I was chatting with a Taiwanese student the other day and asked him what language they speak there. He just answered "Chinese" and didn't know about a dialect or variant of Mandarin. Even the words Mandarin or Cantonese didn't ring a bell. The answer I got was "Chinese, the same as in Beijing".

I'm curious to know if that's a widespread conception of the language in Taiwan or just him who skipped that part of the lesson at grade school :) If not from lack of knowledge, are there other cultural or political reasons why making the distinction is not encouraged there?

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    If you two talked in English, he probably simply don't know the English word mandarin and dialect. He didn't know how to put it in English, so he said "Chinese, the same as in Beijing". If that's the case, I assume what he meant was "he speaks mandarin". – dan Jul 29 '18 at 5:17
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    I learned the word "Mandarin" from a Taiwanese a few decades ago, when I only knew it as "putonghua" before. If he did not skip his grade school lesson, then something in the political waters changed since then. – Nimrod Jul 29 '18 at 8:42

As a Mandarin native speaker born and living in China, I hadn't even heard of the term 'Mandarin Chinese' when I was in school quite a amount of years ago. We mainland Chinese usually call the oral language that you're learning 'pu tong hua', likewise, Taiwanese call it 'guo yu' (literally, country language). I think, the term Mandarin Chinese becomes popular in recent years because of the dramatically increasing number of foreigner learning Chinese, and we don't want them to be confused when they hear other Chinese dialects.


Mandarin originally refer to the official language of Qing

By the end of the last dynasty in 19th century, the government of KMT released some standard of 国语(national language), which is based on the 官话(mandarin) of the Qing dynasty. When KMT went to Taiwan, they bring the standard there. On the other side, PRC made the standard 普通话(common language), which is based on the KMT's 国语.

So when you talk about the mandarin of Taiwan, it is 国语, in main land, it is 普通话, however 国语 and 普通话 are almost same, they are both based on mandarin of Qing and the dialect around Beijing.

Before I visit English site, I don't know mandarin too, I remember when I got the explaining from dictionary, I was like wtf, 清朝官话? So what we speak is called the official language of Qing, fk me. I don't like the word, it always reminds me the Manchu barbarians.


Some rumors say mandarin is from 满大人(man da ren), some other proofs show that it is used before Qing dynasty.

This is written by Matteo Ricci in Ming dynasty in latin, means high-ranking official used by Portuguese.

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During the rule of ROC (Republic of China) government, scholars standardized Chinese dialects and called it 国语GuoYu. It is based on Northern dialects but also absorbed certain southern elements. This is the common root of Chinese at both sides.

Then after 1949, ROC government moved to Taiwan. 国语 is naturally the official language there since then (and even before, since the Chinese taking it back from Japanese rule).

Meanwhile in mainland, PRC (People's Republic of China) government made some modifications to it and called it 普通话 PuTongHua. The difference is really minor, mostly about choosing a standard among allophones like being 鹏 Peng or Pong.

After years of developing, except for certain (or let's say many) conventions of word-usage, nothing much has diverged. It's like the difference between underground and subway.

Compared to any other dialects of Chinese (Shanghainese, Cantonese, etc), 普通话PuTongHua and 国语GuoYu are the most close. Even 普通话 spoken in Southern Provinces is not as close and comprehensible as 国语GuoYu to me, a Northern Chinese with Fujian origin.

Well in fact, I cannot think of anything other than political reasons why making the distinction is encouraged there.

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