It’s no secret that Mandarin is a pretty big deal, not just in Asia, but around the world. Accounting for 70% of Chinese speakers, Mandarin is more widely spoken than any other form of Chinese – with some 955 million native speakers globally. That’s 14% of the world’s total population. In fact, there are more native Mandarin speakers in the world than speakers of any other language.
2. Mandarin is one of several Chinese dialects
Mandarin is just one of several Chinese dialect groups, which can be kind of confusing. In places like Taiwan and People’s Republic of China it’s the official language. Mandarin dialects are spoken throughout most of northern and southwestern China. Despite their similarities, some Mandarin dialects are actually not “mutually intelligible”. Other varieties of Chinese include Wu, Xiang, Yue, Min, Hakka and Gan.
3. Mandarin started developing 1,000 years ago
While written Chinese began to take shape around 4000 years ago, Mandarin started to develop in the 10th and 11th centuries in northern China. This “Old Mandarin” came from local dialects in the North China Plain. The new dialect actually spurred a new genre of common literature.
4. Chinese uses 50,000 different characters
Compared to the 26-letter English alphabet, Chinese sounds downright impossible to learn. Instead of an alphabet, Chinese uses characters that symbolize a syllable of spoken Chinese. Each character could include parts that represent abstract notions, physical objects, or a pronunciation. Although there are several thousand characters in the complete language, everyday Mandarin typically uses a set of some 2,500 characters.
5. Mandarin didn’t always go side to side
Written Chinese has a fascinating history, dating back to the Shang Dynasty in 1200–1050 BC. Up until 1955, the language was written in vertical columns, going from right to left. Since then, the People’s Republic of China has Westernized the written language so that it is written left to right, horizontally.
6. Mandarin uses four different tones
Another added challenge to learning Chinese is that tone affects the meaning of different words. That’s because Chinese is a tonal language. Mandarin has four different tones including, flat, rising, falling then rising and falling. There are other Chinese dialects that use as many as nine distinct tones.
7. Mandarin is becoming even more popular
As the world becomes increasingly globalized, Mandarin has become a top language to study around the world and at every level. Starting as early as Kindergarten, schools in the West are teaching students Mandarin. Gearing up for increased business relations with China, it’s never too early to start learning such a widespread language.
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