They Speak Chinese Here

Official Language

Recognized Minority Language

Chinese Origins

Most linguists classify all the varieties of Chinese language as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family and believe that there was an original Proto-Sino-Tibetan language from which the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended.

Old Chinese was the language common during the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE), texts of which include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the Classic of Poetry and portions of the Book of Documents and I Ching. The rhymes of the Classic of Poetry and the phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters provide hints to their Old Chinese pronunciations. The first complete work on reconstructing Old Chinese was devised by the Swedish linguist Bernhard Karlgren in the early 1900s; most present systems rely heavily on Karlgren’s insights and methods. Middle Chinese was the language used during Southern and Northern Dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE).

The development of the spoken Chinese languages from early historical times to the present has been complex. Most Chinese people, in Sichuan and in a broad arc from the north-east (Manchuria) to the south-west (Yunnan), use various Mandarin dialects as their home language. The prevalence of Mandarin throughout northern China is largely due to north China's plains. By contrast, the mountains and rivers of middle and southern China promoted linguistic diversity. Until the mid-20th century, most southern Chinese only spoke their native local variety of Chinese.

In the mid-20th century, in both the PRC and the ROC, a compulsory educational system committed to teaching Mandarin. As a result, Mandarin is now spoken by virtually all young and middle-aged citizens of mainland China and on Taiwan.