Linguistic Groups of China c. 1990


Map Code: Ax01835

The predominant language of China, Han, with some 1.2 billion speakers, is divided into eight different dialect groups, each with hundreds of sub-dialects and variations which all belong to the Sino-Tiebetan family of languages. China’s official language, Mandarin (literally ‘the speech of officials’), is based on the language spoken by the Han ethnic group from northern China and is the lingua franca throughout China, spoken by some 850 million people. The major varieties of Chinese are not mutually intelligible; amongst the other most commonly spoken regional dialects are Wú (with 77 million speakers), Yuè (Cantonese, with 71 million speakers) and Min Nan (70 million speakers). In addition there are at lest nine different language families spoken by separate nationalities that are part of the People’s Republic of China, which range from Mongolian and Tadzhik to Tibeto-Burman and Korean. It is believed that China has 297 living languages.

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