Every year, on the 20th of April, the United Nations celebrate World Chinese Language Day. According to the UN, the purpose of this observance is “to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization.”
With that in mind, here are ten facts about the Chinese language (languages, really) for World Chinese Language Day.
Mandarin Chinese, the most common Chinese dialect, is the most widely spoken language in the world.
There are over 800 million native Mandarin speakers. Around the world, one out of five people speaks the language.
Mandarin is the official language of China. (It’s also referred to as Standard Chinese or Putonghua.) But that doesn’t mean Mandarin is the only language in China. Far from it! While the many varieties of spoken Chinese are often called “dialects,” many of them are different enough to be languages in their own right.
When you look at all of the Chinese languages together, the number of speakers becomes even more staggering: about 1.2 billion native speakers, or around 16% of the world’s population.
While spoken Chinese languages and dialects vary across the country, written Chinese has only slight regional variations.
That’s because the Chinese characters are logograms. They represent words or phrases rather than sounds. As such, they transcend most of the variations in speech found across China. That said, there are some dialectal differences in written Chinese, particularly with Cantonese and Hakka.
Mostly, these differences are apparent in informal writing between friends or online. However, written Cantonese is sometimes used in adverts in Hong Kong, especially in Hong Kong’s Metro.
Chinese writing has over 50,000 characters.
That said, only about 20,000 of them are used today. Meanwhile, it only takes about 2-3,000 characters to read a newspaper.
Most Chinese adults can recognise around 8,000 characters without pulling out a dictionary. Read more