Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 官话; traditional Chinese: 官話; pinyin: Guānhuà; literally "speech of officials"), is a category of related Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and south-western China. Because Mandarin mainly includes speech groups found in the north, the term "northern dialect(s)" (simplified Chinese: 北方话; traditional Chinese: 北方 話; pinyin: Běifānghuà) also names this language category on an informal basis. When the Mandarin group is taken as one language, as is often done in academic literature, it has more native speakers than any other language.
In English, Mandarin can refer to either of two distinct concepts:
The use of Mandarin to refer to a set of northern Chinese dialects is mainly restricted to linguists, and is not commonly used outside of academic circles. Instead, Chinese native speakers of forms of Mandarin other than Standard Mandarin typically do not describe the language they speak as "Mandarin", but rather are most likely to simply state the name of the geographic variant that they speak, for example Sichuan dialect, Hebei dialect or Northeastern dialect, all being regarded as distinct from the "Standard Mandarin" (Putonghua). 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.
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.
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