialects because of the wide geographical distribution and cultural diversity of their speakers. Speakers of forms of Mandarin other than the standard typically refer to the variety they speak by a geographic name for example Sichuan dialect, Hebei dialect or Northeastern dialect, all being regarded as distinct from the standard language.

As with all other varieties of the Chinese language, there is significant dispute as to whether Mandarin is a language or a dialect. See Varieties of Chinese for more on this issue.


The present Chinese language varieties developed out of the different ways in which dialects of Old Chinese and Middle Chinese evolved. Traditionally, seven major groups of dialects have been recognized. Aside from Mandarin, the other six are Wu Chinese, Hakka Chinese, Min Chinese, Xiang Chinese, Yue Chinese and Gan Chinese.[5] More recently, other more specific groups have been recognized.

Old Mandarin

A page of the Menggu Ziyun, covering the syllables tsim to lim

After the fall of the Northern Song dynasty, and during the reign of the Jin (Jurchen) and Yuan (Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech developed based on the dialects of the North China Plain around the capital, a language referred to as Old Mandarin. New genres of vernacular literature were based on this language, including verse, drama and story forms, such as the qu and sanqu.[6]

The rhyming conventions of the new verse were codified in a rhyme dictionary called the Zhongyuan Yinyun (1324). A radical departure from the rhyme table tradition that had evolved over the previous centuries, this dictionary contains a wealth of information on the phonology of Old Mandarin. Further sources are the 'Phags-pa script based on the Tibetan alphabet, which was used to write several of the languages of the Mongol empire, including Chinese, and the Menggu Ziyun, a rhyme dictionary based on 'Phags-pa. The rhyme books differ in some details, but overall show many of the features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects, such as the reduction and disappearance of final plosives and the reorganization of the Middle Chinese tones.[6]

In Middle Chinese, initial plosives and affricates showed a three-way contrast between tenuis, voiceless aspirated and voiced consonants. There were four tones, with the fourth, or "entering tone", comprising syllables ending in plosives (-p, -t or -k). Syllables with voiced initials tended to be pronounced with a lower pitch, and by the late Tang Dynasty, each of the tones had split into two registers conditioned by the initials. When voicing was lost in all dialects except the Wu group, this distinction became phonemic, and the system of initials and tones was rearranged differently in each of the major groups.[7]

The Zhongyuan Yinyun shows the typical Mandarin four-tone system resulting from a split of the "even" tone and loss of the entering tone, with its syllables distributed across the other tones (though their different origin is marked in the dictionary). Similarly, voiced plosives and affricates have become voiceless aspirates in the "even" tone and voiceless non-aspirates in others, another distinctive Mandarin development. However, the language still retained a final -m, which has merged with -n in modern dialects, and initial voiced fricatives. It also retained the distinction between velars and alveolar sibilants in palatal environments, which later merged in most Mandarin dialects to yield a palatal series (rendered j-, q- and x- in pinyin).[6]

The flourishing vernacular literature of the period also shows distinctively Mandarin vocabulary and syntax, though some, such as the third-person pronoun t ( ), can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty.[8]

Vernacular literature

Until the early 20th century, formal writing and even much poetry and fiction was done in Literary Chinese, which was modelled on the classics of the Warring States period and Han Dynasty. Over time, the various spoken varieties diverged greatly from Literary Chinese, which was learned and composed as a special language. Preserved from the sound changes that affected the various spoken varieties, its economy of expression was greatly valued. For instance, (y , wing) is unambiguous in written Chinese, but has over 75 homophones in spoken Mandarin.

The literary language was less appropriate for recording materials that were meant to be reproduced in oral presentations, materials such as plays and grist for the professional story-teller's mill. From at least the Yuan dynasty, plays that recounted the subversive tales of China's Robin Hoods to the Ming dynasty novels such as Water Margin, on down to the Qing dynasty novel Dream of the Red Chamber and beyond, there developed a literature in written vernacular Chinese ( / ; b ihu ). In many cases, this written language reflected Mandarin varieties, and since pronunciation differences were not conveyed in this written form, this tradition had a unifying force across all the Mandarin-speaking regions and beyond.[9]

Hu Shih, a pivotal figure of the first half of the twentieth century, wrote an influential and perceptive study of this literary tradition, entitled B ihu W nxu sh (A History of Vernacular Literature).

Koin of the Late Empire

Zhongguo Guanhua ( ), or Medii Regni Communis Loquela ("Middle Kingdom's Common Speech"), used on the frontispiece of an early Chinese grammar published by tienne Fourmont (with Arcadio Huang) in 1742[10]

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people living in many parts of southern China spoke only their local language. As a practical measure, officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Gu nhu . Knowledge of this language was thus essential for an official career, but it was never formally defined.[4]

Officials varied widely in their pronunciation; in 1728, the Yongzheng emperor, unable to understand the accents of officials from Guangdong and Fujian, issued a decree requiring the governors of those provinces to provide for the teaching of proper pronunciation. Although the resulting Academies for Correct Pronunciation ( , Zh ngy n Sh yu n) were short-lived, the decree did spawn a number of textbooks that give some insight into the ideal pronunciation. Common features included:

  • loss of the Middle Chinese voiced initials except for v-
  • merger of -m finals with -n
  • the characteristic Mandarin four-tone system in open syllables, but retaining a final glottal stop in "entering tone" syllables
  • retention of the distinction between palatalized velars and dental affricates, the source of the spellings "Peking" and "Tientsin" for modern "Beijing" and "Tianjin".[11]

As the last two of these features indicate, this language was a koin based on dialects spoken in the Nanjing area, though not identical to any single dialect.[12] This form remained prestigious long after the capital moved to Beijing in 1421, though the speech of the new capital emerged as a rival standard. As late as 1815, Robert Morrison based the first English-Chinese dictionary on this koin as the standard of the time, though he conceded that the Beijing dialect was gaining in influence.[13] By the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had become dominant and was essential for any business with the imperial court.[14]

Standard Chinese

In the early years of the Republic of China, intellectuals of the New Culture Movement, such as Hu Shih and Chen Duxiu, successfully campaigned for the replacement of Literary Chinese as the written standard by written vernacular Chinese, which was based on northern dialects. A parallel priority was the definition of a standard national language (; ; , pinyin: Gu y ). After much dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an abortive attempt at an artificial pronunciation, the National Language Unification Commission finally settled on the Beijing dialect in 1932. The People's Republic founded in 1949 retained this standard, calling it p t nghu (; ; literally "common speech").[15]

The national language is now used in education, the media, and formal situations in both the PRC and the R.O.C. (but not in Hong Kong and Macau). This standard can now be spoken intelligibly by most younger people in Mainland China and Taiwan, with various regional accents. In Hong Kong and Macau, because of their colonial and linguistic history, the language of education, the media, formal speech and everyday life remains the local Cantonese, although the standard language is now very influential.[16] In Mandarin-speaking areas such as Sichuan, the local dialect is the mother tongue of most of the population. The era of mass education in Standard Chinese has not erased these regional differences, and people may be either diglossic or speak the standard language with a notable accent.

From an official point of view, the PRC government and R.O.C. government maintain their own forms of the standard under different names. Technically, both P t ng hu and Gu y base their phonology on the Beijing accent, though P t ng hu also takes some elements from other sources. Comparison of dictionaries produced in the two areas will show that there are few substantial differences. However, both versions of "school-standard" Chinese are often quite different from the Mandarin dialects that are spoken in accordance with regional habits, and neither is wholly identical to the Beijing dialect. P t ng hu and Gu y also have some differences from the Beijing dialect in vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics.

The written forms of Standard Chinese are also essentially equivalent, although simplified characters are used in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore while people in Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong generally use traditional characters.

Geographic distribution and dialects

Distribution of the eight subgroups of Mandarin according to the Language Atlas of China (1987), plus Jin Chinese, which many linguists include as part of Mandarin
Distribution of the eight subgroups of Mandarin according to the Language Atlas of China (1987), plus Jin Chinese, which many linguists include as part of Mandarin

Most Han Chinese living in northern and south-western China are native speakers of a dialect of Mandarin. The North China Plain provided few barriers to migration, leading to relative linguistic homogeneity over a wide area in northern China. In contrast, the mountains and rivers of southern China have spawned the other six major groups of Chinese dialects, with great internal diversity, particularly in Fujian.[17][18]

However, the varieties of Mandarin cover a huge area containing nearly a billion people. As a result, there are pronounced regional variations in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and many Mandarin varieties are not mutually intelligible.[19]

Most of northeastern China, except for Liaoning, did not receive significant settlements by Han Chinese until the 18th century,[20] and as a result the Northeastern Mandarin dialects spoken there differ little from Beijing Mandarin. The Manchu people of the area now speak these dialects exclusively. The frontier areas of Northwest and Southwest China were colonized by speakers of Mandarin dialects at the same time, and the dialects in those areas similarly closely resemble their relatives in the core Mandarin area.[21] However, long-established cities even very close to Beijing, such as Tianjin, Baoding, Shenyang, and Dalian, have markedly different dialects.

Unlike their compatriots on the south-east coast, few speakers of Mandarin dialects emigrated from China until the late 20th century, but there are now significant communities of them in cities across the world.[22]


The classification of Chinese dialects evolved during the 20th century, and many points remain unsettled. Early classifications tended to follow provincial boundaries or major geographical features. In 1936, Wang Li produced the first classification based on phonetic criteria, principally the evolution of Middle Chinese voiced initials. His Gu nhu group included dialects of northern and southwestern China, as well as Hunan and northern Jiangxi. Li Fang-Kuei's classification of 1937 distinguished the latter two groups as Xiang and Gan, while splitting the Gu nhu group into Northern, Lower Yangtze and Southwestern Gu nhu groups. The widely accepted seven-group classification of Yuan Jiahua in 1960 retained separate Xiang and Gan groups, beside a single Mandarin group with Northern, Northwestern, Southwestern and Jianghuai (Lower Yangtze) subgroups.[23]

The linguist Li Rong proposed that the Jin dialects of Shanxi and neighbouring areas constitute a separate group at the same level as Mandarin, and used this classification in the Language Atlas of China (1987). Li distinguishes these dialects based on their retention of the Middle Chinese entering tone (plosive-final) category (also preserved by Jiang-Huai dialects) and other features. Many other linguists continue to treat these dialects as a subgroup of Mandarin.[24]

The Language Atlas of China divides the remaining Mandarin dialects into eight subgroups, distinguished by their treatment of the Middle Chinese entering tone (see Tones below):[25]

  • Northeastern, or that spoken in the northeast of China (known in the West as Manchuria), except the Liaodong Peninsula: This dialect is closely related to Standard Chinese, with little variation in lexicon; there are very few tonal changes.
  • Beijing and environs, such as Chengde, Hebei: The basis of Standard Chinese. Some people in areas of recent large-scale immigration, such as northern Xinjiang, speak the Beijing dialect or something very close to it.
  • Ji-Lu, or that spoken in Hebei ("Ji") and Shandong ("Lu") provinces, except the Jiaodong Peninsula, including Tianjin dialect: Tones and vocabulary are markedly different; generally, little intelligibility with Beijing Mandarin.
  • Jiao-Liao, or that spoken in Shandong (Jiaodong) Peninsula and Liaodong Peninsula: Very noticeable tonal changes, different in "flavour" from Ji-Lu Mandarin, but with more variance; significant, but not full intelligibility with Beijing.
  • Zhongyuan (lit. "central plain"), spoken in Henan province, the central parts of Shaanxi in the Yellow River valley, and southern Xinjiang: Significant phonological differences, with partial intelligibility with Beijing. The Dungan language, a Chinese-derived language spoken in Kyrgyzstan, belongs to this group and is generally intelligible with Mandarin.
  • Lan-Yin, or that spoken in Gansu province (with capital Lanzhou) and Ningxia autonomous region (with capital Yinchuan), as well as northern Xinjiang.
  • Jiang-huai (or Xia-Jiang), spoken in the parts of Jiangsu and Anhui on the north bank of the Yangtze, as well as some areas on the south bank, such as Nanjing in Jiangsu, Jiujiang in Jiangxi, etc.: Significant phonological and lexical changes to varied degrees; intelligibility is limited. Jiang-Huai has been significantly influenced by Wu Chinese.
  • Southwestern, or that spoken in the provinces of Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and the Mandarin-speaking areas of Hunan, Guangxi and southern Shaanxi: Sharp phonological, lexical, and tonal changes are present; intelligibility with Beijing is limited to varied degrees.


Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a glide, a vowel, a final, and tone. Not every syllable that is possible according to this rule actually exists in Mandarin, as there are rules prohibiting certain phonemes from appearing with others, and in practice there are only a few hundred distinct syllables.

Phonological features that are generally shared by the Mandarin dialects include:


A generalized table for the initials of the Mandarin dialects is as follows. Initials not present in the standard language are placed within parentheses.

  • The retroflex initials are missing in many dialects of Manchuria and southern China, where they are replaced by the alveolar sibilants . (zhi becomes zi, chi becomes ci, shi becomes si, and ri or may sound like .) This is also common in the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan. Most other Mandarin-speaking areas do distinguish between the retroflex and alveolar sibilants, but they are often in different distribution than in standard Mandarin.
  • The alveolo-palatal sibilants are the result of merger between the historical palatalized velars and palatalized alveolar sibilants . In about 20% of dialects, the alveolar sibilants failed to palatalize, remaining separate from the alveolo-palatal initials. (The unique pronunciation used in Beijing opera falls into this category.) On the other side, in some dialects of eastern Shandong, the velar initials have failed to palatalize.
  • Many southwestern Mandarin dialects mix f- and hu- , substituting one for the other in some or all cases. For example, fei "to fly" and hui "dust" may be merged in these areas.
  • In some dialects, initial and are not distinguished. In Southwestern Mandarin, these sounds usually merge to ; in Jianghuai Mandarin, they usually merge to .
  • People in many Mandarin-speaking areas may use different initial sounds where Beijing uses initial r- . Common variants include y-, l-, n-, and w- .
  • , and , used as initials in earlier forms of Chinese, have merged with the zero initial in most dialects of Mandarin.
  • Many dialects of Northwestern and Central Plains Mandarin have where Beijing has . Thus, "pig" for Standard , "water" for Standard , "soft" for Standard , and so forth.


  • In many widely scattered Mandarin dialects, finals ai ei ao ou are pronounced as monophthongs (i.e. with no glide).
  • Beijing Mandarin and Northeastern Mandarin underwent more vowel mergers than many other varieties of Mandarin. For example:
Character Meaning Standard
(Ji Lu)
Pinyin IPA
lesson k
fruit gu
country gu
Standard finals such as e, o, ai, ei, ao, u, e, and ie often turn up unpredictably as other vowels in other dialects. The rules are complex and are the result of Middle Chinese phonology (especially interactions with final plosives) undergoing divergent development in different Mandarin dialects.
  • The medial -u- , occurring with an alveolar consonant, is often lost in southwestern Mandarin. Hence we get dei "right" where standard Mandarin has dui , ten "swallow" where the standard has tun .
  • Southwestern Mandarin have gai kai hai in a few (not all) words where the standard has jie qie xie . This is a stereotypical feature of southwestern Mandarin, since it is so easily noticeable. E.g. hai "shoe" for standard xie, gai "street" for standard jie.
  • In some areas (especially southwestern) final -ng changes into -n . This is especially prevalent in the rhyme pairs -en/-eng and -in/-ing . As a result, j n "gold" and j ng "capital" merge in those dialects.
  • Some dialects of Mandarin have a final glottal stop in certain words. See the second point under "Tones", below.
  • R-coloring, a characteristic feature of Mandarin, works quite differently in the southwest. Whereas Beijing dialect generally removes only a final or when adding the rhotic final -r , in the southwest the -r replaces the nearly the entire rhyme.


  • In general, no two Mandarin-speaking areas have exactly the same set of tone values. On the other hand, most Mandarin-speaking areas have very similar tone distribution for example, the dialects of Jinan, Chengdu, Xi'an etc. all have four tones that correspond quite well to the Beijing tones of (55), (35), (214), and (51). The exception to this rule lies in the distribution of syllables formerly ending in a plosive, which are treated differently in different dialects of Mandarin.
  • In most Mandarin dialects, syllables that ended in a plosive in Middle Chinese (i.e. /p/, /t/ or /k/), which formerly had no tone to speak of, have lost that consonant entirely and have been assigned one of the four tones. The way that tones were assigned differs from dialect to dialect and depends on the initial consonant. Note in particular that, in the Beijing dialect that underlies Standard Mandarin, syllables beginning with originally unvoiced consonants were redistributed across the four tones in a completely random pattern. For example, the three characters , all pronounced in Middle Chinese (William H. Baxter's reconstruction), are now pronounced j j j , with tones 1 3 4 respectively. Older dictionaries such as Mathews' Chinese English Dictionary mark characters whose pronunciation formerly ended with a plosive with a superscript 5; however, this tone number is more commonly used for syllables that always have a neutral tone (see below).
  • In Jianghuai dialects, a minority of Southwestern dialects (e.g. Minjiang) and Jin (sometimes considered non-Mandarin), former final plosives were not deleted entirely, but were reduced to a glottal stop . This is in common with the non-Mandarin Wu dialects, and is thought to represent the pronunciation of Old Mandarin.
  • Note that traditional Chinese phonology considers syllables ending in a plosive (including a glottal stop) as containing a special tone known as the entering tone, and as a result dialects such as Jianghuai and Minjiang are said to have five tones instead of four. However, modern linguistics considers these syllables as having no phonemic tone at all.
  • Standard Mandarin and many northern dialects frequently employ neutral tones in the second syllables of words, creating syllables whose tone contour is so short and light that it is difficult or impossible to discriminate. However in many areas, especially in the south, the tones of all syllables are made clear. This is also characteristic of non-Mandarin dialects.

Tone distribution variation:

V- = obstruent unvoiced initial consonant
L = sonorant voiced initial consonant
V+ = obstruent voiced initial consonant

Reflexes of Middle Chinese tones in Mandarin dialects
Middle Chinese Tone "level tone"
"rising tone"
"departing tone"
"entering tone"
(Ru: plosive-final)
Middle Chinese Initial V- L V+ V- L V+ V- L V+ V- L V+
Beijing 1 (Yin Ping) 2 (Yang Ping) 3 (Shang) 4 (Qu) redistributed
with no pattern
4 2
Northeastern mostly 3; otherwise,
with no pattern
Ji-Lu 1
Jiao-Liao 3
Zhongyuan 1
Lan-Yin 4
Southwestern (most places) mostly 2, else 1 or 4
Southwestern (Minjiang) marked with glottal stop (Ru)

Tone contour variation:

Phonetic realization of Mandarin tones in principal dialects
Tone name 1 (Yin Ping) 2 (Yang Ping) 3 (Shang) 4 (Qu) marked with
glottal stop (Ru)
Beijing Beijing (55) (35) (214) (51)
Northeastern Harbin (44) (24) (213) (52)
Ji-Lu Tianjin (21) (35) (113) (53)
Shijiazhuang (23) (53) (55) (31)
Jiao-Liao Yantai (31) ( (55)) (214) (55)
Zhongyuan Zhengzhou (24) (42) (53) (312)
Luoyang (34) (42) (54) (31)
Xi'an (21) (24) (53) (44)
Tianshui (13) (53) (24)
Lan-Yin Lanzhou (31) (53) (33) (24)
Yinchuan (44) (53) (13)
Southwestern Chengdu (44) (21) (53) (213)
Xichang (33) (52) (45) (213) (31)
Kunming (44) (31) (53) (212)
Wuhan (55) (213) (42) (35)
Liuzhou (44) (31) (53) (24)
Jianghuai Yangzhou (31) (35) (42) (55) (5)
Nantong (21) (35) (55) (42), (213)* (4), (5)*

* Dialects in and around the Nantong area typically have many more than 4 tones, due to influence from the neighbouring Wu dialects.


Chinese varieties of all periods have traditionally been considered prime examples of analytic languages, relying on word order and particles instead of inflection or affixes to provide grammatical information such as person, number, tense, mood, or case. Although modern varieties, including the Mandarin dialects, use a small number of particles in a similar fashion to suffixes, they are still strongly analytic.[26]

The basic word order of subject verb object is common across Chinese dialects, but there are variations in the order of the two objects of ditransitive sentences. In northern dialects the indirect object precedes the direct object (as in English), for example in the Standard Chinese sentence

w g i n y b n sh .
I give you a book.

In southern dialects, as well as many southwestern and Jiang-Huai dialects, the objects occur in the reverse order.[27]

Most varieties of Chinese use post-verbal particles to indicate aspect, but the particles used vary. Most Mandarin dialects use the particle -le ( ) to indicate the perfective aspect and -zhe ( / ) for the progressive aspect. Other Chinese varieties tend to use different particles, e.g. Cantonese jo2 and gan2 / respectively. The experiential aspect particle -guo ( / ) is used more widely, except in Southern Min.[28]

The subordinative particle de ( ) is characteristic of Mandarin dialects.[29] Some southern dialects, and a few Jiang-Huai dialects, preserve an older pattern of subordination without a marking particle, while in others a classifier fulfils the role of the Mandarin particle.[30]

Especially in conversational Chinese, sentence-final particles alter the inherent meaning of a sentence. Like much vocabulary, particles can vary a great deal with regards to the locale. For example, the particle ma ( ), which is used in most northern dialects to denote obviousness or contention, is replaced by yo ( ) in southern usage.


There are more polysyllabic words in Mandarin than in all other major varieties of Chinese except Shanghainese. This is partly because Mandarin has undergone many more sound changes than have southern varieties of Chinese, and has needed to deal with many more homophones. New words have been formed by adding affixes such as lao- ( ), -zi ( ), -(e)r ( / ), and -tou ( / ), or by compounding, e.g. by combining two words of similar meaning as in c ngm ng ( ), made from elements meaning "hurried" and "busy". A distinctive feature of southwestern Mandarin is its frequent use of noun reduplication, which is hardly used in Beijing. In Sichuan, one hears baobao "handbag" where Beijing uses bao'r. There are also a small number of words that have been polysyllabic since Old Chinese, such as h di ( ) "butterfly".

The singular pronouns in Mandarin are w ( ) "I", n ( / ) "you", n n ( ) "you (formal)", and t ( / / ) "he/she/it", with -men ( / ) added for the plural. Further, there is a distinction between the plural first-person pronoun z nmen ( / ), which is inclusive of the listener, and w men ( / ), which may be exclusive of the listener. Dialects of Mandarin agree with each other quite consistently on these pronouns. While the first and second person singular pronouns are cognate with forms in other varieties of Chinese, the rest of the pronominal system is a Mandarin innovation (e.g., Shanghainese has / non "you" and yi "he/she").[31]

Because of contact with Mongolian and Manchurian peoples, Mandarin (especially the Northeastern varieties) has some loanwords from these languages not present in other varieties of Chinese, such as h t ng ( ) "alley". Southern Chinese varieties have borrowed from Tai,[32] Austro-Asiatic,[33] and Austronesian languages.

In general, the greatest variation occurs in slang, in kinship terms, in names for common crops and domesticated animals, for common verbs and adjectives, and other such everyday terms. The least variation occurs in "formal" vocabulary terms dealing with science, law, or government.

See also



Works cited

Further reading

  • Novotn , Z., "Contributions to the Study of Loan-Words and Hybrid Words in Modern Chinese", Archiv Orientalni, (Prague), No.35 (1967), (In English: examples of loan words and calques in Chinese)
  • (Princeton University)
  • (the University of Michigan)
  • ()
  • ()
  • (Princeton University)

External links

  • Tones in Mandarin Dialects : Comprehensive tone comparison charts for 523 Mandarin dialects. (Compiled by James Campbell) Internet Archive mirror

ace:Bahsa Mandarin ar: arc: ast:Chinu bg: bar:Houkin sisch ca:Mandar ceb:Minandarin cs:Mandar n tina cy:Tsiein eg Mandarin da:Mandarin (sprog) de:Hochchinesisch eml:Cin s mandar in es:Chino mandar n eo:Norma ina lingvo fa: fr:Mandarin (langue) fy:Standertmandarynsk ga:An Mhandair nis gv:Mandarin Chadjinit gl:Mandar n ko: hi: hr:Mandarinski kineski id:Bahasa Mandarin ia:Lingua chinese mandarin is:Mandar n it:Lingua cinese mandarino he: kn: ku:Ziman n lad:Idioma shino mandarin la:Lingua Sinensis Mandarinica lv:Mandar nu valoda hu:Mandarin nyelv ml: ms:Bahasa Mandarin cdo:Gu k-ng nl:Mandarijn (taal) ja: no:Mandarin (spr k) nn:Mandarinspr k oc:Mandarin estandard pms:Lenga putonghua pl:J zyki mandary skie pt:L ngua mandarim ro:Limba mandarin qu:Chinchay Han simi ru: sc:Lingua xinesa mandarinu sco:Mandarin Cheenese stq:Hoochchinesisk simple:Mandarin language sr: fi:Mandariinikiina sv:Mandarin (spr k) tl:Wikang Mandarin ta: th: tr:Mandarin uk: vi:Quan tho i wa:Mandarin zh-classical: zh-yue: diq:Mandarinki zh:

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