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Chinese Dialects
Facts about Dialects Spoken in China
Jan, 2017



Chinese people make a strong distinction between written language and spoken language. Spoken Chinese comprises thousands of regional varieties. Every city or township has its own dialect. The varieties are distinct in spoken forms only, and that the language, when written, is common across the country.

There are between seven and thirteen main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme, Chinese linguistics agree with seven), of which the most spoken, is Mandarin (about 850 million), followed by Wu (90 million), Cantonese (70 million) and Min (70 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, but for sociological and political reasons are considered a single Chinese language.

Differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, with few radical breaks. However, the degree of change in intelligibility varies immensely depending on region. For example, the varieties of Mandarin spoken in all three northeastern Chinese provinces are mutually intelligible, but in the small province of Zhejiang a person from one valley may be completely unable to comprehend the language from the next, though both are considered dialects of Wu Chinese.

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