Mandarin Chinese

官话; 官話; Guānhuà
Guanhua swapped.svg
Guānhuà (Mandarin)
written in Chinese characters
(simplified Chinese on the left, traditional Chinese on the right)
RegionMost of Northern and Southwestern China (see also Standard Chinese)
Native speakers
910 million (2015)[1]
200 million L2 (no date)[1]
Early forms
Standard forms
Standard Chinese
(Putonghua, Guoyu)
Wenfa Shouyu[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3cmn
Mandarin and Jin in China.png
Mandarin area in mainland China and Taiwan, with Jin (sometimes treated as a separate group) in light green
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Mandarin Chinese
Simplified Chinese官话
Traditional Chinese官話
Literal meaningofficials' speech
Northern Chinese
Simplified Chinese北方话
Traditional Chinese北方話
Literal meaningNorthern speech

Mandarin (n/ (About this soundlisten); simplified Chinese: 官话; traditional Chinese: 官話; pinyin: Guānhuà; literally: 'speech of officials') is a group of related varieties of Chinese spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin. Because Mandarin originated in North China and most Mandarin dialects are found in the north, the group is sometimes referred to as the Northern dialects (北方话; běifānghuà). Many local Mandarin varieties are not mutually intelligible. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in lists of languages by number of native speakers (with nearly a billion).

Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, spoken by 70 percent of all Chinese speakers over a large geographical area, stretching from Yunnan in the southwest to Xinjiang in the northwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast. This is generally attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication in the North China Plain compared to the more mountainous south, combined with the relatively recent spread of Mandarin to frontier areas.

Most Mandarin varieties have four tones. The final stops of Middle Chinese have disappeared in most of these varieties, but some have merged them as a final glottal stop. Many Mandarin varieties, including the Beijing dialect, retain retroflex initial consonants, which have been lost in southern varieties of Chinese.

The capital has been within the Mandarin area for most of the last millennium, making these dialects very influential. Some form of Mandarin has served as a national lingua franca since the 14th century. In the early 20th century, a standard form based on the Beijing dialect, with elements from other Mandarin dialects, was adopted as the national language. Standard Chinese is the official language of the People's Republic of China[4] and Taiwan[5] and one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is used as one of the working languages of the United Nations.[6] It is also one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities internationally and the most commonly taught Chinese variety.


The English word "mandarin" (from Portuguese mandarim, from Malay menteri, from Sanskrit mantrin, meaning "minister or counsellor") originally meant an official of the Ming and Qing empires.[7][8][a] Since their native varieties were often mutually unintelligible, these officials communicated using a Koiné language based on various northern varieties. When Jesuit missionaries learned this standard language in the 16th century, they called it "Mandarin", from its Chinese name Guānhuà (官话/官話), or "language of the officials".[10]

In everyday English, "Mandarin" refers to Standard Chinese, which is often called simply "Chinese". Standard Chinese is based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing, with some lexical and syntactic influence from other Mandarin dialects. It is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the de facto official language of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), and one of the four official languages of the Republic of Singapore. It also functions as the language of instruction in Mainland China and in Taiwan. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, under the name "Chinese". Chinese speakers refer to the modern standard language as

  • Pǔtōnghuà (普通话/普通話, literally "common speech") in Mainland China,
  • Guóyǔ (国语/國語, literally "national language") in Taiwan, or
  • Huáyǔ (华语/華語, literally "Hua language/Chinese language") in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines,

but not as Guānhuà.[11]

Linguists use the term "Mandarin" to refer to the diverse group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, which Chinese linguists call Guānhuà. The alternative term Běifānghuà (北方话/北方話), or "Northern dialects", is used less and less among Chinese linguists. By extension, the term "Old Mandarin" or "Early Mandarin" is used by linguists to refer to the northern dialects recorded in materials from the Yuan dynasty.

Native speakers who are not academic linguists may not recognize that the variants they speak are classified in linguistics as members of "Mandarin" (or so-called "Northern dialects") in a broader sense. Within Chinese social or cultural discourse, there is not a common "Mandarin" identity based on language; rather, there are strong regional identities centred on individual dialects because of the wide geographical distribution and cultural diversity of their speakers. Speakers of forms of Mandarin other than the standard typically refer to the variety they speak by a geographic name—for example Sichuan dialect, Hebei dialect or Northeastern dialect, all being regarded as distinct from the standard language.