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DefinedMeaning talk:mandarin (156136)

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The expression for this article (mandarin (156136)) needs attention because:
There are several issues with this DM.
It has been added to this category for attention. Thank you for your patience.

Where do I start?

Same standard language in PRC and Taiwan?[edit]

First of all, the DM says "The official language of China and Taiwan."

Problem 1: There are differences in the official language of the PRC (which I assume is meant when writing China) and Taiwan.

Incidently, the differences start at how they call their own language... the Chinese Wikipedia lists the following names:

  • 現代標準漢語: literally "Modern Standard Chinese" as a neutral term
  • 普通話: "Putonghua" (Wade-Giles), literally "Usual Language" in the PRC and Hong Kong
  • 國語: "Guohua" "National Language" in Taiwan
  • 華語: "Chinese" in South Asia (in the language of the local Chinese population there)

So, that's four names for the Chinese standard language in Chinese only. The reason for the difference in naming is purely political in nature, and that makes mistakes even more grave.

Putonghua vs. Beijing dialect[edit]

Next problem: Due to the nature of the Chinese writing system, that characters are (somewhat) free in their pronounciation, written Chinese is much more consistent than the spoken dialects.

There is both a standard Chinese language and a "standard" dialect, the Beijing dialect. For example, the tendency to add 儿 to words is an influence of the Beijing dialect, but strictly speaking not part of the "clean" written Standard Chinese. The tricky part is that often, you read Beijing dialect = Standard Chinese, which is a simplified view of the matter. Rather, Beijing Dialect is parts of the northern Chinese dialects (Beifanghua) and these were the basis for the modern written language (Baihua).

For example, in Japanese, you'll often find the term 北京語 (Beijing language) both as the term for the spoken Beijing dialect and Modern Standard Chinese.


Next is the English term "Mandarin". Although the term is widely used in English and has spread into other languages, it is avoided by many sinologists because of the rather shaky ethymology. It is also an obsolete English term for the Mandshu officials of the Qing dynasty, and that's where it comes from. In papers about the Chinese language you'd probably rather read "Putonghua" as a term for "the" Chinese standard language.

For German, I'd consider the term "Mandarin" as a name for the language an anglicism. The term "Hochchinesisch" is better, although the term "Mandarin" is common where people mindlessly translate from English. I fear it's common enough in German we'd have to include it here, although I'd like to add an annotation asking people not to use it.


The next issue is... when people talk about the language "Chinese", what do they mean?

  • a) the modern standard language?
  • b) the language family that includes many dialects which could be considered languages in their own rights? (Wu, Cantonese)
  • c) the Chinese writing system and any language that uses it
  • d) any language spoken in China

Hanyu 漢語[edit]

Here's another Chinese word meaning "Chinese". Literally, it means "Language of the Han (dynasty)" or Language of the Han (people)"

If you go by the first definition, it means Chinese as it was defined during the Han dynasty, when the first collection of Chinese characters was compiled, in a form that is more-or-less still used.

If you read it as "language of the Han people", it includes all dialects spoken by ethnic Han, which would be all northern dialects plus Hakka and a few others.

Incidently, this is also the term you use when you want to say "I speak Chinese".

Zhongwen 中文[edit]

This expression is used when referring to the written Chinese language.

The whole issue is complicated, and I don't know whether my rant was understandable. To sum it up, compiling the DMs for "Chinese" will still require work, annotations and discussion. --Mkill 11:55, 25 February 2007 (EST)