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Standard Mandarin

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Standard Mandarin
普通話 / 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà
國語 / 国语 Guóyǔ
華語 / 华语 Huáyǔ
現代標準漢語 / 现代标准汉语 Xiàndài Biāozhǔn Hànyǔ
Spoken inPeople's Republic of China, Republic of China, Singapore
Total speakers
Language familySino-Tibetan
Official status
Official language inOfficial language of People's Republic of China, Republic of China and Singapore
Regulated byIn the PRC: National Language Regulating Committee[1]
In the ROC: National Languages Committee
In Singapore: Promote Mandarin Council/Speak Mandarin Campaign[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-1None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3
Map of eastern mainland China and Taiwan, showing the historic distribution of Mandarin Chinese in light brown. Standard Mandarin is based on the particular dialect of Mandarin spoken in Beijing.

Standard Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, known by various names to native speakers, is the official modern Chinese spoken language used in mainland China and Taiwan, and is one of the four official languages of Singapore.

The phonology of Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, a large and diverse group of Chinese dialects spoken across northern and southwestern China. The vocabulary is largely drawn from this group of dialects. The grammar is standardized to the body of modern literary works written in Vernacular Chinese, which in practice follows the same tradition of the Mandarin dialects with some notable exceptions. As a result, Standard Mandarin itself is usually just called "Mandarin" in non-academic, everyday usage. However, linguists use "Mandarin" to refer to the entire language. This convention is adopted in this article.


Native names

Standard Mandarin is officially known

In other parts of the world, the three names are used interchangeably to varying degrees, Putonghua being the most common.

The name Guoyu received official recognition in 1909, when the Qing Dynasty determined Standard Mandarin as the "national language". The name Putonghua also has a long, albeit unofficial, pedigree. It was used as early as 1906 in writings by Zhu Wenxiong (朱文熊) to differentiate a modern, standard language from classical Chinese and Chinese dialects.

For some linguists of the early 20th century, the Putonghua, or "common tongue", was conceptually different from the Guoyu, or "national language". The former was a national prestige dialect or language, while the latter was the legal standard. Based on common understandings of the time, the two were, in fact, different. Guoyu was understood as formal vernacular Chinese, which is close to classical Chinese. By contrast, Putonghua was called the "the common speech of the modern man", which is the spoken language adopted as a national lingua franca by conventional usage. The use of the term Putonghua by left-leaning intellectuals such as Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun influenced the People's Republic of China government to adopt that term to describe Standard Mandarin in 1956. Prior to this, the government used both terms interchangeably.[3]

Huayu, or "language of the Chinese nation", originally simply meant "Chinese language", and was used in overseas communities to contrast Chinese dialects against foreign languages. Over time, the desire to standardise the variety of Chinese spoken in these communities led to the adoption of the name "Huayu" to refer to standard Mandarin. This name also avoids choosing a side between the alternative names of Putonghua and Guoyu, which came to have political significance after their usages diverged along political lines between the PRC and the ROC. It also incorporates the notion that Mandarin is usually not the national or common language of the areas in which overseas Chinese live.


Chinese languages have always had dialects; hence prestige dialects have always existed, and linguae francae have always been needed. Confucius, for example, used yǎyán (), or "elegant speech", rather than colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty also referred to tōngyǔ (), or "common language". Rime books, which were written since the Southern and Northern Dynasties, may also have reflected one or more systems of standard pronunciation during those times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite, pronunciations may have been very different, as the unifying factor of all Chinese dialects, Classical Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.

Zhongguo Guanhua (中國官話), or Medii Regni Communis Loquela ("Middle Kingdom's Common Speech"), used on the frontispiece of an early Chinese grammar published by Étienne Fourmont (with Arcadio Huang) in 1742[4]

The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) began to use the term guānhuà (官话), or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the courts. The term "Mandarin" comes directly from the Portuguese. The word mandarim was first used to name the Chinese bureaucratic officials (i.e., the mandarins), because the Portuguese, under the misapprehension that the Sanskrit word (mantri or mentri) that was used throughout Asia to denote "an official" had some connection with the Portuguese word mandar (to order somebody to do something), and having observed that these officials all "issued orders", chose to call them mandarins. The use of the word mandarin by the Portuguese for the Chinese officials, as well as its putative connection with the Portuguese verb mandar is attested already in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu (1617) by Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault.[5]

From this, the Portuguese immediately started calling the special language that these officials spoke amongst themselves (i.e., "Guanhua") "the language of the mandarins", "the mandarin language" or, simply, "Mandarin". The fact that Guanhua was, to a certain extent, an artificial language, based upon a set of conventions (that is, the various Mandarin dialects for grammar and meaning, and the specific dialect of the Imperial Court's locale for its pronunciation), is precisely what makes it such an appropriate term for Modern Standard Chinese (also the various Mandarin dialects for grammar and meaning, and their dialect of Beijing for its pronunciation).

It seems that during the early part of this period, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various dialects in the capital, Beijing. In the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies (正音書院 Zhèngyīn Shūyuàn) in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard. But these attempts had little success since as late as the 19th century the emperor had difficulty understanding some of his own ministers in court, who did not always try to follow any standard pronunciation. Although by some account, as late as the early 20th century, the position of Nanjing Mandarin was considered to be higher than that of Beijing by some and the Chinese Postal Map Romanization standards set in 1906 included spellings with elements of Nanjing pronunciation.[6] Nevertheless, by 1909, the dying Qing Dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as guóyǔ (国语), or the "national language".

After the Republic of China was established in 1912, there was more success in promoting a common national language. A Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation was convened with delegates from the entire country, who were chosen as often due to political considerations as they were for their linguistic expertise. A Dictionary of National Pronunciation (國音詞典) was published, which was based on the Beijing dialect. Meanwhile colloquial literature continued to develop apace vernacular Chinese, despite the lack of a standardized pronunciation. Gradually, the members of the National Language Commission came to settle upon the Beijing dialect, which became the major source of standard national pronunciation due to the prestigious status of that dialect. In 1932, the commission published the Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (國音常用. 字彙), with little fanfare or official pronunciation. This dictionary was similar to the previous published one except that it normalized the pronunciations for all characters into the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect. Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.[7]

The People's Republic of China, established in 1949, continued the effort. In 1955, the name guóyǔ was replaced by pǔtōnghuà (普通话), or "common speech". (By contrast, the name guóyǔ continued to be used by the Republic of China which, after the 1949 loss in the Chinese Civil War, had a territory consisting of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu Islands, and smaller islands.) Since then, the standards used in mainland China and Taiwan have diverged somewhat, especially in newer vocabulary terms, and a little in pronunciation.

The advent of the 20th century has seen many profound changes in Standard Mandarin. Many formal, polite and humble words that were in use in imperial China have almost entirely disappeared in daily conversation in modern-day Standard Mandarin, such as jiàn ( "my humble") and guì ( "your honorable").

The word 'Putonghua' was defined in October 1955 by the Minister of Education Department in mainland China as follows: "Putonghua is the common spoken language of the modern Han group, the lingua franca of all ethnic groups in the country. The standard pronunciation of Putonghua is based on the Beijing dialect, Putonghua is based on the Northern dialects [i.e. the Mandarin dialects], and the grammar policy is modeled after the vernacular used in modern Chinese literary classics" [8].

In both mainland China and Taiwan, the use of Standard Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the educational system and in the media has contributed to the spread of Standard Mandarin. As a result, Standard Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in mainland China and Taiwan.

In Hong Kong and Macau, which are now special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China, Standard Cantonese has been the primary language spoken by the majority of the population, due to historical and linguistic reasons. After Hong Kong's handover from Britain and Macau's handover from Portugal, Standard Mandarin has become only slightly more understood (but still not widely spoken) and is used by the governments of the two territories to communicate with the Central People's Government of the PRC. Cantonese remains the official government language of Hong Kong and Macau when not communicating with mainland China.


This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The standardized phonology of Standard Mandarin is reproduced below. Actual reproduction varies widely among speakers, as people inadvertently introduce elements of their native dialects. By contrast, television and radio announcers are chosen for their pronunciation accuracy and "neutral" ("standard", Chinese: 标准) accent.


The following is the consonant inventory of Standard Mandarin, transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA):

Affricatetstsʰtʂʰ ²tɕʰ ²
Fricativefsʂ(ʐ) ¹ɕ ²x
Approximantlɻ ¹j ³ɥ ³w ³

All but /ŋ/ occur in syllable onsets (as "initials"), whereas only /n/, /ŋ/, and /ɻ/ occur as syllable codas.

  1. /ɻ/ is often transcribed as [ʐ] (a voiced retroflex fricative). This represents a variation in pronunciation among different speakers, rather than two different phonemes.
  2. These are not always considered independent phonemes. See below.
  3. These are commonly viewed as medials with null initials.

The retroflex consonants are flat apical postalveolar (Ladefoged & Wu 1984; Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996:150-154). See retroflex consonants.

The alveolo-palatal consonants [tɕ tɕʰ ɕ] are in complementary distribution with the alveolar consonants [ts tsʰ s], retroflex consonants [tʂ tʂʰ ʂ], and velar consonants [k kʰ x], which they derive from historically. As a result, linguists prefer to classify [tɕ tɕʰ ɕ] as allophones of the other three series. The Yale and Wade-Giles systems mostly treat the palatals as allophones of the retroflex consonants; Tongyong Pinyin mostly treats them as allophones of the alveolars; and Chinese braille treats them as allophones of the velars.

[tɕ tɕʰ ɕ] may be pronounced [tsj tsʰj sj],[citation needed] which is characteristic of the speech of young women, and also of some men.[citation needed] This is considered rather effeminate[citation needed] and may also be substandard.[citation needed]

The null initial, written as an apostrophe in pinyin word-medially, is most commonly realized as [ɰ], though [n], [ŋ], [ɣ], and [ʔ] are common in nonstandard dialects of Mandarin; some of these correspond to null in Standard Mandarin but contrast with it in their dialect.[citation needed]

Corresponding chart in:


Mandarin has approximately half a dozen vowels. Phonetically, the following phones may be distinguished:

  • [a], in the sequences [a], [ja], [wa], [ai], [wai], [an], [jan], [ɥan], [wan]
  • [ɑ], in [ɑʊ], [jɑʊ], [ɑŋ], [jɑŋ], [wɑŋ]
  • [e], in [ei], [wei]
  • [ɛ], in [jɛ] (and an interjection [ɛ])
  • [œ], in [ɥœ]
  • [o], in [ou], [jou], and as [o] after /p pʰ f m/
  • [ɔ], in [wɔ] (and an interjection [ɔ])
  • [ə], in [ən], [wən], [əŋ], [wəŋ]
  • [ɤ], as the bare syllabic nucleus [ɤ]
  • [z̩], as the bare syllabic nucleus [z̩] [despite the transcription, not actually a syllabic fricative] after the alveolar sibilants /ts tsʰ s/
  • [ʐ̩], as the bare syllabic nucleus [ʐ̩] after the retroflex sibilants /tʂ tʂʰ ʂ ʐ/
  • [i], in [i], [in], [iŋ], [ai], [ei]
  • [ʊ], in [ʊŋ], [ɥʊŋ], [ɑʊ]
  • [u], in [u], [ou]
  • [y], in [y], [yn]

At first glance, these would appear to constitute a system of eight phonemes: /a/ ([a ~ ɑ]), /e/ ([e ~ ɛ ~ œ]), /o/ ([o ~ ɔ]), /ə/ ([ə ~ ɤ]), /ɨ/ ([z̩ ~ ʐ̩]), /i/ ([i]), /u/ ([ʊ ~ u]), and /y/ ([y]). However, the mid vowels /e/, /o/, /ə/ are in complementary distribution, and are therefore treated as a single phoneme /ə/. Exceptions are the bare vowels [ɛ] and [ɔ], which function only as exclamations and can be treated as outside of the core system (similar to the normal treatment of "hmm", "unh-unh", "shhh!" and other English exclamations that violate usual syllabic constraints), resulting in a six-vowel system.

It would also be possible to merge /ɨ/ and /i/, which are historically related, since they are also in complementary distribution, provided that the alveolo-palatal and retroflex consonant series are not themselves merged. The result is a five-vowel system of /a/, /ə/, /i/, /u/, and /y/.

A smaller and more abstract system[9] analyzes the vowels /i/, /u/ and /y/ as the surface form of the glides /j, w, ɥ/ combined with a null meta-phoneme Ø. In this system, shown below, there are just two vowel nuclei, /a/ and /ə/; various allophones result from a preceding glide /j, w, ɥ/ (or null) and a coda /i~j, u~w, n, ŋ/ (or null; see erhua for the additional sequences afforded by the rhotic coda /ɻ/). (The minimal vowel /ɨ/ is ascribed to the surface manifestation of all three values being null.)

əØɤ ¹ɥɛ ²
~ ʊŋ

¹ Both pinyin and zhuyin have an additional "o", used after "b p m f", which is distinguished from "uo", used after everything else. "o" is generally put into the first column instead of the third. However, in Beijing pronunciation, these are identical.
² Another way to represent the four finals of this line is: [ɰʌ jɛ wɔ ɥœ], which reflects Beijing pronunciation.
³ /wɤŋ/ is pronounced [ʊŋ] when it follows an initial.

The sequence [jɛn] can be considered to be phonemically either /jən/ or /jan/; likewise [ɥɛn] could be either /ɥən/ or /ɥan/. Since [jɛn] and [ɥɛn] become [jɑɻ] and [ɥɑɻ] with the addition of a suffix /ɻ/, the latter interpretation is generally preferred.


Mandarin syllables have the maximal form CGVCT, where the first C is the initial consonant; G is one of the glides /j w ɥ/; V is a vowel (or diphthong); the second C is a coda, /n ŋ ɻ/ (if diphthongs like ou, ai are analyzed as V) or /n ŋ ɻ j w/ (if not); and T is the tone. In traditional Chinese phonology, C is called the "initial", G the "medial", and VFT the "final" or "rime"; sometimes the medial is considered part of the rime.

Not counting tone distinctions or the rhotic coda, there are some 35 finals in Mandarin. They can be seen at:

Tables of all syllables (excluding tone and rhotic coda) are at:

The rhotic coda

Standard Mandarin also uses a rhotic consonant, /ɻ/. This usage is a unique feature of Standard Mandarin; other dialects lack this sound.[dubious ] In Chinese, this feature is known as Erhua. There are two cases in which it is used:

  1. In a small number of words, such as 二 èr "two", 耳 ěr "ear", etc. All of these words are pronounced [ɑɻ] with no initial consonant.
  2. As a noun suffix -兒/-儿 -r. The suffix combines with the final, and regular but complex changes occur as a result.

The "r" final must be distinguished from the retroflex consonant written <ri> in pinyin and [ʐ] in IPA. "The star rode a donkey" in some rhotic English accents, and 我女兒入醫院/我女儿入医院 Wǒ nǚ'ér rù yīyuàn "My daughter entered the hospital" in standard Mandarin, both have a first r pronounced with a relatively lax tongue, whereas the second /r/ sounds involves an active retraction of the tongue and contact with the top of the mouth.

In other dialects of Mandarin, the rhotic consonant is sometimes replaced by another syllable, such as li, in words that indicate locations. For example, 這兒/这儿 zhèr "here" and 那兒/那儿 nàr "there" become 這裡/这里 zhèli and 那裡/那里 nàli, respectively.

The "ki-" sequence

Until a few centuries ago, some Mandarin Chinese words started with the sound sequence "ki-" or "gi-" (Wade-Giles "k'i-" and "ki-"). This changed in the last two or three centuries to "qi-" and "ji-", at varying times in different areas, but not in the dialect used in the Manchu dynasty imperial court. That is why some European transcriptions of Chinese names contain "ki-". Examples are Peking for Beijing, Nanking, Chungking, "-kiang" for "-jiang" (= "river"), Fukien for Fujian (a province).


Relative pitch changes of the four tones

Mandarin, like all Chinese dialects, is a tonal language. This means that tones, just like consonants and vowels, are used to distinguish words from each other. Many foreigners have difficulties mastering the tones of each character, but correct tonal pronunciation is essential for intelligibility because of the vast number of words in the language that only differ by tone (i.e. are minimal pairs with respect to tone). The following are the 4 tones of Standard Mandarin:

Tone chart of Standard Mandarin
Tone nameYin PingYang PingShangQu
Tone number1234
Pinyin diacriticāáǎà
Tone letter˥ (55)˧˥ (35)˩, ˨˩˦ (1, 214)˥˩ (51)
IPA diacriticáǎà, a᷉â
  1. First tone, or high-level tone (陰平/阴平 yīnpíng, literal meaning: yin-level):
    a steady high sound, as if it were being sung instead of spoken.
  2. Second tone, or rising tone (陽平/阳平 yángpíng, literal meaning: yang-level), or linguistically, high-rising:
    is a sound that rises from mid-level tone to high (e.g., What?!)
  3. Third tone (low or dipping tone, 上聲/上声 shǎngshēng or shàngshēng, literal meaning: "up tone"):
    has a mid-low to low descent; if at the end of a sentence or before a pause, it is then followed by a rising pitch. Between other tones it may simply be low.
  4. Fourth tone, falling tone (去聲/去声 qùshēng, literal meaning: "away tone"), or high-falling:
    features a sharp fall from high to low, and is a shorter tone, similar to curt commands. (e.g., Stop!)
The syllable "ma" pronounced with the four main tones

Neutral tone

Also called Fifth tone or zeroth tone (in Chinese: 輕聲/轻声 qīng shēng, literal meaning: "light tone"), neutral tone is sometimes thought of as a lack of tone. It usually comes at the end of a word or phrase, and is pronounced in a light and short manner. The neutral tone has a large number of allotones: Its pitch depends almost entirely on the tone carried by the syllable preceding it. The situation is further complicated by the amount of dialectal variation associated with it; in some regions, notably Taiwan, the neutral tone is relatively uncommon.

Despite many examples of minimal pairs (for example, 要是 and 钥匙, yàoshì if and yàoshi key, respectively), it is sometimes described as something other than a full-fledged tone for technical reasons: Namely because some linguists feel that it results from a "spreading out" of the tone on the preceding syllable. This idea is appealing intuitively because without it, the neutral tone requires relatively complex tone sandhi rules to be made sense of; indeed, it would have to have 4 separate allotones, one for each of the four tones that could precede it. However, the "spreading" theory incompletely characterizes the neutral tone, especially in sequences where more than one neutrally toned syllable are found adjacent[10].

The following are from Beijing dialect[11]. Other dialects may be slightly different.

Realization of neutral tones
Tone of first syllablePitch of neutral toneExamplePinyinEnglish meaning
1 ˥˨ (2)玻璃 (˥.˨)bōliglass
2 ˧˥˧ (3)伯伯 (˧˥.˧)bóbouncle
3 ˨˩˦ (4)喇叭 (˨˩.˦)lǎbahorn
4 ˥˩˩ (1)兔子 (˥˩.˩)tùzirabbit

Most romanizations represent the tones as diacritics on the vowels (e.g., Hanyu Pinyin, MPS II and Tongyong Pinyin). Zhuyin uses diacritics as well. Others, like Wade-Giles, use superscript numbers at the end of each syllable. The tone marks and numbers are rarely used outside of language textbooks. Gwoyeu Romatzyh is a rare example where tones are not represented as special symbols, but using normal letters of the alphabet (although without a one-to-one correspondence).

To listen to the tones, see http://www.wku.edu/~shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm (click on the blue-red yin yang symbol).

Tone sandhi

Pronunciation also varies with context according to the rules of tone sandhi. The most prominent phenomenon of this kind is when there are two third tones in immediate sequence, in which case the first of them changes to a rising tone, the second tone. In the literature, this contour is often called two-thirds tone or half-third tone, though generally, in Standard Mandarin, the "two-thirds tone" is the same as the second tone. If there are three third tones in series, the tone sandhi rules become more complex, and depend on word boundaries, stress, and dialectal variations.

Tone sandhi rules at a glance
  1. When there are two 3rd tones (˨˩˦) in a row, the first syllable becomes 2nd tone (˧˥), and the second syllable becomes a half-3rd tone (˨˩). The half-3rd tone is a tone that only falls but does not rise.
    ex: 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ) becomes [lao˧˥ʂu˨˩]
  2. When there are three 3rd tones in a row, things get more complicated.
    If the first word is two syllables, and the second word is one syllable, the first two syllables become 2nd tones, and the last syllable stays 3rd tone:
    ex: 保管 (bǎoguǎn hǎo) becomes [pao˧˥kuan˧˥xao˨˩˦]
    If the first word is one syllable, and the second word is two syllables, the first syllable becomes half-3rd tone (˨˩), the second syllable becomes 2nd tone, and the last syllable stays 3rd tone:
    ex: 保管 (lǎo bǎoguǎn) becomes [lao˨˩pao˧˥kuan˨˩˦]
  3. When a 3rd tone is followed by a first, second or fourth tone, or most neutral tone syllables, it usually becomes a half-3rd tone.
    ex: 美妙 (měimiào) becomes [mei˨˩miao˥˩]
Rules for "" and ""

"" () and "" () have special rules which do not apply to other Chinese characters:

  1. When in front of a 4th tone syllable, "" becomes 2nd tone.
    ex: 一定 (yīdìng becomes yídìng [i˧˥tiŋ˥˩])
  2. When in front of a non-4th tone syllable, "" becomes 4th tone.
    ex. (1st tone):一天 (yītiān → yìtiān [i˥˩tʰiɛn˥˥])
    ex. (2nd tone): 一年 (yīnián → yìnián [i˥˩niɛn˧˥])
    ex. (3rd tone): 一起 (yīqǐ → yìqǐ [i˥˩tɕʰi˨˩˦])
  3. When "" falls between two words, it becomes neutral tone.
    ex: 看一看 (kànyīkàn) becomes kànyikàn
  4. When counting sequentially, and for all other situations "" retains its root tone value of 1st tone. This includes when 一 is used at the end of a multi-syllable word (regardless of the first tone of the next word), and when 一 is immediately followed by any digit, including another 一; hence 一 also retains its root tone value of 1st tone in both syllables of the word "一一". However, it does not include situations where 一一 is part of a longer word like 一一对应 or 一一如命 (these are pronounced yìyíduìyìng and yíyìrúmìng, although written yīyīduìyìng and yīyīrúmìng). The word 不一一 (meaning "I won't go into details") is pronounced differently depending on whether or not speakers interpret it as containing 一一 as a component word.
  5. When 一 is part of a cardinal number, it is pronounced as 4th tone when before or , but in an ordinal number it is pronounced as 1st tone in these contexts.
  6. "" becomes 2nd tone only when followed by a 4th tone syllable.
    ex: 不是 (bùshì) becomes [pu˧˥ʂ˥˩]
  7. When "" comes between two words in a yes-no question, it loses its tone (becomes neutral in tone).
    ex: 是不是 (shìbùshì) becomes shìbushì

Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones

Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones:

V- = unvoiced initial consonant
L = sonorant initial consonant
V+ = voiced initial consonant (not sonorant)

Middle Chinese TonePing (平)Shang (上)Qu (去)Ru (入)
Middle Chinese InitialV-LV+V-LV+V-LV+V-LV+
Standard Mandarin Tone nameYin Ping
(陰平, 1)
Yang Ping
(陽平, 2)
(上, 3)
(去, 4)
with no pattern
to Quto Yang Ping
Standard Mandarin Tone contour553521451to 51to 35

It is known that if the two morphemes of a compound word cannot be ordered by grammar, the order of the two is usually determined by tones — Yin Ping (1), Yang Ping (2), Shang (3), Qu (4), and Ru, which is the plosive-ending tone that has already disappeared. Below are some compound words that show this rule. Tones are shown in parentheses, and R indicates Ru.

左右 (34)
南北 (2R)
輕重 (14)
貧富 (24)
凹凸 (1R)
喜怒 (34)
哀樂 (1R)
生死 (13)
死活 (3R)
陰陽 (12)
明暗 (24)
毀譽 (34)
褒貶 (13)
離合 (2R)

Word stress

The stress pattern of Chinese language is made up of three degrees of stress. There are three stress patterns, which commonly occur in the two-syllable compound words[12]:

Pattern One: Normal Stress + Primary Stress (\ + /)
Pattern Two: Primary Stress + Unstressed (/ + o)
Pattern Three: Primary Stress + Normal Stress (/ + \)
Pattern One \ + /
  • 字画儿 zìhuàer
  • 音乐 yīnyuè
  • 学校 xuéxiào
  • 汽车 qìchē
Pattern Two / + o
  • 父亲 fùqin
  • 喜欢 xǐhuan
  • 东西 dōngxi
Pattern Three / + \
  • 农村 nóngcūn
  • 社会 shèhuì
  • 热情 rèqíng

Standard Mandarin and Beijing dialect

Due to evolution and standardization, Standard Mandarin, although based on the Beijing dialect, is no longer synonymous with it. Part of this was due to the standardization of Mandarin to reflect a greater vocabulary scheme and a more archaic and "proper-sounding" pronunciation and vocabulary. The areas near Beijing, especially the cities of Chengde and Shijiazhuang in neighbouring Hebei province, speak a form of Mandarin closest to its fully standardized pronunciation; this form is generally heard on national and local television and radio.

By the official definition of the People's Republic of China, Standard Mandarin uses:

  • The phonology or sound system of Beijing. A distinction should be made between the sound system of a dialect or language and the actual pronunciation of words in it. The pronunciations of words chosen for Standard Mandarin—a standardized speech—do not necessarily reproduce all of those of the Beijing dialect. The pronunciation of words is a standardization choice and occasional standardization differences (not accents) do exist, between Putonghua and Guoyu, for example.

In fluent speech, Chinese speakers can easily tell the difference between a speaker of the Beijing dialect and a speaker of Standard Mandarin. Beijingers speak Standard Mandarin with elements of their own dialect in the same way as other speakers.

  • The vocabulary of Mandarin dialects in general. This means that all slang and other elements deemed "regionalisms" are excluded. On the one hand, the vocabulary of all Chinese dialects, especially in more technical fields like science, law, and government, are very similar. (This is similar to the profusion of Latin and Greek words in European languages.) This means that much of the vocabulary of standardized Mandarin is shared with all varieties of Chinese. On the other hand, much of the colloquial vocabulary and slang found in Beijing dialect is not found in Standard Mandarin, and may not be understood by people outside Beijing.
  • The grammar and usage of exemplary modern Chinese literature, such as the work of Lu Xun, collectively known as "Vernacular Chinese" (baihua). Vernacular Chinese, the standard written form of modern Chinese, is in turn based loosely upon a mixture of northern (predominant), southern, and classical grammar and usage. This gives formal standard Mandarin structure a slightly different feel from that of street Beijing dialect.

In theory the Republic of China in Taiwan defines standard Mandarin differently, though in reality the differences are minor and are concentrated mostly in the tones of a small minority of words.

Speakers of Standard Mandarin generally have little difficulty understanding the Beijing accent, which the former is based on. Natives of Beijing commonly add a final "er" (/ɻ/) (兒音/儿音; pinyin: éryīn) — commonly used as a diminutive — to vocabulary items, as well as use more neutral tones in their speech. An example of Standard Mandarin versus the Beijing dialect would be: standard men (door) compared with Beijing menr. These give the Beijing dialect a somewhat distinctive lilt compared to Standard Mandarin spoken elsewhere. The dialect is also known for its rich colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions.

Although Chinese speakers make a clear distinction between Standard Mandarin and the Beijing dialect, there are aspects of Beijing dialect that have made it into the official standard. Standard Mandarin has a T-V distinction between the polite and informal versions of you that comes from Beijing dialect, but its use is quite diminished in daily speech. In addition, it also distinguishes between "zánmen" (we including the listener) and "wǒmen" (we not including the listener). In practice, neither distinction is commonly used by most Chinese, at least outside the Beijing area.

The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which are not yet[citation needed] accepted into Standard Mandarin:

  • 倍儿: bèir means 'very much'; 拌蒜: bàn suàn means 'stagger'; 不吝: bù lìn means 'do not worry about'; 撮: cuō means 'eat'; 出溜: chū liū means 'slip'; (大)老爷儿们儿: dà lǎo yer menr means 'man, male';

The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which have been already accepted as Standard Mandarin:

  • 二把刀: èr bǎ dāo means 'not very skillful'; 哥们儿: gē ménr means 'good male friend(s)', 'buddy(ies)'; 抠门儿: kōu ménr means 'parsimous' or 'stingy'.

Standard Mandarin and other dialects and languages

Although Standard Mandarin is now firmly established as the lingua franca in Mainland China, the national standard can be somewhat different from the other dialects in the vast Mandarin dialect chain, to the point of being to some extent unintelligible. However, pronunciation differences within the Mandarin dialects are usually regular, usually differing only in the tones. For example, the character for "sky" 天 is pronounced with the high level tone in the Beijing dialect and in Standard Mandarin (pinyin: tian), but is the falling tone in the Tianjin dialect of Mandarin.

Although both Mainland China and Taiwan use Standard Mandarin in the official context and are keen to promote its use as a national lingua franca, there is no official intent to have Standard Mandarin replace the regional languages.[citation needed] As a practical matter, speaking only Standard Mandarin in areas such as in southern China or Taiwan can be a social handicap,[citation needed] as some elderly or rural Chinese-language speakers do not speak Standard Mandarin fluently (although most do understand it). In addition, it is very common for it to be spoken with the speaker's regional accent, depending on factors as age, level of education, and the need and frequency to speak correctly for official or formal purposes. This situation appears to be changing, though, in large urban centers, as social changes, migrations, and urbanization take place.

In the predominantly Han areas in Mainland China, while the use of Standard Mandarin is encouraged as the common working language, the PRC has been sensitive to the status of minority languages and has not discouraged their use.[citation needed] Standard Mandarin is very commonly used for logistical reasons,[citation needed] as in many parts of southern China the linguistic diversity is so large that neighboring city dwellers may have difficulties communicating with each other without a lingua franca.

In Taiwan, the relationship between Standard Mandarin and other languages in Taiwan, particularly Taiwanese Hokkien, has been more heated politically. During the martial law period under the Kuomintang (KMT) between 1949 and 1987, the KMT government discouraged or, in some cases, forbade the use of Taiwanese Minnan and other vernaculars. This produced a political backlash in the 1990s. Under the administration of Chen Shui-Bian, other Taiwanese languages were taught as an individual class, with dedicated textbooks and course materials. The former President, Chen Shui-Bian, often spoke in Taiwanese Minnan during speeches, while after late 1990s, former President Lee Teng-hui, also speaks Taiwanese Minnan openly.

In Singapore, the government has heavily promoted a "Speak Mandarin Campaign" since the late 1970s. The use of other Chinese languages in broadcast media is prohibited and their use in any context is officially discouraged. This has led to some resentment amongst the older generations, as Singapore's migrant Chinese community is made up almost entirely of south Chinese descent. Lee Kuan Yew, the initiator of the campaign, admitted that to most Chinese Singaporeans, Mandarin was a "stepmother tongue" rather than a true mother language. Nevertheless, he saw the need for a unified language among the Chinese community not biased in favor of any existing group.[13]

See also:


Most Chinese (Beijingers included) speak Standard Mandarin with elements of their own dialects (i.e. their "accents") mixed in.

For example, natives of Beijing, add a final "er" (/ɻ/) — commonly used as a diminutive — sound to vocabulary items that other speakers would leave unadorned (兒音/儿音; pinyin: éryīn).

On the other hand, speakers from northeastern and southern China as well as Taiwan often mix up zh and z, ch and c, q and c, sh and s, x and s, h and f, r and l, and l and n because their own home dialects often do not make these distinctions. As a result, it can be difficult for people who do not have the standard pronunciation to use pinyin, because they do not distinguish these sounds.

See List of Chinese dialects for a list of articles on individual dialects of Chinese languages and how their features differ from Standard Mandarin.

Role of standard Mandarin

From an official point of view, Standard Mandarin serves the purpose of a lingua franca — a way for speakers of the several mutually unintelligible Han Chinese languages, as well as the Han and Chinese minorities, to communicate with each other. The very name Putonghua, or "common speech", reinforces this idea. In practice, however, due to Standard Mandarin being a "public" lingua franca, other languages or dialects, both Han and non-Han, have shown signs of losing ground to Standard Mandarin, to the chagrin of certain local culture proponents.

On Taiwan, Guoyu (national language) continues to be the official term for standard Mandarin. The term Guoyu is rarely used in Mainland China, because declaring a Beijing-dialect-based standard to be the national language would be deemed unfair to other Chinese dialects and ethnic minorities. The term Putonghua (common speech), on the contrary, implies nothing more than the notion of a lingua franca. However, the term Guoyu does persist among many older Mainland Chinese, and it is common in U.S. Chinese communities, even among Mainlanders. Some in Taiwan, especially proponents of Taiwan independence, also object to the term Guoyu to refer to standardized Mandarin, on the grounds that the "nation" referred to in the name of the language is China and that Taiwan is or should be independent. They prefer to refer to Mandarin with the terms "Beijing dialect" or Zhongwen (writing of China). As with most things political in Taiwan, some support the name for precisely the same reasons that others oppose them.

A poster outside of high school in Yangzhou urges people to speak Putonghua

In December 2004, the first survey of language use in the People's Republic of China revealed that only 53% of its population, about 700 million people, could communicate in Standard Mandarin. (China Daily) A survey by South China Morning Post released in September 2006 gave the same result.[citation needed] This 53% is defined as a passing grade above 3-B (i.e. error rate lower than 40%) of the Evaluation Exam. Another survey in 2003 by the China National Language And Character Working Committee (国家语言文字工作委员会) shows, if mastery of Standard Mandarin is defined as Grade 1-A (an error rate lower than 3%), the percentages as follows are: Beijing 90%, Shanghai 3%, Tianjin 25%, Guangzhou 0.5%, Dalian 10%, Xi'an 12%, Chengdu 1%, Nanjing 2%.[citation needed] Consequently, foreign learners of Mandarin usually opt to learn at Beijing, although learning grammar and writing is not confined to that area.

With the fast development of China, more Chinese people leaving rural areas for cities for job or study opportunities, and the Mandarin Level Evaluation Exam (普通话水平测试) has quickly become popular. Most university graduates take this exam before looking for a job. Many companies require a basic Mandarin Level Evaluation Certificate from their applicants, barring applicants who were born or bred in Beijing, since their Proficiency level is believed to be inherently 1-A (一级甲等)(Error rate: lower than 3%). As for the rest, the score of 1-A is rare. People who get 1-B (Error rate: lower than 8%) are considered qualified to work as television correspondents or in broadcasting stations. 2-A (Error rate: lower than 13%) can work as Chinese Literature Course teachers in public schools. Other levels include: 2-B (Error rate: lower than 20%), 3-A (Error rate: lower than 30%) and 3-B (Error rate: lower than 40%). In China, a proficiency of level 3-B usually cannot be achieved unless special training is received. Even if many Chinese do not speak Standard Mandarin with standard pronunciation, spoken Standard Mandarin is widely understood to some degree.

The China National Language And Character Working Committee was founded in 1985. One of its important responsibilities is to promote Standard Mandarin and Mandarin Level proficiency for Chinese native speakers. (Its website link can be found in the external links section.)

Common Phrases

Hello!你好你好Nǐ hǎo!
What is your name?你叫什麼名字?你叫什么名字? jiào shénme míngzi?
My name is...我名字叫...我名字叫...míngzi jiào ...
How are you?你好嗎?/ 你怎麼樣?你好吗?/ 你怎么样?Nǐ hǎo ma? / Nǐ zěnmeyàng?
I am fine, how about you?我很好,你呢?我很好,你呢?Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
I don't want it / I don't want to我不要。我不要。Wǒ bú yào.
Thank you!謝謝谢谢Xièxiè
Welcome! / You're welcome! (Literally: No need to thank me!) / Don't mention it! (Literally: Don't be so polite!)歡迎!/ 不用謝!/ 不客氣!欢迎!/ 不用谢!/ 不客气!Huānyíng! / Búyòng xiè! / Bú kèqì!
Yes. / Correct.。 / 。 / Shì. / Duì.
No. / Incorrect.。/ 不對。。/ 不对。Bù. / Bú duì.
When?甚麼時候?什么时候?Shénme shíhou?
How much money?多少錢?多少钱?Duōshǎo qián?
How long is it? (in terms of length)多長?多长?Duō cháng?
Can you speak a little slower?您能說得再慢些嗎?您能说得再慢些吗?Nín néng shuō de zài mànxiē ma?
Good morning! / Good morning!早上好! / 早安!早上好! / 早安!Zǎoshang hǎo! / Zǎo'ān!
How do you get to the airport?去機場怎麼走?去机场怎么走?Qù jīchǎng zěnme zǒu?
I want to fly to London on the eighteenth我想18號坐飛機到倫敦我想18号坐飞机到伦敦Wǒ xiǎng shíbā hào zuò fēijī dào Lúndūn.
How much will it cost to get to Munich?到慕尼黑需要多少錢?到慕尼黑需要多少钱?Dào Mùníhēi xūyào duōshǎo qián?
I don't speak Chinese very well.我的中文講得不太好.我的中文讲得不太好.Wǒ de Zhōngwén jiǎng de bú tài hǎo.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.china-language.gov.cn/ (Chinese)
  2. ^ http://mandarin.org.sg/html/home.htm[dead link]
  3. ^ Yuan, Zhongrui. (2008) "国语、普通话、华语 (Guoyu, Putonghua, Huayu)". China Language National Language Committee, People's Republic of China
  4. ^ FOURMONT, Etienne. Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, latinè, & cum characteribus Sinensium. Item Sinicorum Regiae Bibliothecae librorum catalogus...
  5. ^ Page 45 in the English translation, "China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci", Random House, New York, 1953. In the original Latin, vol. 1, p. 51: "Lusitani Magistratus illos, à mandando fortasse, Mandarinos vocant, quo nomine iam etiam apud Europæos Sinici Magistratus intelliguntur".
  6. ^ From Louis Richard. L. Richard's comprehensive geography of the Chinese empire and dependencies. Translated into English, revised and enlarged by M. Kennelly, S.J. [Translation of "Geographie de l'empire de Chine," Shanghai, 1905.] Shanghai: T'usewei Press, 1908. p. iv.)
  7. ^ Title:The languages of China, Author:S. Robert Ramsey, Publisher:Princeton University Press, 1987, ISBN 0691066949, 9780691066943, chapter 1.
  8. ^ Original text in Chinese: "普通话就是现代汉民族共同语,是全国各民族通用的语言。普通话以北京语音为标准音,以北方话为基础方言,以典范的现代白话文著作为语法规范"
  9. ^ Hashimoto, Mantaro (1970), [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Notes on Mandarin Phonology"], in Jakobson, Roman; Kawamoto, Shigeo, Studies in General and Oriental Linguistics, Tokyo: TEC, pp. 207–220 
  10. ^ Yiya Chen and Yi Xu, Pitch Target of Mandarin Neutral Tone (abstract), presented at the 8th Conference on Laboratory Phonology
  11. ^ Wang Jialing, The Neutral Tone in Trysyllabic Sequences in Chinese Dialects, Tianjin Normal University, 2004
  12. ^ A Reference Grammar of Chinese Sentences by Henry Hung-Yeh Tiee, p. XXVI
  13. ^ Lee Kuan Yew (2000). From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-019776-5.


  • Branner, David Prager (ed.) (2006). The Chinese Rime Tables: Linguistic Philosophy and Historical-Comparative Phonology. Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, Series IV: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory; 271. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 90-272-4785-4. 
  • Chao, Y.R., A Grammar of Spoken Chinese, University of California Press, (Berkeley), 1968.
  • Chen, Ping (1999). Modern Chinese: History and sociolinguistics. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521645727. 
  • Hsia, T., China’s Language Reforms, Far Eastern Publications, Yale University, (New Haven), 1956.
  • Ladefoged, Peter; & Maddieson, Ian. (1996). The sounds of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-19814-8 (hbk); ISBN 0-631-19815-6 (pbk).
  • Ladefoged, Peter; & Wu, Zhongji. (1984). Places of articulation: An investigation of Pekingese fricatives and affricates. Journal of Phonetics, 12, 267-278.
  • Lehmann, W.P. (ed.), Language & Linguistics in the People’s Republic of China, University of Texas Press, (Austin), 1975.
  • Lin, Y., Lin Yutang's Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
  • Milsky, C., "New Developments in Language Reform", The China Quarterly, No.53, (January-March 1973), pp. 98-133.
  • Norman, J., Chinese, Cambridge University Press, (Cambridge), 1988.
  • Ramsey, R.S.(1987). The Languages of China. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01468-X
  • San Duanmu (2000) The Phonology of Standard Chinese ISBN 0-19-824120-8
  • Seybolt, P.J. & Chiang, G.K. (eds.), Language Reform in China: Documents and Commentary, M.E. Sharpe, (White Plains), 1979.
  • Simon, W., A Beginners' Chinese-English Dictionary Of The National Language (Gwoyeu): Fourth Revised Edition, Lund Humphries, (London), 1975.

External links


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