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Chinese Dialects

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There are many Chinese dialects in China. It is hard to guess how many dialects exist, but they can be roughly classified into one of the seven large groups, i.e., Putonghua (Mandarin), Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang and Yue (Cantonese). Each language group contains a large number of dialects. These are the Chinese languages spoken mostly by the Han people, which represents about 92 percent of the total population. We will not get into the non-Chinese languages spoken by the minorities here, such as Tibetan, Mongolian and Miao.

The dialects from the seven groups are quite different. For example, a Mandarin speaker in northern China usually understands little Cantonese, but a non-Mandarin speaker usually can speak some Mandarin with a strong accent. This is largely because Mandarin has been the official national language since 1913. Mandarin or Putonghua is mainly based on the Beijing dialect. Despite the large differences among Chinese dialects, there is one thing in common for them -- they all share the same writing system based on Chinese characters.

A distinguishing feature of the Chinese languages is tonal. Mandarin has four tones and Cantonese has more than four tones.

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Origin of Chinese Characters
Frequently Asked Chinese Characters

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