What language did Chinese evolve from?

The Chinese language

The mandarin
Usually when people think of the Chinese language, they think of Mandarin. Today, Mandarin is often a synonym for the Chinese language in the western world. The origin is unclear, but it is believed that the word mandarin dates back to the 17th century and is a Portuguese derivative for 'minister' or 'official'. The word Mandarin was then transferred to what was then China and used for high officials. Since the imperial state officials at the time spoke the northern Chinese dialect of the Beijing region, the word Mandarin also established itself to denote the language of the officials.

The Chinese
What does Chinese mean in Chinese? In colloquial language, the Chinese today 中国 话 zhōngguóhuà, 中文 zhōngwén or the most widely used word is 汉语 hànyǔ, the language of the Han Chinese. It is the main language of the Han Chinese, who are the most densely populated minority in China. However, the 普通话 pǔtōnghuà is literally the normal language or, in general, today's official standard Chinese or standard Chinese and the official language of the People's Republic of China. Standard Chinese is one of the most widely spoken mother tongues in the world.

Standard Chinese and the dialects
Standard Chinese is based on the pronunciation of the Beijing region 北方 话 běifānghuà, the northern dialect. This dialect was the basis for the introduction and dissemination of the grammatical standards. In addition to Mandarin, the general Chinese language also includes the following six important local dialects:

  • Wu dialect 吴 方言 wúfāngyán, mainly from Suzhou Province
  • Gan dialect 赣 方言 gànfāngyán from the province of Nanchang
  • Xiang dialect 湘 方言 xiāngfāngyán from Changsha Province
  • Hakka dialect 湘 方言 xiāngfāngyán from the province of Guangdong / Mei county
  • Yue dialect 粤 方言 yuèfāngyán from Guangzhou province
  • Min dialect 闽 方言 mǐnfāngyán, has its origins in Fuzhou Province

The pinyin system
The ancient Chinese language had no phonetic transcription to reproduce the pronunciation exactly. In the past, people used a method to assign the corresponding phonetic sound to the individual characters. This method has significant limitations. In order to better bring the Chinese language into an international context, a Chinese reform committee for language originally proposed that the language should be based on the Romance styles and finally, from 1955 to 1957, established a unique phonetic description, today's pinyin. This unique phonetic transcription is based on the Latin alphabet. Today, a pinyin or a syllable and a tone is assigned to each character. Each time you enter a pin, the corresponding character can be selected. Many young Chinese today use this method to text messages or chat on the Internet.

The pronunciation
The pronunciation of the Chinese language can be learned relatively easily with a little practice. Many people who deal with the Chinese language will find that it is not that difficult to find the right tone in the colloquial language.

The first note is kept constant and high. The second tone rises from the bottom to the top and the third tone rises from the lower level to the top. The fourth tone falls sharply from top to bottom.

The syllables
In contrast to the western languages, the Chinese language is a syllable language and comprises a total of 398 syllables. In addition to the four different tones, each syllable also has a multitude of different characters. For example the syllable "ma".

  • In the first tone, mā 妈 means mother
  • In the second tone, má 麻 means hemp
  • The third tone means mǎ 马 in the horse
  • In the fourth tone mà 骂 means shame / guilt

In addition to the four accents, there is also the toneless pronunciation, which in turn can lead to other meanings.

One- and two-syllable words create a wide variety of word combinations, for example with the character 电 diàn for electricity.

  • If 电 diàn is added together with 脑 nǎo (the brain), it means 电脑 diànnǎo for computer
  • If 电 diàn (electricity) and 话 huà (speech, language) are combined, it means 电话 diànhuà for telephone
  • Electricity 电 diàn and watching 视 shì means 电视 diànshì for television
  • The ladder 梯 tī with electricity 电 diàn together means 电梯 diàntī for elevator
    电影 diànyǐng for film, 电灯 diàndēng for lamp are further words that are put together from the syllables. So all word combinations with 电 diàn are related to electricity.

The characters
The Chinese writing system is over 3000 years old and, contrary to many opinions, is not a pictorial writing. Today there are only a few signs that emerged from nature. Over the centuries, a treasure trove of around 50,000 characters has developed. However, many can no longer be found in everyday use today. Despite the phonetic transcriptions, many non-Chinese people think that the Chinese characters are very difficult to learn because they are not based on an alphabet.

However, identifying the Chinese characters is very easy. The characters follow some clear rules that enable the user to quickly understand the characters. The characters are based on six basic strokes:

  • 横 héng (horizontal line)
  • 竖 shù (vertical line)
  • 撇 piě (line from top to bottom left)
  • 捺 nà (line from top to bottom right)
  • 点 diǎn (small line from top to bottom left to right)
  • 提 tí (rising line from bottom right to top left)

Knowing the Chinese characters makes it easier to understand the Chinese language better. To read a newspaper or other kind of reading today, you need about 2000 to 3000 characters. In order to counteract illiteracy, the simplification of the Chinese script 简体字 ji chinesischenntǐzì was announced on January 31, 1956. The simplification of the written form related not only to the reduction of the number of lines within a character, but also to the definition and systematization of the font, standardized sounds and the number of characters for everyday use. While in the People's Republic of China only the simplified written form is used today, the traditional written form 繁体字 fántǐzì is still used in Taiwan or Hong Kong.