Chinese can be confusing

Spoken Chinese – Complications of Dialect

Spoken Chinese can be confusing

Roll over Chinese characters to get Mandarin and Cantonese pronounciation.

The Chinese language, is usually referred to by one of three (although there are more) terms when considering the language as a whole (speech and writing):

  1. 漢 語 Language of the Han Chinese people
  2. 華 語 Chinese Language
  3. 中 文 Chinese Language – Zhong hints at China or Chinese, as it is the first character for the word “China” and Wen hints at literature as encompassing reading, writing, speaking, listening etc.)

Being that China is a very big country, with a very big population of varying ethnic backgrounds, with very long histories… One might guess that China has a variety of cultures within, and they’d be right. Culture includes everything from cuisine to religion, and of course, dialects.

Dialect – a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group.

And just as in Style Classifications within Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, spoken Chinese has dialects, sub-dialects, and way beyond. Let’s look at an example.

There is a dialect called 如 皋, and is named after Ru Gao, the city in and around-which it is spoken.

Rú Gāo is one of many sub-dialects of the dialect known as 通 泰, which is spoken in the middle-east part of Jiangsu Province.

Tong-Tai is one of many sub-dialects of the dialect known as 江 淮, and is named after two rivers that feature prominently in the area in which it is spoken: the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) and Huai.

Jiang Huai is one of many sub-dialects of the dialect known as Mandarin, which is a dialect of the Chinese language.

Dialects of Prestige

Chinese languages have always had dialects and "prestige dialects" (describes the level of respect accorded to a dialect as compared to that of other dialects) have always existed.

Confucius, for example, used 雅 言, which means "elegant speech"; he preferred this to colloquial regional dialects.

Prestige text during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) was referred to as 通 语, which means "common language".

However, all of these standard prestige 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 Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.

Spoken Chinese – Dialects of Preference

The Chinese language is divided into dialects, sub-dialects, sub-sub-dialects and so on, with many of these intricate lineages branching out from one of the more commonly-known dialects like Mandarin or Cantonese.

So if you’re planning to go down road of "Learning Chinese", I imagine it might be a bit easier to start with one of these more common dialects before branching out.

Not only will it make the actual learning a bit less difficult, but it will also be a bit more practical. Mandarin is the official dialect and most common for business, with Cantonese being older and more prevalent in Chinatowns, where the "south went west".

Why Wait?
Schedule a Free Trial Class Today!


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.