“Mandarin” refers to both Standard Chinese—the official language of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan (the present usage)—as well as a number of similar dialects native to Northern and Southwestern China. It is a twentieth century standardized version of preexisting Northern Chinese dialects, specifically modeled after the Beijing regional pronunciation, and written according to the rules of Written vernacular Chinese.
Mandarin is one of seven major dialects of Chinese, all of which belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. The different dialects of Chinese are for the most part mutually unintelligible, meaning that speakers of different dialects find it difficult to understand each other. Mandarin alone accounts for over seventy percent of all Chinese speakers, comprising nearly one billion people worldwide.
Like other Southeast Asian languages, Mandarin is a tonal language. This means that each written character—which corresponds to a single syllable—also has one of four corresponding pitches, which are used to tell words apart. Therefore, two Chinese words that would otherwise be pronounced the same (in a non-tonal language) will mean different things, depending on the pitches at which each of its constituent syllables are spoken.
However, tones in Mandarin are not simply determined by pitch frequency (as in lowest, highest, or in between). Only the highest of the four tones is spoken at a flat, unchanging pitch, and is known as the “level” tone. The other three “oblique” tones require the speaker to change pitch mid-syllable, by either ascending steadily from a medium pitch (“rising” tone), dipping from low to lowest pitch and then rising (“departing” tone), or descending from highest to lowest pitch (“entering” tone).
Mandarin is considered an analytic language. This means that rather than showing relations between words by adding something to the beginning or end of a basic word root, instead small ‘particle’ words are placed around them or at the end of a sentence. Mandarin therefore does not mark individual words to indicate when something happens, or whether something is uncertain or hypothetical. Instead, tense and mood are implied by word order or by grouping several verbs together in series.
The use of characters instead of letters, the employment of tone, and the avoidance of conjugation and articles are all reasons why Mandarin seems so strange yet so beautiful to Westerners. LingPerfect’s certified and highly skilled Mandarin translators and linguists ensure accurate Mandarin to English or English to Mandarin translation services to your business. For more information on our language translation services, please contact us at (888) 808-8166.