What is Chinese? When most people think of the Chinese language, they often think of it as a single language that is the same everywhere. Chinese is Chinese, right? This couldn’t be further from the truth.
China is a diverse country that houses 56 different ethnic groups and hundreds of villages along with colossal cities, each with their own unique spin on the Chinese language. Each version of the Chinese language is referred to as a dialect.
Dialects emerge due to a difference in the background of the people creating and speaking them. Mainland Chinese dialects and the Chinese dialects spoken on islands like Hong Kong and Taiwan are spoken by people with drastically different heritages. Dialects are not unique to the Chinese language. For example, the disparities between American English, British English, and Australian English make each a dialect of English. These dialects were created by different people living in different places who created their own unique version of English.
Hundreds of Chinese dialects exist, but the seven major groups in descending popularity are:
|Name of Dialect||Spoken In||Spoken By
(% of Han Population)
|Northern and Southwest China||679,250,000 People
|Area Around Shanghai and Zhejiang||80,750,000 People
|Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hong Kong||47,500,000 People
|Fujian, Taiwan||38,950,000 People
|Area from Sichuan to Taiwan||35,130,000 People
Although Chinese dialects use the same characters, the pronunciation of each character differs among the dialects. While two people who speak different dialects of Chinese can gather the same meaning from the same characters, verbal communication between these speakers may be difficult.
Although each dialect is still considered Chinese in a general sense, some argue that each Chinese dialect is closer to being its own language than to one another. One’s language is a huge part of one’s cultural identity, and the true diversity of China is exemplified by each variant of the common language, Chinese!