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Chinese language

Chinese Language

Throughout history Chinese culture and politics has had a great influence on unrelated languages such as Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese. Korean and Japanese both have writing systems employing Chinese characters (Hanzi), which are called Hanja and Kanji, respectively.

Standard Mandarin is the official standard language used by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, and Singapore. Its pronunciation is based on the Beijing dialect, which is the dialect of Mandarin as spoken in Beijing; its vocabulary is drawn from the Mandarin group and (to a lesser extent) other groups; and its grammar is based on Vernacular Chinese, the standard written language that first became prevalent during the early 20th century.

The situation in China is a complex and interesting case of diglossia: it is common for speakers of Chinese to be able to speak several varieties of the language, typically Standard Mandarin, the local dialect, and occasionally a regional lingua franca, such as Cantonese. Such polyglots frequently code switch between Standard Mandarin and the local dialect(s), depending on the situation. A person living in Taiwan, for example, may commonly mix pronunciations, phrases, and words from Standard Mandarin and Taiwanese, and this mixture is considered socially appropriate under many circumstances. Similarly, in Hong Kong, it is not unusual for people to speak Cantonese and English, and sometimes Mandarin

Influence on other languages

The Vietnamese term for Chinese writing is Hán tu. It was the only available method for writing Vietnamese until the 14th century, used almost exclusively by Chinese-educated Vietnamese elites. From the 14th to the late 19th century, Vietnamese was written with Chû nôm, a modified Chinese script incorporating sounds and syllables for native Vietnamese speakers. This is now completely replaced by a modified Latin script that incorporates a system of diacritical marks to indicate tones, as well as modified consonants. The Vietnamese language exhibits multiple elements similar to Cantonese in regard to the specific intonations and sharp consonant endings. There is also a slight influence from Mandarin, including the sharper vowels and "kh" sound missing from other Asiatic languages.

Languages within the influence of Chinese culture also have a very large number of loanwords from Chinese. 50% or more of Korean vocabulary is of Chinese origin and the influence on Japanese and Vietnamese has been considerable. 10% of Philippine language vocabularies are of Chinese origin. Chinese also shares a great many grammatical features with these and neighboring languages, notably the lack of gender and the use of classifiers. The Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages seem to retain sounds of Classical Chinese that are otherwise only found in southern China.