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Languages of China

Not to be confused with the different dialects of the Chinese language.

The different ethnic groups in China speak a great variety of languages, called the Zhongguo Yuwen (中国语文), meaning "languages of China". These languages span across six linguistic families and most of them are dissimilar morphologically and phonetically.

In addition to the above, English and Portuguese have official status in parts of China. English is an official language in Hong Kong, and all laws of the HK government are published both in English and Chinese with both versions having equal status. Portuguese has a similar goal in Macao. In addition, English is a required subject for persons attending university.

Most of the languages of China have historically influenced each other. During most dynasties, it was the Chinese languages that sinicized the other ethnic groups. (See Ethnic groups in Chinese history.) But during the Mongol Dynasty, it was the Mongolian language that dominated. And during the last dynasty, the Qing, the Manchu language also had a strong influence, although some of the later Manchu royalty themselves voluntarily adopted the Chinese language as well.

As a result of the influence, there can be certain amount of common vocabulary found across languages of China. However, the pronunciation usually differ dramatically to a point of unintelligibility.

Not all Chinese nationalities have developed a separate language. For example, the Hui Chinese and the Han Chinese speak the same language, the Chinese language.

However, the term Zhongguo Yuwen is sometimes used to be synomous as "Chinese language". To clarify, one can use Zhongguo de Yuwen (中国的语文), which unambiguously means "China's languages".

The following are the spoken and written languages (they are not in one-to-one correspondence) used by the modern Chinese.


The languages of modern Chinese nationalities are dispersed in between six families:


The following languages have traditionally had non-Han written languages:

Ten nationalities who never had a written system have, under PRC's encouragement, developed phonetic alphabets.

See also: Demographics of China