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Chinese Mandarin
History of Chinese Mandarin
Written Chinese
All written languages started out as ideographic (simplified pictures representing ideas) but China has never replaced this method of writing. The enormous difference between the western phonetic alphabet and the ideograms is sometimes difficult to grasp at first yet the power of the Chinese system is incredible; the word man is pronounced differently from region to region - ren (Peking), nin (Shanghai), hitoh (Japan), yan (Canton), and in (Korea).

Yet all over the Orient and across 2,000 years of time people who cannot comprehend each other's speech, read the character for man and instantly understand its meaning.

The total number of Chinese characters is uncertain but it is probably in the region of 60,000 although the number of characters actually in use is well under 8,000. One kind of Chinese typewriter has 5,400 characters!

The best tool for Chinese calligraphy is a brush and the person holding the brush can create an individual work of art with every important document (or grocery list!) he writes. Calligraphy is very important to the Chinese and their culture, so much so that throughout history, a philosopher's essay, no matter how wise, could be discarded if the calligraphy was deemed indifferent.
Spoken Chinese
The Chinese language has very few sounds and as a result it has a large number of homonyms - words with similar sounds but different meanings - for example mai means both buy and sell and ming means dark or bright!

To avoid linguistic chaos, Chinese speakers speak in tones i.e. the pitch or tone with which a word or syllable is pronounced determines its meaning. Mandarin has four tonal variations. Study the following sentence and imagine the Chinese language with tones . . . . .

ma1 - ma1 - ma4 - ma3 - ma1
(Is mother scolding the horse?)

And Finally...
There are some who believe that Chinese is a relatively difficult language to learn, yet it is without gender, plurals, regular and irregular verb conjugations, no tenses and no spelling rules apply!

And if this is not sufficiently convincing, the Chinese translation of the following ten English sentences -

I buy books. I am buying books. I bought books. I was buying books. I had bought books. I have bought books. I have been buying books. I will buy books. I will be buying books. I will have bought books.

is simply wo mai shu!

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Did you know?
CHINESE ranks FIRST in the world's league table of languages, with an estimated 1.3 Billion native speakers.
Mandarin History
» China
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