History of the Chinese Language - Page 1

Introduction There are roughly 70,000 Chinese characters and phonetic sounds. An average person has to know about 3,000 characters to be able to read the newspaper. In secondary schools the number of characters taught is 5,000.

This is a discussion of the language of the Chinese, or Han, people, the majority ethnic group of China, including both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. Of China's more than 1 billion people, approximately 95 percent speak Chinese, as opposed to the non-Chinese languages such as Tibetan, Mongolian, Lolo, Miao, and Tai spoken by minorities. Chinese is also spoken by large emigrant communities in Southeast Asia, North and South America, and in the Hawaiian Islands. More people, in fact, speak Chinese than any other language in the world; English ranks second in number of speakers and Spanish third. As the dominant language of East Asia, Chinese has greatly influenced the writing systems and vocabularies of neighboring languages not related to it by origin, such as Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. It has been estimated that until the 18th century more than half of the world's printed books were Chinese.

General Characteristics Chinese, together with Tibetan and Burmese and the many tribal languages of South and Southeast Asia, belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Besides a core vocabulary and sounds, Chinese and most related languages share features that make them unlike most Western languages: They are monosyllabic, have even less Inflection than English, and are tonal. In order to indicate differences in meaning between words similar in sound, tone languages assign to words a distinctive relative pitch high or low or a distinctive pitch contour level, rising, or falling.