• Chinese Language History

The language with the most native speakers in the world

With around 1.3 billion speakers, Chinese is ranked first in the world’s league table of languages. Mandarin Chinese is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Of course, most native Chinese speakers live in the most populated country of the world, the People’s Republic of China. However, Chinese is also spoken in many other Asian countries including Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Chinese has also had a great influence on other languages such as Korean and Japanese.

Native Chinese speakers are spreading the language worldwide through travel, international education, technology and migration. Due to its popularity, it is becoming a popular secondary learned language for students of all ages internationally.

With around 6,000 years of history, Chinese is arguably the oldest language in the world. The popularity of Mandarin Chinese in recent times and the fact that it has grown into a global language speaks volumes about the potential that the language has.

Origins & Roots of the Chinese Language

Linguists and Chinese scholars alike classify all variations and styles of spoken Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan family and are convinced that their origins go back to an original language called Proto-Sino-Tibetan. The only problem, however, is the lack of supporting evidence and documentation that can prove this claim that is made by professionals who study the history and origins of the Chinese language.

Written Chinese emerged in its embryonic form of carved symbols approximately 6,000 years ago. A large proportion of Chinese characters are composed of an ideogramatic element combined with a phonetic element. There are about 56,000 characters, of which only about 3,000 are in common use.

There are two major systems for Chinese characters including the traditional system and the simplified character. The traditional system is spoken in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as well as Chinese speaking communities outside mainland China. Simplified Chinese is used in Singapore, the only foreign nation to officially adopt the simplified Chinese characters.

Chinese has two main dialects; Mandarin and Cantonese. The Standard Cantonese variation of the Chinese language is primarily spoken in the Guangdong province in China. In addition, Standard Cantonese is also one of the official languages of Hong Kong and Macau. Standard Mandarin, on the other hand, is the official language for most of mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore.

Due to its vast and rich history, linguists and sinologists often classify and divide the different phases and history of Chinese phonology into a number of different periods including Archaic Chinese, Ancient Chinese and Old Mandarin.

Modern Chinese

Different dialects and tongues of Mandarin are the native language of most Chinese living in a vast region that extends from the southwest to northeast of China. Geography has been a major factor for the proliferation of Mandarin throughout such a large area in the country with this version of Chinese being particularly popular in the plains.

The popularity of Mandarin Chinese often comes as a surprise to many, especially due to the fact that the variation was only spoken by a very limited number of people until the mid-20th century. In the 17th century, however, Nanjing Mandarin started becoming more popular because orthoepy academies started being set up in the Qing Empire to regulate and standardise pronunciations.

Towards the late 19th century, Nanjing Mandarin started losing its popularity because of certain reforms by the imperial court. A lot of commotion ensued when Nanjing Mandarin was replaced by Beijing Mandarin because of the lack of any standards. Fortunately, however, things started becoming much better and the future for Beijing Mandarin started looking more positive when an elementary school system was created focused on formally teaching this version of Mandarin to students.

Despite this standardisation, Cantonese, too, remains popular in certain regions of China. Having only appeared in its written form in the 19th century, Cantonese is also used relatively widely in China for personal correspondence and even literature. Written Cantonese also has two standard versions, namely the colloquial and the formal versions.

Chinese Translation Services

Interested in getting your texts and content translated to Mandarin or Cantonese? Or are you a Zhōngwén (中文)-speaking organisation that would like to appeal to a more diverse global audience by translating your materials to a foreign language?

At Renaissance Translations, we have a team of professional Mandarin and Cantonese linguists who can translate your content to and from over 120 languages. Whether you’re looking for proofreading services or quality translations, our skilled experts can help you get the job done in no time. Contact us to discuss your specific project needs.