Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

> I still wish Duolingo would make a course on Chinese :(

What kind of Chinese? Mandarin?

Linguistically Chinese is not a language, but a family of languages that is united by a (mostly) common writing system. The reason that these Chinese languages are called "dialects" is mostly political.

A language geek I know, who taught himself various Chinese dialects and in particular Cantonese up to a very high level told me that Mandarin, though referred to as the "official" Chinese language that is used in TV, it is in his opinion rather an artificial language (he compared it with Esperanto).

So when learning some of the Chinese languages he recommended that at least after some time learning the ropes (writing system, tones, common words), one should really consider for what purpose one is learning Chinese and learn the appropriate language of the respective province (he was really into electronics, so he continued his study in particular into Cantonese).




Honestly, when people say they want to learn Chinese, they usually mean Mandarin Chinese. If they don't, they'll probably refer to the specific dialect they'd like to learn. Also, without any Chinese exposure, learning anything other than Mandarin is harder since their are so fewer resources.

Calling Mandarin an artificial language is bogus, it is the native dialect around the Beijing area, and that is the reason it became the official dialect of Chinese. There are many people in China who only speak Mandarin.


> Calling Mandarin an artificial language is bogus, it is the native dialect around the Beijing area,

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mandarin_Chinese&...: Mandarin is a Koiné language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koin%C3%A9_language) of various Chinese dialects (as I wrote above: What is called "Chinese dialects" is rather "different languages"), which has been standardized "artificially" (just as Zamenhof took words from various European languages and created a new artificial language (Esperanto) out of them).


Being the 'official' language, is this also true for Chinese business — or is that dependent on the dialect of where an office may be located?


I think by law they must speak in Mandarin. Check the law here and grep for "putonghua" http://www.gov.cn/english/laws/2005-09/19/content_64906.htm

If you travel in regions where Mandarin is not as predominant as it usually is, you will often see signs telling you "please speak in mandarin".

The only exception really is Hong Kong.


Interesting. So it seems like if someone wanted to do business with, or work in, China (not HK) — learning Mandarin would definitely be the most useful?


Generally, yes. There's still places liked Shanghai where there's a very strong local language culture, but Mandarin should always suffice.

I've travelled in parts of China (Xishuangbanna in particular comes to mind, in southernmost Yunnan) where they have truckloads of non-Han minorities, and Mandarin was the lingua franca, and got me around, but I frequently spoke it better than anyone around me on the street.

OTOH, if you travel out to say, Xinjiang, I'm told you might be better off speaking Russian - the people out there are not Han, and really don't want to be part of China. Speaking the language of the empire out in the colonies might not make you many friends :)


> What kind of Chinese? Mandarin?

The official Chinese language yes.

Your story is really not representative of China, Mandarin is nothing like Esperanto. It's a real dialect and it became the official language of China a long time ago. People speak Mandarin everywhere now (except maybe HK).




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: