China's language is the world's oldest written language and has a history going back more than 6,000 years. Because China covers a large area of land with dozens of national minorities, there are hundreds of languages spoken throughout China. Mandarin, the most commonly spoken language in China, is also the world's most spoken language with 1.5 billion speakers.
There are more than 300 languages spoken in China that fall under 9 language families. While these spoken dialects of mainland China are sometimes mutually unintelligible, some share a common written language.
Because there are huge variations in these dialects or languages, some may be as subtle as different accents or dialect words known in certain regions -- such as the difference between UK and US English -- but some are considered very distinct languages.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China and it's based on the dialect of the Han ethnic group from the North. The predominant language is sometimes called Hanyu and the study of this language is viewed as an academic discipline.
The Han language is divided into seven primary language groups or varieties that are so different they aren't mutually intelligible much like German and English.
The languages most frequently supported and studied include:
Standard Chinese (Putonghua) is a type of Mandarin Chinese that's considered the official spoken language of mainland China. China's language laws do not apply to Macua or Hong Kong which have other official languages like Portuguese, English, or Cantonese.
About 71% of Chinese people, or 1.34 billion people, speak some version of Mandarin Chinese as their first language.
There are many dialects of Mandarin, usually focused around major cities:
Standard Mandarin or Standard Chinese is based on the original Beijing dialect of the language. The Gan dialect is spoken in western areas of China, particularly the Jiangxi province. The Hakka dialect is closely related to the Gan dialect and spread throughout China in areas like Hong Kong, Jiangxi, Guizhou, and Guangdong. The Min dialect is spoken primarily in the Jujian province on the southern coast and has a great degree of variance from other dialects. The Wu dialect or Shanghainese is spoken in the Shanghai area. The Xiang dialect is predominantly in the Hunan province. Yue or Cantonese is mostly spoken in Guangdong province in Mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Macau. This dialect is very different from other dialects and mutually unintelligible.
Languages spoken in China can be broken down into 9 families: