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Mandarin Chinese

by Jacky, who is learning Chinese as he is going to visit China later this year.

What foreigners usually learn, is "mandarin", the official language of China (PRC), for the 1 300 000 000 inhabitants don't share the same spoken language. Happily they share the same writing, which allows them to communicate everywhere.

In the Western countries, to study this language, it is necessary to begin with "pinyin", which is a system of transcription from "mandarin" to roman letters. According to the wishes of PRC authorities, it was adopted by ISO in 1979, and then became international.

Four accents must be added to the vowels, to indicate the four tones of the language.
If we apply this to a "word", for example  "ma", we obtain:





1st tone


mum, mother

2nd tone



3rd tone



4th tone


to insult

For certain uses, there is a fifth, rather neutral, tone. In this case, there is no accent on the vowel.

There are many many characters (also called sinograms or ideograms). If you know:

There are drawing rules, for the strokes: horizontal before vertical, left before right, outside before inside … You also have to respect the number of strokes, for the final aspect of the sinogram is not sufficient to search in a dictionary. You need the right number of strokes.

In PRC, the traditional characters were simplified around 1960. Nowadays, only Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Macao, Japan (kanjis) and Korea still use the old ones ... how lucky the rest of us are!

by Jacky, published June 2012


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revised :  / published 4-June / created : 3-June-2012

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