The Chinese language (汉语/漢語 Hànyǔ; 华语/華語 Huáyǔ; 中文 Zhōngwén) is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages. About one-fifth of the world's population, or over one billion people, speaks some variety of Chinese as their native language. Internal divisions of Chinese are usually perceived by their native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, rather than separate languages, although this identification is considered inappropriate by some linguists and sinologists.
Chinese is distinguished by its high level of internal diversity, although all varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken, by far, is Mandarin (about 850 million), followed by Wu (90 million), Cantonese (Yue) (70 million) and Min (50 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, although some, like Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some degree of intelligibility.
Standard Chinese (Putonghua / Guoyu / Huayu) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese, referred to as 官话/官話 Guānhuà or 北方话/北方話 Běifānghuà in Chinese. Mandarin Chinese history can be dated back to the 19th century, particularly by the upper classes and ministers in Beijing. Standard Chinese is the official language of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC, also known as Taiwan), as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Of the other varieties of Chinese, Cantonese is influential in Guangdong Province and Cantonese-speaking overseas communities, and remains one of the official languages of Hong Kong (together with English) and of Macau (together with Portuguese). Min Nan, part of the Min language group, is widely spoken in southern Fujian, in neighbouring Taiwan (where it is known as Taiwanese or Hoklo) and in Southeast Asia (known as Hokkien in Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia). There are also sizeable Hakka and Shanghainese diaspora, for example in Taiwan, where most Hakka communities maintain diglossia by being conversant in Taiwanese and Standard Chinese.
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“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
—Thomas Hardy (18401928)