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How many languages are spoken in China today?


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#1 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 03:56 AM

A tour guide in China once told me that there was an estimate of more than 2,000 dialects spoken in China according to some statistics. However, I'm not sure whether this figure was correct.

According to a recent chinese report at http://culture.peopl...23/6792706.html and http://news.xinhuane...ent_7460791.htm published by Xinhua, a research had been carried out by 90 linguists/experts from Chinese Academy of Social Science to find out how many different languages are spoken in China today.

The recent research showed that China currently has 5 major different language families and 129 different languages, excluding dialects or sub-dialects.

The research was published in the academic source "China Languages" (Zhongguo Yuyan 《中国的语言》) by Commercial Press. The book was edited and written by more than 90 linguistics experts such as Sun Hongkai 孙宏开, Hu Zhenyi 胡增益, Huang Xin 黄行 and other ethnic minorities linguists from Chinese Research Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology (Chinese Academy of Social Science).

The statistics of languages in China are as follow:

5 Major Language Families:

Sino-Tibetan Family - 76 languages
Altaic-Turkic Family - 21 languages
Austronesian Family - 16 languages
South Asian Family (Indo-Iranian) - 9 languages
Indo-European Family - 1 language
Mixed Language Family - 5 languages
Others - 1 language (Korean)

The book illustrated that out of these 129 languages, 117 languages were on the decline or on the danger of extinction: 21 are already in the danger of extinction, 64 on the path towards extinction and 24 nearing the path of decline.

China Languages which are disappearing include:

lao 木佬语
Manchu 满语
Hezhe 赫哲语
Su 苏龙语
Xiandao 仙岛语

For those who are interested in researching the languages of China, you might want to get hold of this academic source.

Edited by General_Zhaoyun, 19 November 2008 - 10:04 PM.

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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#2 Bao Pu

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 06:39 AM

I assume that these languages they/you are talking about are the ones people speak natively? There's definitely more than one Indo-European language being spoken in the whole of China.

Thanks for the info :)
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#3 HappyHistorian

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 07:57 AM

The reduction of languages is a worldwide trend. Improved communications and the rise of globalisation encourages uniformity rather than plurality. The hegemony of a dominate lingua franca means its more practical for an individual to learn the dominate language at the expense of traditional language. For example in South American nations, Indigenous people are learning Spanish at the expense of traditional languages. Moreover, Manchurians would rather learn the lingua franca (i.e. Mandarin Chinese) than Manchurian.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 19 November 2008 - 07:58 AM.


#4 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 09:41 PM

There is currently only one 'official' language in China (lingua franca): Mandarin, but many 'unofficial' languages/dialects in China.

But for those who had traveled around China, you will know that many different languages or dialects are spoken in different parts of China.

The thing is that whether a language can 'survive' depends on how many speakers there are. For manchu language in China, it's certainly a language that is 'dying' because there are currently only about 100 Manchu speakers in a remote village in Manchuria (northeast China). Majority of Manchu people in China were dispersed around different parts of China and they speak Mandarin instead of Manchu.

Some of the ethnic minority languages (such as Uighur, Tibetans, Mongolian) flourish in China largely because they continue to be taught as mother tongue language in schools in the autonomous region of China. Also, these languages were able to 'survive' in China largely because there had forms of writing systems and considerably large number of speakers. For those languages in China that do not have writing system, it will be harder to 'preserve'.

I've once visited a Qiang village in Sichuan province and the Qiang inhabitants still speak some form of Qiang language. But because Qiang language did not have any writing systems, the Tour guide told us that it would be harder to 'preserve' the Qiang language. Alot of young Qiang ethnic minorities in Sichuan are speaking Sichuanese dialect or Mandarin instead.
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One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#5 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 10:18 PM

Below is a linguistic map of China:

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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#6 xng

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 11:30 PM

Some of the ethnic minority languages (such as Uighur, Tibetans, Mongolian) flourish in China largely because they continue to be taught as mother tongue language in schools in the autonomous region of China. Also, these languages were able to 'survive' in China largely because there had forms of writing systems and considerably large number of speakers. For those languages in China that do not have writing system, it will be harder to 'preserve'.


I am surprised to hear that mongolian is taught in inner mongolia as a mother tongue.

According to wiki, the han chinese remains the majority at around 80%

http://en.wikipedia..../Inner_Mongolia

Does it mean that the han chinese in inner mongolia are forced to learn mongolian ?

Edited by xng, 19 November 2008 - 11:31 PM.


#7 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 01:28 AM

I am surprised to hear that mongolian is taught in inner mongolia as a mother tongue.


According to this site at http://www.jyb.com.c...0808_103801.htm , it says that about 65% of the Mongolian in inner Mongolia received education taught in Mongolian.

以少数民族语言进行教学,是我区发展民族教育的重要形式。目前,内蒙古已逐步形成蒙古族从学前教育到高等教育以蒙语授课为主的教育体系,自治区接受蒙古语授课的约占蒙古族学生总数的65%。

However, the teaching of Mongolian as a mother tongue in Inner Mongolia seems to be rather recent policy in an effort to protect and restore the Mongol language and culture in China. I also read that many Mongolians in Inner Mongolia are able to speak but not write Mongolian.

According to wiki, the han chinese remains the majority at around 80%

http://en.wikipedia..../Inner_Mongolia

Does it mean that the han chinese in inner mongolia are forced to learn mongolian ?


Quite a big portion of these "han-chinese" in inner Mongolia were in fact Mongol who had been assimilated to han, including those who adopted Han surnames and speak Mandarin. This assimilation seemed to have taken place during the Qing and ROC period whereby large number of Mongols abandoned their nomadic lifestyle to live in cities that had a higher concentration of han-chinese. There were also migration of han-chinese to Inner Mongolia after 1990s. They speak Mandarin predominantly and stayed in cities in Inner Mongolia.

I'm not sure whether they are required to learn Mongolian. But cities in inner Mongolia usually have two languages : Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian.

I was told by a chinese friend who had a inner Mongolian friend that the "Mongolian language" in inner Mongolia was different from that of outer Mongolia.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang




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