It is, falsely, assumed that Mandarin is the mother tongue of all Chinese speakers (here we can understand Mandarin as 普通话/国语/华语).

The mother tongue would be the language that someone learned at home from their family members.

I would imagine the mother tongue for most Chinese speakers would be some form of dialect/topolect.

There seems to only be stats for "speaker" amounts and not strictly native speakers.

What is the percentage of the population whose actual mother tongue is Mandarin?

  • Possibly can be roughly calculated using the data on this map.
    – Stan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 3:31
  • The map is a bit misleading the mandarin sector includes many mutually unintelligible languages/dialects/topolects/what-have-you. 河北方言 would be useless in 云南 and vice-versa.
    – Mou某
    Nov 18, 2015 at 3:48
  • I assume you are asking for percentage of who can speak standard Mandarin, I think only Beijing people and some of the Hebei people have the tongue sounds like standard Mandarin. Besides that, educated young generations, especially who live in big cities can speak standard Mandarin. I can't give the number, but you can try to find out population data of tier 1 and tier 2 cities of China, and then you can get the information.
    – thinwa
    Nov 18, 2015 at 5:14
  • 2
    @user3306356 no, that map is accurate. You are assuming that all varieties of Mandarin are mutually intelligible, which is false. In Mandarin's case, it may very well be a dialect chain, i.e. neighbouring dialects are understandable but the North/South extremes are not. In any case intelligibility is but one factor determining whether something is a language or dialect. Nov 19, 2015 at 4:51
  • 1
    This is a challenge question since you didn't give a standard to measure what kind of people should be considered as a MSM speaker. If you care only people who can say, then, I think most of Chinese, including those minority ethics people fit for the standard. Although many of them may have very strong accent. But still, we can't give a number, because no one knows how many this kind of people out there. As I suggestion, I would recommend, again, based on the statistics of educated people, that would be a trustable way.
    – thinwa
    Nov 19, 2015 at 5:38

2 Answers 2


The mother tongue would be the language that someone learned at home from their family members

There seems to only be stats for "speaker" amounts and not strictly native speakers.

Firstly, 'mother tongue' and 'native' are not the same.

My mother tongue is officially Mandarin Chinese, and I used to speak it a lot at home, but my native language is English, which is my strongest language. Well, depending on perspective, people like me might be considered as having two native languages.

If that is so, then everyone whose mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese must be a native speaker, which makes it a subset.

As people whose mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese (836 million) is a subset of people whose native language is Mandarin Chinese, (960 million) I think that it is safe to assume that the map provided by @Stan is an accurate depiction of the population whose actual mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese.

Given those numbers, the percentage would be 87%. However, we do know that while some people's official mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese, they may not pursue it, which makes this statistic inaccurate. So there might be around a 10% margin of error if we were to assume that only Chinese people in China pursue their mother tongue as native language.

  • Can you define how "mother tongue" and "native tongue" are not the same? You seem to be using a different definition from anything I've read before.
    – vermillon
    Dec 13, 2015 at 0:12

At Copenhagen University we are taught that roughly 75% af the Chinese population speak mandarin. 19% speak cantonese, and the left over 6% is divided besween the rest of the 54 minorities in China. China has 55 minorities.

All children attending school in China have mandarin lectures.

  • I asked for native speakers, though, i.e.: speakers from birth not “learned in school”.
    – Mou某
    Dec 12, 2015 at 5:12
  • Speakers of Cantonese do not constitute an ethnic minority of China. They're Hans.
    – vermillon
    Dec 13, 2015 at 0:13
  • I would like to add to what @vermillon said: ethnic minorities are not directly related to dialects. There are Han people (the majority of people in China) who speak dialects as their mother tongue, people from ethnic minorities who speak Mandarin as their mother tongue, and people from ethnic minorities who speak dialects or even completely different languages as their mother tongue. Jan 20, 2016 at 0:20

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