Learn Chinese at S.S. Coaching. The varieties of Chinese are usually described by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, but linguists note that they are as diverse as alanguage family. The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, but may be even more varied. There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken by far is Mandarin (about 960 million), followed byWu (80 million), Yue (60 million) and Min (70 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, although some, like Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some degree of intelligibility. All varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic.

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Standard Chinese (Putonghua/Guoyu/Huayu) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of China and Taiwan, as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The written form of the standard language (中文; Zhōngwén), based on the logograms known as Chinese characters (汉字/漢字; hànzi), is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.

Of the other varieties of Chinese, Cantonese (the prestige variety of Yue) is influential in Guangdong province and in Hong Kong and Macau, and is widely spoken among overseas communities. Min Nan, part of the Min group, is widely spoken in southern Fujian, in neighboring Taiwan (where it is known asTaiwanese or Hoklo) and in Southeast Asia (also known as Hokkien in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia). There are also sizable Hakka andShanghainese diasporas, for example in Taiwan, where most Hakka communities are also conversant in Taiwanese and Standard Chinese.

Most linguists classify all varieties of Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, together with Burmese, Tibetan and many other languages spoken in the Himalayas and the Southeast Asian Massif. Although the relationship was first proposed in the early 19th century and is now broadly accepted, reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan is much less developed than for families such as Indo-European or Austroasiatic. Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of inflection in many of them, and the effects of language contact. In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in mountainous areas that are difficult to reach, and are often also sensitive border zones. Without a secure reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan, the higher-level structure of the family remains unclear. A top-level branching into Chinese and Tibeto-Burman languages is often assumed, but has not been convincingly demonstrated.

The Chinese language has spread to neighbouring countries through a variety of means. Northern Vietnam was incorporated into the Han empire in 111 BCE, beginning a period of Chinese control that ran almost continuously for a millennium. The Four Commanderies were established in northern Korea in the first century BCE, but disintegrated in the following centuries. Chinese Buddhism spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, and with it the study of scriptures and literature in Literary Chinese. Later Korea, Japan, and Vietnam developed strong central governments modeled on Chinese institutions, with Literary Chinese as the language of administration and scholarship, a position it would retain until the late 19th century in Korea and (to a lesser extent) Japan, and the early 20th century in Vietnam. Scholars from different lands could communicate, albeit only in writing, using Literary Chinese.