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"Mandarin" or "Chinese"?

Which should be the right word for the language spoken by the Chinese people?


These are called "mandarins"!


Porcelain mandarins Porcelain mandarins

A mandarin was, in former times (here it refers to the Qing Dynasty), an important government official in China. In time, Mandarin is used to refer to the official language of China.

(中国清朝的) 官吏; 官话 Guānhuà, 北方话 Běifānghuà


Today, we use "Chinese" to refer to a language or language family that forms part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. It is also recognized that Chinese is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Chinese is spoken by people in China, including Taiwan, Hongkong and Macau, Singapore, and overseas Chinese communities in the world. The estimation of total number of speakers of Chinese is over 1.4 billion now.

Languages or dialects?

Some linguists believe that various forms of spoken Chinese are so different that they may even be called separate languages. This is an issue of contention, and may be misleading to ordinary people learning Chinese. Like all other varieties of Chinese, there is significant dispute as to whether Mandarin is a language or a dialect.

History of Chinese

Chinese is a language with a history of five thousand years. It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan Sinitic language family. In written Chinese, it is expressed as 汉语/华语/中文 in simplified characters; and 漢語/華語in traditional characters (pronounced Hànyǔ; Huáyǔ; Zhōngwén).

It is the language used by the Han Nationalities, as well as most minorities in China. As China is a vast country, there are regional differences in the spoken form, and it is recognized by linguists that there are at least six main dialects of spoken Chinese. Hence, linguists use "standard Mandarin" to mean the official standardized language of China based on the Beijing dialect. Yet, the written form of Chinese is the same.

The traditional written Chinese is called "classic Chinese". At the turn of the 20th century, people began to use more colloquial form in writing, hence called "modern Chinese."

Starting from 1958, the people on mainland China carried out a reform in written Chinese and made some of the characters simplified. That is called "simplified characters", or "simplified Chinese" in general.

They also formulated a system of phonetic symbols for transcription, called "pīnyīn" to facilitate learning of the standardized spoken form, called "pǔtōnɡhuà" - which is in fact based on the Beijing dialect. And a nation-wide movement is carried out to teach pǔtōnɡhuà to people throughout the country.

Today, the Chinese taught as a foreign language to speakers of other languages in the world refers to the simplified characters and pǔtōnɡhuà in spoken form.

UCT Mandarin course

The course name adopted by the SLL is "Mandarin", actually it means "Mandarin Chinese", and it teaches the simplified characters and the standardized spoken form of pǔtōnɡhuà.

As students move to the intermediate and advanced levels of Mandarin, they will have to study classical Chinese.

Then we'll also introduce some dialects of Chinese, mainly Min Nan Dialect and Cantonese, which are common in overseas Chinese communities from Taiwan and Hongkong.

We'll also offer classical Chinese studies and Chinese literature in the advanced years, and also to students whose native language is Chinese.