Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect, which belongs to Mandarin, a group of Chinese dialects spoken across northern and southwestern China. Standard Mandarin itself is usually called "Mandarin" in non-academic, everyday usage.
Standard Mandarin is officially known in mainland China as Putonghua (Simplified Chinese: 普通话 Hanyu Pinyin: Pǔtōnghuà, literally "ordinary speech"), in Taiwan as Guoyu (Traditional Chinese: 國語 Tongyong Pinyin: Guóyǔ, Wade-Giles: Kuo-yü, Zhuyin: ㄍㄨㄛˊ ㄩˇ, literally "national language"), and in Singapore as Huayu (Traditional Chinese: 華語 Simplified Chinese: 华语; Hanyu Pinyin: huáyǔ, literally "the Chinese language"). All three terms are used interchangeably in Chinese communities around the world where different groups have come into contact.
Since ancient history, the Chinese language has always consisted of a wide variety of dialects; hence prestige dialects and lingua francas have always been needed. Confucius, for example, used yǎyán (雅言), or "high-class speech", rather than colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty also referred to tōngyǔ (通語), or "common language". Rime books, which began to be written in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, may also have reflected one or more systems of standard pronunciation during those times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite, pronunciations may have been widely divergent, as the unifying factor of all Chinese dialects, Classical Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.
The Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912) began to use the term guānhuà (官話), or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the courts. It seemed that during the earlier part of this period, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialect, though later on the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various dialects in the capital, Beijing. In the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies (正音書院 Zhengyin Shuyuan) in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard. But these attempts had little success. As late as the 19th century the emperor was having difficulty understanding some of his own ministers in court, who did not always attempt to follow any sort of standard pronunciation.
The situation began to change with the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. As early as 1909, the dying Qing Dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as guóyǔ (國語), or the "national language"; after the Republic of China was established in 1912, the promotion of a common national language was continued, in order to ease communications and unify speech. At first the common national language attempted to introduce elements from other Chinese dialects in addition to those existing in Beijing dialect. This met with insurmountable difficulties, since it was hard to teach anyone at all to speak an artificially constructed standard that nobody spoke. In 1924 the initial attempt was abandoned and the Beijing dialect was from then on the predominant source of standard national pronunciation, due to the status of that dialect as a prestige dialect since the Qing Dynasty. Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.
The People's Republic of China, established in 1949, continued the effort. In 1955, standard Mandarin was renamed pǔtōnghuà (普通話), or "ordinary speech". (The name change was not recognized by the Republic of China which has governed only Taiwan and some surrounding islands since 1949). Since then, the standards used in mainland China and Taiwan have diverged somewhat, though they continue to remain essentially identical.
The creation of an elementary school education system committed to teaching Mandarin in both mainland China and Taiwan has contributed to the spread of standard Mandarin. As a result, standard Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in Mainland China and in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the language of education and formal speech remains Cantonese but standard Mandarin is becoming increasingly influential.
The phonology of Standard Mandarin varies widely among speakers, as everyone (national leaders included) introduces elements of his/her own native dialect. Below is the phonology of standard Mandarin usually heard on TV or radio broadcasts (announcers are usually chosen for their pronunciation accuracy):
For more complete information, showing how initials and finals interact. see this Zhuyin-IPA chart (http://www.wfu.edu/~moran/Cathay_Cafe/IPA_NPA_4.htm). The vowel sounds in that chart have been verified against the official IPA: site (http://www.sil.org/computing/speechtools/softdev2/IPAhelp2/ipavowel2.htm).
The alveolo-palatal consonants j q x are in complementary distribution (see Minimal pair) with the alveolar consonants z c s, retroflex consonants zh ch sh and velar consonants g k h. As a result, some linguists prefer to classify j q x as allophones of one of the three other sets.
/w/ may be pronounced as /ʋ/, the voiced labiodental approximant; this may be considered substandard, but it nevertheless occurs frequently.
j q x may be pronounced as /tsj tsʰj sj/ instead of /tɕ tɕʰ ɕ/. This is characteristic of the speech of young women and girls, and also of some men and boys; it is usually considered rather effeminate and may also be considered substandard.
Finals (or rhymes) are combinations of medial (-i-, -u-, -y-), vowel, and final consonant.
Full rhyme table of Standard Mandarin in IPA:
1 Both pinyin and zhuyin have an additional "o", used after "b p m f", which is distinguished from "uo", used after everything else. "o" is generally put into the first column instead of the third. However, in Beijing pronunciation, these are identical.
Standard Mandarin uses rhotic vowels. All rhotic vowels are the result of -儿 /-ɹ/, a noun suffix, except for a few words pronounced as /ɑɹ/ that do not have this suffix. The chart below shows how rhymes from the chart above change in pronunciation when this suffix is added:
Corresponding chart in:
Mandarin, like all Chinese dialects, is a tonal language. This means that tone, just like consonants and vowels, are used to distinguish words from each other. The following are the 4 tones of Standard Mandarin:
Other pitch shapes sometimes called tones:
Most romanizations represent the tones as diacritics on the vowels (e.g., Pinyin, MPS II and Tongyong Pinyin). Zhuyin uses diacritics as well. Others, like Wade-Giles, uses superscript number at the end of each syllable. Representation of Chinese tone marks/numbers is rarely practised outside of textbooks. Gwoyeu Romatzyh is a rare example where tones are not represented as special symbols, but as true alphabet letters (hence creating a very complex orthography).
To listen to the tones, see http://www.wku.edu/~shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm (http://www.wku.edu/~shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm) (click on the blue-red yin yang symbol).
Pronunciation also varies with context according to the rules of tone sandhi. The most prominent phenomenon of this kind is when there are two third tones in immediate sequence, in which case the first of them changes to a second tone. If there are three third tones in series, the first may or may not be converted to a second tone, depending on the preference of the speaker and the dialect area.
Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones:
Ever since the first Westerners entered China and attempted to learn Mandarin, the need for some kind of phonetic transcription system to record the pronunciation of Chinese characters became apparent. Over the years, many such systems have been proposed. The first to be widely accepted was the Wade-Giles system, named after its 19th century inventors. Postal System Pinyin, standardized in 1906, is a similar and somewhat irregular system used predominantly for place names. These two systems are still in use today, but they are rapidly losing ground to Hanyu Pinyin. They are now mostly encountered in older textbooks, histories, etc.
In the 20th century, Chinese linguists proposed various transcription systems, one of which even introduced a whole new syllabic alphabet: the Zhuyin system (Bopomofo). The most successful of these transcription systems was Hanyu Pinyin, which was accepted as the official transcription system for the Chinese language by the PRC in 1958 and later by the United Nations and other international organizations. During the 1950s, there were plans for Pinyin to supersede the Chinese characters. These plans, however, proved to be impractical due to the large number of homonyms in the Chinese language.
A variety of transcription systems are used on Taiwan. The ROC central government adopted Tongyong Pinyin in 2002, but has permitted local governments to override that decision in favor of their own preferred romanization systems. Zhuyin is used as the method for teaching pronunciation of characters and compounds in schools. Efforts to phase out this system in favor of pinyin have been stalled due to disagreements over which form of pinyin to use, and the massive effort needed to produce new educational materials and to completely retrain teachers..
Other less popular or outdated Romanizations include:
Standard Mandarin and Beijing dialect
By the official definition of the People's Republic of China, standard Mandarin uses:
Although Beijing dialect is the basis for standard Mandarin, it is not the case that standard Mandarin is the same as "Beijing dialect". It is true that the standard pronunciation and grammar of the language of instruction is based on the Beijing dialect, but "standard Mandarin" is a rather elusive concept since it is a set of "constructed" language standards imposed on people who are asked to give up their accustomed regional pronunciations. Over the vast area from Manchuria in the north-eastern part of China to Yunnan in the south-western part of China, the home language of most people is Mandarin, but these home languages all differ from the pronunciation, vocabulary, and sometimes even the grammar of the language of instruction.
Specifically as regards the language of the natives of Beijing, most speakers conform well to standard pronunciation of the initial retroflex sounds (zhi, chi, shi, ri), but they add a final "er" — commonly used as a diminutive — sound to vocabulary items that other speakers would leave unadorned (儿音; pinyin: éryīn). There are also many vocabulary items that have wide local currency but are hardly ever used outside of the Beijing area. On top of those differences, as with London and New York City, there is more than one local "accent" in Beijing.
At the same time, there are aspects of Beijing dialect that have made it into the official standard. Standard Mandarin has a T-V distinction between the polite and informal versions of you, that comes from Beijing dialect. In addition there is a distinction between "zánmen" (we including the listener) and "wŏmen" (we not including the listener). In practice, these distinctions are almost never used by most Chinese.
Standard Mandarin and other dialects
The national standard can be very different to the point of unintelligibility from a local speech which is classified as Mandarin. In addition, since standard Mandarin is taught as a second language across all of China, it is also very common for two people who both believe themselves to be speaking standard Mandarin to require a translator. Nevertheless, efforts by the PRC, ROC, and Singapore to promote standard Mandarin as the standard tongue have greatly boosted the number of standard Mandarin speakers.
To the dismay of non-Mandarin speakers, the predominant role of standard Mandarin has led to the misidentification of Mandarin as the only "Chinese language". Although both Mainland China and Taiwan use standard Mandarin as the official language and promote its nationwide use, there is no official interest or intent in either location to have standard Mandarin replace local dialect, and as a practical matter, standard Mandarin is still far from supplanting the local dialects that are in daily use in many locations, particularly in the southern provinces of Mainland China or on Taiwan itself. Speaking only standard Mandarin in these areas is widely regarded as a significant social handicap; many Chinese language speakers there, particularly the older people, do not speak standard Mandarin very well or at all.
In the predominantly Han areas in Mainland China, the interaction between standard Mandarin and the local Chinese dialects has generally not been controversial. Although the use of standard Mandarin is encouraged as the common working language, the People's Republic of China has attempted to be sensitive to the status of local dialects and has not discouraged their use. One example of this is Mao Zedong himself, who often spoke in Xiang, a category of Chinese that does not even fall within the wider category of regional Mandarin dialects. Many native speakers of Chinese find Mao's spoken language to be largely incomprehensible, even when speaking in formal occasions.
Standard Mandarin, however, is used very commonly for logistical reasons in that it is often the only means of communications between people from different areas. In many parts of southern China, the linguistic diversity is so large that even people from neighboring cities find it difficult to talk to each other in the local form of Chinese, thereby requiring the use of a lingua franca such as standard Mandarin. Curiously the use of standard Mandarin in the 20th century has supplanted the use of pidgin English which was used as a common language in some parts of southern China in the 18th and 19th century.
In Taiwan, the relationship between standard Mandarin and local dialects, particularly Taiwanese has been more heated. Until the 1980s the government attempted to discourage the use of Taiwanese, even portraying it as inferior. This produced a backlash in the 1990s. Although some more extreme supporters of Taiwan independence tend to be opposed to standard Mandarin in favor of Taiwanese, efforts to replace standard Mandarin either with Taiwanese or with a multi-lingual standard have remained stalled.
Note that while the term Hànyǔ (漢語; simplified: 汉语), or "the Han Chinese language", is sometimes used to refer to just standard Mandarin, it is more precisely used to refer to all variants of Chinese, since they are, after all, all spoken by Han Chinese. Some speakers of Hakka, for example, will object that their own dialect should carry the name Hanyu, as its grammar is closer to that of ancient texts.
Role of standard Mandarin
From an official point of view, standard Mandarin is theoretically something like a lingua franca — a way for Han Chinese and non-Han ethnic groups speaking a wide variety of mutually unintelligible of languages to communicate with each other. The very name of "Putonghua", or "ordinary speech", reinforces this idea. In implementation, however, standard Mandarin is sometimes given the aura of the "only right language", and other languages or dialects, both Chinese and non-Chinese, have shown signs of losing ground to standard Mandarin, to the chagrin of many local culture proponents.
In Taiwan, Guoyu (national language) continues to be the official term for standard Mandarin. The term Guoyu is rarely used in Mainland China, because declaring a Beijing dialect-based standard to be the national language would be deemed unfair to other Chinese dialects and ethnic minorities. Instead the term Putonghua (ordinary speech), with the implication that Putonghua is simply a lingua franca. Some in Taiwan, especially proponents of Taiwan independence also object to the term Guoyu to refer to standardized Mandarin on the grounds that the "nation" referred to in the name of the language is China and that Taiwan is or should be independent. They prefer to refer to Mandarin with the terms Beijing dialect or Zhongwen (writing of China). As with most things political in Taiwan, some support the name for precisely the same reasons that others oppose them.
zh-cn:普通话 zh-tw:普通話 ja:普通話