A dialect is a distinct variant of a language spoken by a subgroup of that language’s speakers. So dialects of a language are closely related linguistically and are largely (or completely) mutually intelligible.
The many varieties of Chinese are often referred to as “Chinese dialects.” Chinese language varieties vary wildly in terms of mutual intelligibility. So, if a Mandarin speaker from Beijing and a Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong tried to have a conversation, they would struggle more than the Scottish and American English speakers.
Varieties of Chinese – An Overview
Most linguists divide Chinese into 7-10 dialect groups. And if you break those groups down further into regional variants, you find more than 200. Much of the distinction lies in the sounds that each variety uses.
Let us know each of the Chinese “Dialect Groups” –
Mandarin North Dialect
Mandarin is the most widely spoken group of Chinese varieties. It originates in the north of China and is spoken across northern and southwestern China. As the official language of the People’s Republic of China, Mandarin is also the official language of Taiwan and one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
This linguistic group mainly has speakers in Shanghai, Zhejiang province and the South part of Jiangsu province, and neighbouring areas. There’s quite a lot of variation within this group, and many Wu Chinese varieties are not mutually intelligible.
You’ll hear this group in Jiangxi province and the neighbouring areas, including Hubei, Hunan, Anhui and Fujian provinces. Phonetically, it has the most in common with the Hakka group of dialects, especially in phonology.
The Xiang Chinese group is spoken largely in Hunan province and parts of the surrounding provinces of Hubei, Guizhou, and Guangxi. It’s also transliterated as “Hsiang” and sometimes called Hunanese. Mandarin has quite strongly influenced Xiang varieties. You can hear Mandarin in much of the area bordering the Xiang-speaking region.
Min varieties come from Fujian province. They’re also spoken by the descendants of people from Fujian who migrated to Guangdong, Hainan, Taiwan and some other southern regions. This group is the most linguistically diverse.
Cantonese is the “standard” variety of Yue Chinese. It’s the official language of Hong Kong and Macau. And you’ll hear it in overseas Chinese communities as well as international business.
The Hakka people speak this group of variants across parts of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, and elsewhere in southern China, Taiwan and South-East Asia.
Now the Important Question – Should I use Traditional or Simplified Chinese?
This is the most important question arising for Chinese localization. The correct written form will depend on where you’re expanding to and also who are your customers.
Also, if you’re targeting China, Malaysia or Singapore, the best is to go with simplified Chinese. If you’re targeting Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, you should go with traditional Chinese.
If you are interested in selling your products and services to the Chinese market, reach out to us here.