"Chinese language" in Chinese

Moderator: OldBoring

What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

漢語 Hanyu (Han language)
13
45%
普通話 Putonghua (Common speech)
1
3%
國語 Guoyu (National language)
0
No votes
華語 Huayu (Hua language)
4
14%
中國話 Zhongguohua (Chinese speech)
1
3%
中國語 Zhongguoyu (Chinese language)
3
10%
中文 Zhongwen (Chinese script)
5
17%
Others (Please share)
2
7%
 
Total votes: 29

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"Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Pangu » 2011-08-21, 18:37

mod

Merged threads. Poll starts at this post.


A friend of mine who just started learning Chinese (Mandarin) asked me the other day about the "correct way" to say the term "Chinese language" in Chinese. I spent some time explaining to her and I thought I'd share with everyone as I'm sure those who are learning Chinese may have the same question.

So before I get into the different names for the Chinese language in Chinese, first I'd like to define a few Chinese words:

  • / Yǔ - Language, including BOTH spoken and written.
  • / Huà - Spoken language.
  • Wén - Written language / script.

Due to various historically, cultural and political reasons, there are many names in Chinese referring to the Chinese language:

  • 漢語 / 汉语 Hànyǔ - This literally means "Language of the Han" where the Han refers to the Han ethnic group who is the majority in China and is usually synonymous with the term "Chinese". If you learned Chinese in mainland China or at almost all universities anywhere in the world, chances are this is the term you learned in class. This term has existed for a long time and was revived by the PRC in the past few decades. It's mostly used in the context of comparing to other non-Han languages, including those as foreign as English or Russian and also those spoken by Chinese ethnic minorities such as Tibetan, Mongolian... etc. as opposed to say Cantonese (Yue) or Shanghaiese (Wu).
  • 普通話 / 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà - Literally "common speech". This term was used by the PRC to refer to Mandarin, as opposed to the other Chinese dialects/languages such as Cantonese (Yue). It's only used in the context of comparing different Chinese dialects as opposed to foreign languages.
  • 國語 / 国语 Guóyǔ - "National language". This is currently used in Taiwan to refer to Mandarin. The usage is similar to Pǔtōnghuà as stated above.
  • 華語 / 华语 Huáyǔ - "Chinese language". This term is generally used by oversea Chinese communities including Singapore.
  • 中國話 / 中国话 Zhōngguó huà - "Chinese speech". This term is rarely used anymore. It doesn't necessarily refer to any dialects in particular.
  • 中文 Zhōngwén - “Chinese script". This is perhaps one of the most used term to refer to the Chinese language (both written and spoken) including by this forum. However, it is also the most incorrectly used. This term is supposed to refer to only written Chinese but often you can hear people ask something like "你會說中文嗎?" / "你会说中文吗?" Nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma? This incorrect usage doesn't only apply to the name for "Chinese language in Chinese" but also other language names such as 英文 (English),法文 (French)... etc. Sorry if I sounded like I'm ranting, it's just a personal pet peeve :)
  • 官話 / 官话 Guānhuà - "Official spoken language" or "Spoken language of government officials". This term only refers to Mandarin and is pretty much no longer used. Back in the days, government officials, especially those from the south, would not be able to effectively communicate with the emperor or each other. Therefore they were asked/made/"encouraged" to learn Mandarin, which resulted in the name. Thanks to Checkov for reminding me of this term. :)

Hopefully this helps some of you. Feel free to ask if you have any questions.
Last edited by OldBoring on 2013-11-14, 16:38, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Chekhov » 2011-08-21, 20:33

However, it is also the most incorrectly used. This term is supposed to refer to only written Chinese but often you can hear people ask something like "你會說中文嗎?" / "你会说中文吗?" Nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma?
If native speakers do it, I don't consider it incorrect.

I usually use 中文, or 漢語 if I need to specify. I hardly ever say 國語 or 華語, and definitely not 普通話 (mainly for political reasons).

Another term you missed: 官話. That one only applies to Mandarin though.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Śrāmaṇera » 2011-08-21, 20:51

My tones are not good and one day in a bookstore in 武汉, I asked the 服务员 : "对外国人的汉语教科书在哪儿?“

She brought me Korean textbooks... :roll:

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Pangu » 2011-08-21, 20:56

Chekhov wrote:
However, it is also the most incorrectly used. This term is supposed to refer to only written Chinese but often you can hear people ask something like "你會說中文嗎?" / "你会说中文吗?" Nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma?
If native speakers do it, I don't consider it incorrect.

I understand your point of view. Every natural language has its quirks ;)

Chekhov wrote:Another term you missed: 官話. That one only applies to Mandarin though.

Ah yes, I should have included that for historical purposes although it's not used anymore. The only time you'd hear that term is in historical movies or TV series ;)

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Chekhov » 2011-08-21, 21:01

Would you use it to specify you mean Mandarin and not some other dialect? Or would you say 北方言?
She brought me Korean textbooks...
Wow. I mix up 李子and 梨子 sometimes, but never 漢語 and 韓語...
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Pangu » 2011-08-21, 21:36

Chekhov wrote:Would you use it to specify you mean Mandarin and not some other dialect? Or would you say 北方言?

In modern day, Mandarin is simply known as 普通話 in mainland China (also HK to some extend), 國語 in Taiwan and 華語 in Singapore.

Some people still use the term 北方話 (Northern Speech) but it's not that common and it's not precise enough as it could be referring to all sorts of northern dialect where as the former refers to standard Mandarin.

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Chekhov » 2011-08-21, 21:39

I find it interesting that Singapore uses 華語 to refer to Mandarin - not because it's used to refer to overseas Chinese, but because Mandarin isn't even the most common first language among its Chinese population. I guess it's related to their Speak Mandarin Campaign.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby hlysnan » 2011-08-21, 22:08

Chekhov wrote:Wow. I mix up 李子and 梨子 sometimes, but never 漢語 and 韓語...


I think tones are a bit different where Nejikimadori is.

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Chekhov » 2011-08-21, 23:30

Yes, but I don't know where he is or what the local dialect is like.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Serafín » 2011-08-22, 18:15

官話 / 官话 guān huà is used among Chinese linguists today to refer to Mandarin as opposed to Yue, Wu, etc. 北方話 / 北方话 běifāng huà and 北方方言 běifāng fāngyán are also used for this.

There's also the term 白話 / 白话 bái huà, which was used in former times as opposed to 文言 wényán to refer to Chinese written in a style imitating the spoken language (yes, written, in spite of the 話 / 话 huà there), instead of imitating Classical Chinese. You could loosely consider it to be written 官話 / 官话 guānhuà in some way I guess.
Pangu wrote:漢語 / 汉语 Hànyǔ - This literally means "Language of the Han" where the Han refers to the Han ethnic group who is the majority in China and is usually synonymous with the term "Chinese". If you learned Chinese in mainland China or at almost all universities anywhere in the world, chances are this is the term you learned in class. This term has existed for a long time and was revived by the PRC in the past few decades. It's mostly used in the context of comparing to other non-Han languages, including those as foreign as English or Russian and also those spoken by Chinese ethnic minorities such as Tibetan, Mongolian... etc. as opposed to say Cantonese (Yue) or Shanghaiese (Wu).
普通話 / 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà - Literally "common speech". This term was used by the PRC to refer to Mandarin, as opposed to the other Chinese dialects/languages such as Cantonese (Yue). It's only used in the context of comparing different Chinese dialects as opposed to foreign languages.
I think that to explain this better we'd need to understand the PRC's way of thinking. Here's quite a nice explanation by William Baxter in A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology (1992):

    The modern Chinese language is commonly said to consist of many related "dialects", spoken both in China and in Chinese settlements elsewhere. Many of these so-called dialects are not mutually intelligible; if one's terminology requires that only mutually intelligible forms of speech be called dialects of the same language, then they should be called separate languages, not dialects. However, the Chinese word for 'dialect', fāngyán 方言, does not usually carry this implication.9 Most Chinese seem to feel that the existence of a common written form for these dialects, and the common culture and history of their speakers, justify regarding them all as constituting a single language. This is not simply a misunderstanding, as it is sometimes portrayed; it involves differences of intellectual tradition.

    In the view of linguistics which prevails in the People's Republic of China, the sociolinguistic characteristics of a language are intimately related to the stage of social organization of the society which uses it. This view, which closely follows Soviet Marxist views of the place of language in social development, is central to many Chinese discussions of language and dialect [...].

    In this view, social organization proceeds by stages from the "clan" (Chinese shìzú 氏族, Russian rod) to the "tribe" (Chinese bùluò 部落, Russian plemja) to the "nationality" (Chinese bùzú 部族, Russian nacija), and finally to the "multinational state" (Chinese duōmínzú guójiā 多民族國家, Russian mnogonacional'noe gosudarstvo).

    [...]

    Under normal circumstances, a nation (mínzú) is held to have its own "common language" (gòngtóngyǔ 共同語), generally based on the dialect of an area which is politically, economically, and culturally well-developed; at this stage the role of dialects gradually diminishes, and the dialects tend to disappear under the influence of the common language. For example, the majority ethnic group of China—loosely referred to in the West as "ethnic Chinese"—are officially known as the "Hàn nation" (Hàn mínzú 漢民族 or Hànzú 漢族), and are legally on a par with the other nations of China such as the Tibetans (Zàngzú 藏族) [...]. The common language of the Hàn nation is pǔtōnghuà 普通話 or standard Mandarin, based on the northern or Mandarin dialect.

    Finally, in a multinational state such as China or the Soviet Union, there is a "language for common communication" (gòngtóng jiāojìyǔ 共同交際語) or "inter-national language" (mežnacional'nyj jazyk)—where "nation" is understood in the sense of mínzú. Such a language allows the various mínzú to communicate with each other; in China, pǔtōnghuà or standard Mandarin serves both as the "common language" of the Hàn nation and as the "language for common communication" for the whole country.10

    Since having its own language is one of the normal characteristics of a "nation" or mínzú, to regard, say, Cantonese and Mandarin as different languages, merely because they are mutually unintelligible, would seem to imply that Cantonese and Mandarin speakers belong to different mínzú—a conclusion which would be both historically inaccurate and politically unacceptable.

    There is nothing inconsistent about this use of terms; it simply includes historical and sociolinguistic factors as well as purely linguistic ones in deciding where language boundaries should be drawn. Of course, in the West, too, language boundaries are often not drawn by purely linguistic criteria either: Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian [...].
Source: Baxter, William. A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology (1992). In: Winter, Werner: Trends in Linguistics - Studies and Monographs 64. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 8-9. Most of this discussion can be found at Google Books.

As an example of this explanation being applied: I once mentioned to a Chinese girl from Shenzhen (and thus a native speaker of Cantonese) that people here generally have no idea how many languages there are in China. She agreed, mentioning that there is a grand-total of 56 languages (referring to the 56 民族 mínzú in China). :P
Chekhov wrote:
Pangu wrote:However, it is also the most incorrectly used. This term is supposed to refer to only written Chinese but often you can hear people ask something like "你會說中文嗎?" / "你会说中文吗?" Nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma?
If native speakers do it, I don't consider it incorrect.
I'm still kind of traumatized from that day I said 說法語, and my listener corrected me, telling me I should say 說法文 instead. Even though she admitted I was technically right, she said it sounded weird, that she had never heard or seen 法語 before, so for some reason I should rather say "法文".
Last edited by Serafín on 2011-08-27, 7:30, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Pangu » 2011-08-22, 19:34

Serafín wrote:There's also the term 白話 / 白话 bái huà, which was used in former times as opposed to 文言 wényán to refer to Chinese written in a style imitating the spoken language (yes, written, in spite of the 話 / 话 huà there), instead of imitating Classical Chinese.

It's actually called 白話文 and 文言文. Both end with 文 implying it's written as opposed to spoken.

Serafín wrote:I'm still kind of traumatized from that day I said 說法語, and my listener corrected me, telling me I should say 說法文 instead. Even though she admitted I was technically right, she said it sounded weird, that she had never heard or seen 法語 before, so for some reason I should rather say "法文".

I can't speak for mainland China but growing up in Taiwan, English classes are sometimes called 英語課 (correct) sometimes 英文課 (incorrect), the same with any other foreign language classes such as Japanese (日語 vs 日文). However, it seems like no one ever confuses 國語 with 國文 :ohwell:

I hope eventually people will realize the mistake they are making and use it properly. I am at least doing my part :)

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Chekhov » 2011-08-22, 22:04

For some reason 英語 sounds more correct to me than 英文, although I can't say the same for 法語, 德語 etc.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby モモンガ » 2011-10-31, 20:59

When listning to Cantonese lessons, I have heard sentences like:


你識唔識講英文呀?

I was surprised, as I was taught that you need to use 英語 when talking about spoken version, so I though that it must be some Cantonese feature.
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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Pangu » 2011-10-31, 22:05

モモンガ wrote:When listning to Cantonese lessons, I have heard sentences like:


你識唔識講英文呀?

I was surprised, as I was taught that you need to use 英語 when talking about spoken version, so I though that it must be some Cantonese feature.

Unfortunately most Mandarin speakers also would misuse 英文 in the same manner.

I guess it's just one of those things where even though it's incorrect and illogical but because so many people misuse it, it has become the norm. :ohwell:

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Re: "Chinese language" in Chinese

Postby Tenebrarum » 2011-11-01, 4:48

Pangu wrote:[*]官話 / 官话 Guānhuà - "Official spoken language" or "Spoken language of government officials".

Over here the term "tiếng Quan Thoại" is still commonly encountered, as opposed to "tiếng Quảng Đông". No cookie for guessing what the other one means.
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What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

Postby Pangu » 2012-08-29, 19:45

mod

Poll starts here


Native speakers and those who have learned Chinese should all know that there are several names for the Chinese language due to historical, cultural and political reasons.

Without going too much into details, below are the different names for the Chinese language in Chinese in various places:

  • Mainland China - 漢語 Hanyu (Han language) / 普通話 Putonghua (Common speech) - Although Hanyu refers to Mandarin, as opposed to other Han dialects/languages such as Cantonese, it is generally used in context of non-Chinese languages, including those spoken by Chinese ethnic minorities. When referring to the Han dialects/languages, the term Putonghua is generally used instead.
  • Taiwan - 國語 Guoyu (national language) - The term Guoyu was used in mainland China before the Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war and retreated to Taiwan.
  • Singapore and other oversea Chinese communities - 華語 Huayu (Hua language) - Oversea Chinese communities in different countries will have different situations. This term is being used less and less in oversea Chinese communities where there are more and more recent immigrants from mainland China.
  • Other names - 中國話 Zhongguohua (Chinese speech), 中國語 Zhongguoyu (Chinese language), 中文 Zhongwen (Chinese script) - Zhongguohua can refer to any spoken dialect. Zhongguoyu is mainly used in Japanese and Korean and doesn't necessarily refer to any specific spoken dialect either. Zhongwen is perhaps the most misused term as 文 wen means "written script" although many people, even native speakers would use 說 shuo (speak) with Zhongwen. It'd be more different than saying "I speak Roman letters."
Which term do you think makes the most sense and should be used by default?
Last edited by OldBoring on 2013-11-14, 16:40, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

Postby linguoboy » 2012-08-29, 20:00

國語 is particularly problematic not just because of its Nationalist connotations but because that term has also been used by the Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese for their own national vernarculars.

In general, I prefer compounds in 華 to those in 漢 (it's a prettier character with more attractive connotations), but 漢族 is the only widely accepted term for the ethnic group, so we're kind of stuck with 漢.
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Re: What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

Postby Pangu » 2012-08-29, 23:49

linguoboy wrote:國語 is particularly problematic not just because of its Nationalist connotations but because that term has also been used by the Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese for their own national vernarculars.

Not that I disagree with you but why do you think 國語 and its Nationalist connotations are bad? Or are you referring to the fact that it may be too sensitive to hardcore CCP supporters (however many or few they may be)? Also it's been more than 60 years since the Chinese civil war, shouldn't most people have moved on by now and look at things objectively?

linguoboy wrote:In general, I prefer compounds in 華 to those in 漢 (it's a prettier character with more attractive connotations), but 漢族 is the only widely accepted term for the ethnic group, so we're kind of stuck with 漢.

If we're just talking about pure aesthetics, I personally find 漢 to be more pleasing than 華, but I'm sure people will differ in opinions on this :)

Why do you think 華 has more "attractive" connotations? What negative connotations does 漢 have?

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Re: What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

Postby ling » 2012-08-30, 7:04

Hanyu sounds either too mainlandy or too scholarly to me.

Putonghua is worse: it sounds downright communist to me (note that the term has been adopted into Hong Kong Cantonese, also to refer to Mandarin: pou tung wa). It's so Beijingy that I find myself mocking it by adding an exaggerated -er ending on it!

Guoyu is what I'm used to, but in Taiwan there's a growing movement to replace the term with Huayu for political reasons. But some more extreme partisans have been using "Guoyu" to refer to the Taiwanese language! That only adds to the confusion. (They're the same partisan nutbars who came up with "tongyong pinyin".)

I like the neutrality of Huayu. It's commonly and successfully used in Southeast Asia to refer to Mandarin.
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Re: What do you think "Chinese" should be called in Chinese?

Postby linguoboy » 2012-08-30, 15:36

Pangu wrote:Not that I disagree with you but why do you think 國語 and its Nationalist connotations are bad?

I didn't say "bad", I said "problematic". ling's post illustrates some ways in which this is true.

Pangu wrote:Also it's been more than 60 years since the Chinese civil war, shouldn't most people have moved on by now and look at things objectively?

Wouldn't that be nice! Yet the Opium War was 160 years ago, and, from what I see, a lot of people still haven't moved on from that.

Pangu wrote:Why do you think 華 has more "attractive" connotations? What negative connotations does 漢 have?

Beware of false dichotomies! A peony is "more attractive" than a violet, but that doesn't mean that violets are ugly.

The root meaning of 漢 is "a manly man". But a lot of stereotypically male qualities are negative, whereas 華 essentially means "the best of anything".

I'm surprised to hear that you find 漢 a more pleasing character than 華. 華 has beautiful bilateral symmetry and seems very well balanced overall, whereas--particularly in the font I'm using here--漢 looks so lopsided and top-heavy.
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