1

I hope my question is answered / commented upon in the spirit of a dispassionate academic discourse.

5
  • 3
    Relevant background on the use of the descriptor Mandarin: Is Putonghua Mandarin Chinese or is it standard Mandarin Chinese?
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 20 at 10:42
  • Why do you think it would touch any nationalistic nerves?
    – Betty
    Oct 21 at 3:44
  • As @GiuseppeRomanazzi said in another Thread, "Standard Mandarin" is spoken in Mainland China, and not in Taiwan. However, it was only a "hope" of my, not that it would, given that the present geopolitical "Cross-Straits" sentiments are a bit "touchy" So far, it has not? Anyway I'll Edit it off. Oct 21 at 5:17
  • 3
    In English, Mandarin can refer to any of the Mandarin dialects, which are not necessarily mutually intelligible. However, the term is most commonly used to refer to Standard Chinese. Standard Chinese in mainland China is called Putonghua (普通话 Pǔtōnghuà, lit. 'common speech') and in the Republic of China (Taiwan) Guoyu (國語 Guóyǔ, lit. 'national language'). Both of these dialects of Mandarin are based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin and are mutually intelligible, but also feature various lexical, phonological, and grammatical differences.
    – r13
    Oct 21 at 12:06
  • 1
    "Standard Mandarin" is spoken in Mainland China, and not in Taiwan. - true and false. The English origin of Mandarin was centered on the 北方官話, which later forms the base for 國語 (Taiwan) and 普通話 (Mainland China). Standard 國語 closely resembles and is mutually intelligible with its sibling 普通話, however, some divergences and differences exist in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.
    – r13
    Oct 21 at 12:09
3

Hope this article gives you some idea about how "the Speaking Chinese" was standardized. However, presently, there exist two closely resembling/interrelated "standards", depending on where you stand/locate - mainland China, or Taiwan. Sorry for the Chinese-only text, too long to translate accurately.

中國的國語運動始于清末民初,兴盛于1920年前后,并持续到20世纪30年代,时间长达半个世纪之久的中国语文变革运动。鸦片战争後,外国来华传教士制订和推行的各种拼写汉语方言的教会罗马字方案开始大量出现,使各地教會中的文盲能夠在短時期內學會阅读羅馬字《聖經》。晚清以来,持续了大概50多年的国语运动中,提出了「言文一致」和「国语统一」的口号,它的基本方向是向统一的书面语系统和统一的国语发音系统努力。1909年,资政院召开会议,议员江谦提出把官话正名为「国语」。中華民國成立后,继续推行国语运动。1910年,官话改称「国语」。

中華民國成立後,國語教育的步履更為加快。1913年正式成为中国的国家正式语言,且教育部召集讀音統一會,議定注音字母39個。1916年,教育部設立注音字母傳習所,同年8月,成立中華民國國語研究會,作為促進國語運動的總機構。黎锦熙1916年起宣传「言文一致」,后来参加审音,创办《国语周刊》推广共同语。读音统一会颁行的国语推行办法中,有「中等师范国文教员及小学教员,必以国音教授」的条文。1919年读音统一会公布了第一个国音标准。

国语运动包括语音、语词、语法三个部分。国语运动使建立在北方官话(后来明确为北京话)基础上的民族标准语「国语」深入人心,获得了崇髙威望,具有了比较明确一致的规范标准。黎锦熙《國語運動史纲》(1934年12月[2])详尽记述了自清末以来的语文改革运动,说明了國語運動有关理论、方法和纲领。

中华人民共和国時期

中华人民共和国成立後,把中華民國政府所稱為的「國語」改為「普通話」,並在全國推行,為中國大陸在全國使普通話作為全國的共通語言。1955年召开了「全国文字改革会议」和「现代汉语规范化学术会议」。1985年12月16日,中华人民共和国国务院办公厅发出《国务院办公厅关于中国文字改革委员会改名为国家语言文字工作委员会的通知》。通知说,为了加强新时期的语言文字工作,国务院决定将原中国文字改革委员会改名为国家语言文字工作委员会。国家语言文字工作委员会仍为国务院的直属机构。1994年2月14日,国务院批准的国家语言文字工作委员会“三定”方案规定:国家语言文字工作委员会为国家教育委员会管理的国家局(副部级)。

中華民國遷台後時期

1945年臺灣進入中華民國時代之後,於1946年4月2日設立「臺灣省國語推行委員會」(下稱國語會)推行國語運動。1951年7月10日,臺灣省政府教育廳(下稱教育廳)責令各級學校應以國語教學,嚴禁方言,教師和學生之間談話都必須用國語。聘請教員時,應考慮其國語程度,如國語程度太差者,不予聘用。此後更三令五申,強調此項政策。

1963年7月22日教育廳再頒《台灣省公私立小學加強推行國語注意事項》,此一命令最重要在於推行國語成為校長考核教師年終考績之一,而學生說不說國語,也影響到其操行成績。注音符號(Zhuyin)由於國語會的努力,在小學切實推行,成效卓著。

https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%9C%8B%E8%AA%9E%E9%81%8B%E5%8B%95

3

As this is a Forum for non-Chinese readers, I believe a brief translated summary of what @r13 posted might assist some on this interesting Topic. I'll only do what happens on the Mainland, and leave the rest of what happened in Taiwan to @r13?

It's a rough translation, so bear with me.

中國的國語運動始于清末民初,兴盛于1920年前后,并持续到20世纪30年代,时间长达半个世纪之久的中国语文变革运动

During the late Qing Dynasty and into early Republic of China, around 1920 to the 1930s, a Mandarin language reform movement was initiated.

鸦片战争後,外国来华传教士制订和推行的各种拼写汉语方言的教会罗马字方案开始大量出现,使各地教會中的文盲能夠在短時期內學會阅读羅馬字《聖經》。

After the Opium War, churches 'Romanized' the Bible into Chinese dialects enabling people to read the Bible in a short period of time.

晚清以来,持续了大概50多年的国语运动中,提出了「言文一致」和「国语统一」的口号,它的基本方向是向统一的书面语系统和统一的国语发音系统努力。

Since the late Qing Dynasty for more than 50 years the National Language Movement formulated a single written language and single Mandarin pronunciation system known as the "to speak and write" and "national language unification" program.

1909年,资政院召开会议,议员江谦提出把官话正名为「国语」。中華民國成立后,继续推行国语运动。1910年,官话改称「国语」。

In 1909, the 资政院,(the House of Representatives), held a meeting where Mr.Jiang Qian proposed that "Mandarin", (官话), be renamed as "国语", (National Language). When the Republic of China was established, "Mandarin", (官话), was renamed "国语", (National Language), in 1910.

中華民國成立後,國語教育的步履更為加快。1913年正式成为中国的国家正式语言,且教育部召集讀音統一會,議定注音字母39個。

In 1913, it became the official national language of China. The Ministry of Education agreed on 39 phonetic alphabets.

1916年,教育部設立注音字母傳習所,同年8月,成立中華民國國語研究會,作為促進國語運動的總機構。

In 1916, the Phonetic Alphabet Transfer Institute and the National Language Research Association were established to promote Mandarin, (國語)

黎锦熙1916年起宣传「言文一致」,后来参加审音,创办《国语周刊》推广共同语。

In 1916 Mr.Li Jin Xi promoted a "To Speak and Write" initiative and founded the "Mandarin Weekly" to promote a Common Language.

读音统一会颁行的国语推行办法中,有「中等师范国文教员及小学教员,必以国音教授」的条文。1919年读音统一会公布了第一个国音标准。

The Association for the Unification of Pronunciation declared that secondary and primary school teachers must be proficient in Mandarin. In 1919, the Pronunciation Uniform Association announced the first national accent standard, (国音标准)

国语运动包括语音、语词、语法三个部分。

The Mandarin Movement includes pronunciation, words, and grammar.

国语运动使建立在北方官话(后来明确为北京话)基础上的民族标准语「国语」深入人心,获得了崇髙威望,具有了比较明确一致的规范标准。

The National Language Movement made "国语", (Mandarin), to be based on the Beijing dialect, or Northern Mandarin, "北方官话"

中华人民共和国時期:-

People's Republic of China period:-

中华人民共和国成立後,把中華民國政府所稱為的「國語」改為「普通話」,並在全國推行,為中國大陸在全國使普通話作為全國的共通語言。

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the “national language”, 國語, was changed to “Putonghua”, 普通話, as the common language for mainland China.

3

I don't think OP wanted to have a semantics or history lesson. I'm quite sure this question (OP, please tell me if I'm wrong) comes from the need to answer the fundamental questions:

What language am I studying in this site?
Is there more than one Chinese?

Spoken language

Yes, there is more than one Chinese language.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Chinese is "a group of related languages used by the people of China that are often mutually unintelligible in their spoken form but share a single system of writing and that constitute a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family" (emphasis mine).

It's only natural that students of Chinese language wonder which of that "group of related languages" they are studying.

What complicates things is that the Mandarin spoken, for example, in Taiwan is different from the Mandarin spoken in the Mainland China. Even if the difference is not big, students need clarity about what they are trying to learn.

For example, a person from Taiwan wrote "需要注意的是,雖寫成「喂」,發音卻是「微」(二聲)。" In contrast, in the Mainland no one would pronounce 微 in the second tone.

The Chinese language spoken as national language in the Mainland is called, in Chinese, Putonghua (普通话). The one spoken in Taiwan is called Guoyu (國語).

How can we differentiate (in English) these two versions of Mandarin?

I have to admit that there are a few different ways to say that. I personally would stick to Putonghua and Guoyu, but the English terms commonly used that I like most because I think give no way to misunderstanding are:

  • Standard Mandarin Chinese
  • Taiwanese Chinese

Examples in Standard Mandarin Chinese:

  • 微: wēi (first tone)
  • 星期: xīngqī (first-first)

Examples in Taiwanese Chinese:

  • 微: wéi (second tone)
  • 星期: xīngqí (first-second)

System of writing

I would not say, as Merriam-Webster dictionary does, that Chinese languages "share a single system of writing".

As you may have noticed, in this site the use of traditional Chinese (繁体) is very common. Is it Chinese? Yes, absolutely. Is it Mandarin? Giving the history of Mandarin language, both yes and no are correct answers. Is it 國語 (Guoyu) as used in Taiwan and Hong Kong? Yes. Is it 普通话 (Putonghua)? No. 普通话 (Putonghua) uses simplified Chinese (简体) as writing system.

Examples in Standard Mandarin Chinese:

  • 国语
  • 普通话

Examples in Taiwanese Chinese:

  • 國語
  • 普通話

The following is a matter of personal opinion:

Personally, when I started, I wanted to learn Standard Mandarin Chinese, and it is what I did in Beijing, that I later realized was a wise choise as location. The reason was that I wanted to learn the language spoken in the Mainland China, language that now in 2021 is supervised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社会科学院) of the People's Republic of China. Chinese governmental institutions standardized 普通話 (Putonghua) in the past, and they keep on formalizing its evolution at present.

4
  • I think most of Chinese dialects don't have their own writing. Well, some do have their own writing systems, which are totally different from simplified or traditional Chinese. It's like a totally different language. I met a girl who is in a minority ethnic group(I forgot the name of the group) several days ago. She told me their language has their own writing but she can't read it. So, I echo your statement "I would not say, as Merriam-Webster dictionary does, that Chinese languages "share a single system of writing"".
    – dan
    Oct 22 at 23:46
  • @GiuseppeRomanazzi - Yes, the history part one could get anywhere on the Net. Language has always being a sensitive topic because of the cultural backdrop that gave it history & sustenance, and lately political dimension, (hence my initial plea above) So, thanks for your cogent "outsider's" view which readers, such as fresh learners, would find helpful. I just like to add, (perhaps controversially), that all "National Languages" of many countries are a "political construct", serving to, hopefully, unite disparate citizens speaking multiple languages / dialects; and 普通話 serves no less. Oct 23 at 3:11
  • @dan -- There is no need to consider minority ethnic groups. My daughter who studied only simplified Chinese all through school could not read completely some of my books which were still printed in the traditional characters. A friend of my, in her late 60s and studied only the traditional characters in school, had to "re-learn" in the simplified characters in order to read the daily newspaper. Having said that, I certainly understand that the 普通話 campaign is a nation wide attempt to standardize the "spoken" part of the language, hence now being called "Standard Mandarin" Oct 23 at 3:27
  • @GiuseppeRomanazzi -- With regards to some differences in Tonal Emphasis between a Mainland speaker and a Taiwanese speaker, my personal view is that this is due to the Taiwanese also speak Mǐnnányǔ, which is rooted in Hokkianese as spoken in Fujian Province. Hokkianese could not be readily understood by a pure native of Beijing. So not surprising that some Hokkianese Tonal characteristics creep unconsciously into Taiwanese Mandarin. We have not even gone into the ChaoZhou and Cantonese speakers yet. So, one could see the overarching national need to have a 普通話. Oct 23 at 3:51
2

Short answer: the very meaning of the word Mandarin refers to government officials in imperial China. Mandarin Chinese simply refers to the common dialect spoken in official settings.

As other answers point out, Mandarin Chinese has been called 官话, then 国语,then 普通话。

As to why it would be called 普通话 - it's best not to translate this to 'standard Chinese' but to understand it literally as 'common dialect'. So you might have 湖南话,广东话 etc,and in all of those circumstances it describes a regional dialect. 普通 therefore is an abstract concept of a regionless dialect.

The chosen ways to describe this regionless dialect obviously reflects the political background of the times. 国语 was born out of a republican context, and 普通话 from a communist revolution.

2
  • Quote:- "... 普通 therefore is an abstract concept of a regionless dialect" Would it therefore be correct to say 普通话 could be taken as a "Lingua Franca?", i.e., "... a language or dialect systematically used to make communication possible between groups of people who do not share a native language or dialect"?, because as you have pointed out there is 湖南话,广东话 etc... ?, spoken and still spoken in certain parts of the country. A man said on TV that his late Chinese parents couldn't understand the proclamation of the People's Rep. of China by Chairman Mao in 1949 due to Mao's heavy Hunan accent. Oct 22 at 11:59
  • @WayneCheah imo yes. It is also relevant to acknowledge the programs broadcast on the national broadcaster nearly always use 普通话, except for say comedy where they do use regional dialects (that are not so drastically different from 普通话). Whenever someone speaks in an interview for news and speak in a regional dialect, it's almost always subtitled.
    – David Min
    Oct 23 at 10:41
1

Mandarin is the "Standard Chinese", and there is no such thing as "Standard Mandarin". Just like the kilogram is the base unit of mass, no such thing as "Basic Kilogram"

As for how it is standardized, here is a detailed description: 推广普通话 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书

3
  • 5
    Links aren’t super helpful in answers without quotes/excerpts, as they can die or the content can change, rendering them obsolete. This is especially true with a site like Wikipedia. If you are able to quote any relevant passages in your answer that could help in future-proofing your answer.
    – Mou某
    Oct 20 at 9:59
  • Quote:- "Just like the kilogram is the base unit of mass, no such thing as "Basic Kilogram" So, Chinese is Chinese, or Mandarin is Mandarin. The word "Standard", like "Basic" in "Basic Kilogram", dose not mean anything and serves no purpose at all? Oct 20 at 15:04
  • The beauty of sites like Wikipedia is that it is completely open to editing by anyone who feels the need to correct any factual errors. Thus anyone who spots any "lies" is free to make corrections. It would do readers a great favor. Oct 21 at 6:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.