Language Overview: Mandarin
Mandarin Chinese is one of many dialects that are spoken in the People’s Republic of China and it is the official language of China and Taiwan.
History of Mandarin
It can be difficult to trace the origins of the Mandarin language, primarily due to the fact that it can describe the official language of the People’s Republic of China, or the collection of differing dialects originating in Northern China.
Some experts consider the origin to be around the year 1100 AD after the fall of the Northern Song dynasty. In this respect, they are generally referring to the many dialects that developed in the region at the time. However, native speakers would identify their language by the dialect they spoke instead of combining them all together into a single language group.
Other experts consider the Mandarin language to have been developed as the language of the ruling class during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644).
Yet other experts consider the beginning of the Mandarin language to be in 1912 when the People’s Republic of China was formed, and Mandarin was adopted as the official language of the new nation. Up until that point in time there was no standard Chinese language that was used for official documents and that everyone could speak.
Today Mandarin is generally used to refer to the official language of the People’s Republic of China, also known as Standard Chinese. It is also the official language of Taiwan and one of the four official languages of Singapore.
All together, there are over 1 billion native speakers of the Mandarin language, making it the most widely spoken language in the world. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, along with Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
Although Mandarin is just one of many Chinese dialects in its spoken form, the written form is standardized across the many dialects, allowing those who speak different dialects to communicate with each other through writing.
Written Chinese uses several thousands of symbols and characters that are over two thousand years old. Each symbol represents a syllable of the spoken language and they have come to represent ideas as well as objects. Learning the written form of Mandarin is generally considered the hardest part of learning the language because each symbol must be learned and practiced in order to master the language.
In the 1950’s the Chinese government began to simplify the characters used in written Mandarin, however some areas still use the traditional symbols. In an effort to ease the learning of the language, many students are using the Roman, or Western, alphabet to represent the spoken sounds. This makes it much easier for those from Western cultures to learn the language.
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