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Cantonese and Mandarin Language History Print

Original Text from  www.todaytranslations.com

About 1.3 billion people (one-fifth of the world) speak some form of Chinese, making it the language with the most native speakers. The Chinese language, spoken in the form of Standard Mandarin, is the official language in the largest part of mainland China and Taiwan, one of the four in Singapore, and an official idiom of the United Nations. In the form of Standard Cantonese (66 million speakers), Chinese is spoken in GuangDong province and is one of the two official languages of Hong Kong (together with English) and Macau (together with Portuguese).

The terms and concepts used by Chinese to think about language are different from those used in the West, partly because of the unifying effects of the Chinese characters used in writing, and also due to differences in the political and social development of China in comparison with Europe, for example.

Whereas after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe fragmented into small nation-states, whose identities were often defined by the language, China was able to preserve cultural and political unity through the same period. It maintained a common written standard throughout its entire history, despite the fact that its actual diversity in spoken language has always been comparable to Europe. Chinese lanterns

As a result, Chinese make a sharp distinction between written language ("wen") and spoken language ("yu"). The concept of a unified combination of both written and spoken forms of language is much less strong in Chinese than in the West.

The written Chinese language consists of about 40,000 characters, which can have as many as 30 strokes, while all varieties of spoken Chinese are tonal. This means that each syllable can have a number of different meanings depending on the intonation with which it is pronounced. For example Mandarin has 4 tones and Cantonese has between 6 and 9. 

With some experts predicting it will outpace US as the largest economy in the world, China's continued strong economic growth is a major positive force in Asia. As a huge engine of growth and import demand, China offers more opportunities for other economies in the region following its accession to the World Trade Organisation. This has made the Chinese economy to play an increasingly bigger role in stabilising the world economy.


Language History


Most linguists classify all of the variations of spoken Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan family and believe that there was an original language, called Proto-Sino-Tibetan, similar to Proto Indo-European, from which the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended.

The relations between Chinese and the other Sino-Tibetan languages are still unclear and an area of active research, as is the attempt to reconstruct proto-Sino-Tibetan. The main difficulty in this effort is that there is no written documentation concerning the division between proto-Sino-Tibetan and Chinese. In addition, many of the languages that would allow the reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan are very poorly documented or understood.

OLD CHINESE The dragon

Old Chinese, sometimes known as "Archaic Chinese", was the common language during the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (11th to 7th centuries B.C.), whose texts include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the poetry of the "Shijing", the history of the "Shujing", and portions of the Yijing. Work on reconstructing Old Chinese started with Qing dynasty philologists.

The phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters also provide hints to their Old Chinese pronunciations. Old Chinese was not wholly uninflected. It possessed a rich sound system in which aspiration or rough breathing differentiated the consonants.

The development of the spoken Chinese languages from early historical times to the present has been complex. For instance, the Min language that is centered in Fujian Province contains five subdivisions, and the so-called northern language "Bei yu" (which is called Mandarin in the West), also contains named subdivisions, such as "Yunnan hua" and "Sichuan hua".


Middle Chinese was the language used during the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (7th through 10th centuries A.D.). It can be divided into an early period, to which the "Qieyun" rhyme table (601 A.D.) relates, and a late period in the 10th century, which the "Guangyun" rhyme table reflects. The evidence for the pronunciation of Middle Chinese comes from several sources: modern dialect variations, rhyming dictionaries, and foreign transliterations.


Most Chinese living in northern China, in Sichuan, and, actually, in a broad arc from the northeast (Manchuria) to the southwest (Yunnan), use various Mandarin dialects as their native language. The prevalence of Mandarin throughout northern China is largely the result of geography, namely the plains of north China.

By contrast, the mountains and rivers of southern China have promoted linguistic diversity. The presence of Mandarin in Sichuan is largely due to a plague in the 12th century. This plague, which may have been related to the Black Death, depopulated the area, leading to later settlement from north China.

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese living in southern China did not speak any Mandarin. However, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various Chinese dialects, Nanjing Mandarin became dominant at least during the officially Manchu-speaking Qing Empire. Since the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard (Beijing was the capital of Qing), but these attempts had little success.Chinese New Year

The Nanjing Mandarin standard was finally replaced in the imperial court with Beijing Mandarin during the last 50 years of the Qing Dynasty in the late 19th century. For the general population, although variations of Mandarin were already widely spoken in China then, a single standard of Mandarin did not exist. The non-Mandarin speakers in southern China also continued to speak their regional dialects for every aspect of life. The new Beijing Mandarin court standard was thus fairly limited.

This situation changed with the creation of an elementary school education system committed to teaching Mandarin. As a result, Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in Mainland China and in Taiwan. In Hong Kong and Macau, the language of education and formal speech remains Cantonese.

Spoken in the Guangdong and southern Guangsi provinces of mainland China, Cantonese has appeared in writing since the 19th century. It is used mainly in personal correspondence, diaries, comics, poetry, advertising, popular newspapers, magazines and, to some extent, in literature.

There are two standard ways of written Cantonese: a formal version and a colloquial version. The formal version is quite different from spoken Cantonese but very similar to Standard Chinese and can be understood by Mandarin speakers without too much difficulty. The colloquial version is much closer to spoken Cantonese and largely unintelligible to Mandarin speakers.
Colloquial Cantonese is written with a mixture of standard Chinese characters and hundreds of extra characters invented specifically for Cantonese. Some of the characters are rarely used or applied differently in standard Chinese. The extra characters are included in the Hong Kong Supplementary Characters Set (HKSCS).


Main Mandarin-speaking territories


Population: 1.3 billion (July 2004 est.)
Languages: Standard Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages
GDP: $6.449 trillion (2003 est.) 
GDP per capita: $5,000 (2003 est.)

Exports: machinery and equipment, textiles and clothing, footwear, toys and sporting goods, mineral fuels
Exports partners: US 21.1%, Hong Kong 17.4%, Japan 13.6%, South Korea 4.6%, Germany 4% (2003 est.)
Imports: machinery and equipment, mineral fuels, plastics, iron and steel, chemicals
Imports partners: Japan 18%, Taiwan 11.9%, South Korea 10.4%, US 8.2%, Germany 5.9% (2003 est.)

China is the world's most populous country, with a continuous culture stretching back nearly 4,000 years. Many of the elements that make up the foundation of the modern world originated in China, including paper, gunpowder, credit banking, the compass and paper money.

After stagnating for two decades under the early communist rule, China now has the world's fastest-growing economy and is undergoing what has been described as a second industrial revolution. In the early 1980s it dismantled collective farming and allowed private enterprise again.

Now it is one of the world's top exporters and is attracting record amounts of foreign investment. Having gained admission to the World Trade Organisation, China will benefit from increased access to foreign markets.

SINGAPOREMerlion, Singapore

Population: 4,353,893 (July 2004 est.)
Languages: Chinese (official), Malay (official and national), Tamil (official), English (official)
GDP: $109.4 billion (2003 est.)
GDP per capita: $23,700 (2003 est.) 

Exports: machinery and equipment (including electronics), consumer goods, chemicals, mineral fuels 
Exports partners: Malaysia 15.8%, US 14.3%, Hong Kong 10%, China 7%, Japan 6.7%, Taiwan 4.7%, Thailand 4.3%, South Korea 4.2% (2003 est.)
Imports: machinery and equipment, mineral fuels, chemicals, foodstuffs
Imports partners: Malaysia 16.8%, US 14.1%, Japan 12%, China 8.7%, Taiwan 5.1%, Thailand 4.3% (2003 est.)

Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819. It joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated two years later and became independent. It subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is the world's busiest in terms of tonnage handled) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe.

Often referred to a one of Asia's "economic tigers", Singapore is south-east Asia's hi-tech city-state which is famed for its obsession with cleanliness, and its rules covering activities from chewing gum to bungee-jumping.

The citizens enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living. Chinese make up more than 75% of the community, along with Malays and Indians. Singapore also has a large number of foreign workers.

TAIWANTaiwan Hall Memorial

Population: 22, 500, 000 million (July 2004 est.)
Languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Min Nan Chinese (Taiwanese)
GDP per capita: $13,320 (World Bank, 2003)

Exports: Computer equipment, textiles, basic metals, equipment, plastic and rubber products, vehicles

Taiwan is the island which has for all practical purposes been independent for half a century but which China regards as a renegade province that must be re-united with the mainland.

Legally, most nations - and the UN - acknowledge the position of the Chinese government that Taiwan is a province of China, and as a result Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 26 countries and no seat at the UN.

China's military threat is partly offset by the United States' cooperation with Taipei, and by the military capacity of Taiwan itself - one of the world's biggest warfare purchasers. Taiwan is considered to have achieved an economic miracle, becoming one of the world's top producers of computer technology. In the early 1990s it made the transition from an authoritarian one-party state to a democracy.


Main Cantonese-speaking territories (apart from mainland China)

HONG KONGHong Kong Harbour

Population: 6,855,125 (July 2004 est.)
Languages: Chinese (Cantonese), English; both are official
GDP: $213 billion (2003 est.)
GDP per capita: $28,800 (2003 est.) 

Exports: electrical machinery and appliances, textiles, clothing, footwear, watches and clocks, toys, plastics, precious stones
Exports partners: China 42.6%, US 18.7%, Japan 5.4% (2003 est.)
Imports: electrical machinery and appliances, textiles, foodstuffs, transport equipment, raw materials, semi-manufactures, petroleum, plastics; a large share is re-exported
Imports partners: China 43.5%, Japan 11.9%, Taiwan 6.9%, US 5.5%, Singapore 5%, South Korea 4.8% (2003 est.) 

Once home to fishermen and farmers, modern Hong Kong is a teeming, commercially-vibrant metropolis where Chinese and Western influences fuse. The former British colony became a special administrative region of China in 1997, when Britain's 99-year lease of the New Territories, north of Hong Kong island, expired.

Hong Kong is governed under the principle of "one country, two systems", under which China has agreed to give the region a high degree of autonomy and to preserve its economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover.

Hong Kong's economy has moved away from manufacturing and is now services-based. The region is a major corporate and banking centre as well as a conduit for China's burgeoning exports. Its deepwater port is one of the world's busiest. Companies based in Hong Kong employ millions of workers in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong.

With little room for expansion across its hilly terrain, high-rise Hong Kong has the highest population density in the world; some 6,300 people per square kilometre. Skyscrapers and shopping malls rub shoulders with temples and traditional markets. But amid the urban hustle there are quiet parks and green spaces, beaches and mountain-top views.

MACAUPortuguese legacy in Macau

Population: 461,833 (July 2004 est.)
Languages: Chinese (Cantonese), Portuguese; both are official

Macau was officially founded as a colony of Portugal in 1557 and recognised by the Chinese in 1670. Macau prospered as a port and was a subject of repeated attempts by the Dutch to conquer it in the 17th Century. In 1976, Portugal redefined Macau as a Special Territory and granted it a large measure of administrative and economic independence. Following the example of the British, an agreement was made with the People's Republic of China to make Macau a special administrative region in 1999.

Macau's economy is based largely on tourism, including gambling, and textile and fireworks manufacturing. Efforts to diversify have spawned other small industries, such as toys, artificial flowers, and electronics.

The clothing industry has provided about three-fourths of export earnings, and the gambling industry is estimated to contribute more than 40% of GDP. More than 8 million tourists visited Macau in 2000. Although the recent growth in gambling and tourism has been driven primarily by mainland Chinese, tourists from Hong Kong remain the most numerous.



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