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Are Mandarin and Chinese the same thing?

Aggiornamento: 19 feb 2021

Di Margherita Maestripieri

Before answering this question, we should start talking about how many are the languages actually spoken in China.

China is the most populous country with nearly 1,4 billion residents and the third largest country in the world. How is it possible that an enormous country as it is, has only one spoken language? The truth is that China has more than 250 living languages (important: when I speak about languages in this article I refer to dialects).

Chinese is the main language and Mandarin is just a “dialect”. Mandarin, also called Putonghua 普通话 which means Standard language, is the official dialect of China since the 1930s. In all the schools in China, Mandarin is the language that teachers have to teach (even if some don’t). More than 75% of the population speaks Mandarin, but it is not the only language spoken in China.

In fact there are a great number of Chinese languages or major dialects in use in China. The 7 primary spoken dialects are: Yue (Cantonese), Xiang (Hunanese), Min dialect, Gan dialect, Wu dialect, and Hakka dialect.

Although many dialects exist, thanks to written language Chinese are able to understand each other.

Today we will focus on Mandarin, not only because it is the official Language but also because it is the language that foreigners like us studied or are currently studying.

First of all: Mandarin has 4 basic tones + 1 neutral, which is not counted as a tone and that is why everybody only counts 4. For this reason, Chinese mandarin is considered a tonal language; this means that the meaning of the words can change (into a completely different meaning) based on the tone used to pronounce it.

The example that I used in the iGTV video that you can find on our page is “超市chao1 tone shi 4 tone and 潮chao 2 tone湿shi 1 tone, where the first chaoshi means supermarket while the second means moist.

Chinese language is full of these kind of examples and that is the reason why it is one of the most difficult languages in the world.

Main differences between Chinese and European languages:

  1. Something that is easier, comparing it to Italian and French, is that Chinese does not have feminine and masculine genders.

  2. Words in Chinese do not change. No matter how you use them, they have always a fixed form.

  3. You don’t conjugate verbs, for any tense. If we need to use a Past tense or a Future tense, you will need to add other characters.

When it comes to Chinese what foreigners finds difficult is how classifiers are used. Classifiers量词liang 4 ci 2, are used in Chinese with nouns when specifying number.

In English or Italian we do not need to specify the number, for example I can say one bottle / a bottle.

In Chinese you have to use the classifier whether you are talking about one or many things. Classifiers are used for specific objects, people, animals, vehicles,weight or money.

Did I scare you? Chinese is not that difficult if you have patience and time.

Have you ever studied before?

Do you want to know more about Chinese language?

What are the differences between Chinese and Cantonese?

What about the other dialects?

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