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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

?? • ?? • ?? • 
Zhongwén • Hànyu • Huáyu


Language information: Chinese is the primary language of approximately one fourth of the world population. In China, Chinese is used by a good 95 percent of the population. This includes most Chinese citizens that are ethnically Han, Hui (Chinese Muslim) and Manchu, also an increasing number of ethnic minority members that are losing proficiency in their own languages. In addition, Chinese is predominant in numerous Chinese communities outside China and is well represented in international communication. In linguistic terms, the label “Chinese” covers ten distinct languages traditionally referred to as “dialects” or “dialect groups” for ethno-political reasons:

    • Mandarin (Guanhua, Beifang fangyan)
    • Gan (Ganyu)
    • Hakka (Kejiahua/Hakkafa)
    • Min (Min fangyan/Bân hong-giân)
    • Wu (Wuyu/Wunyu)
    • Xiang (Xiangyu)

        The following have been recently identified in addition:

    • Jin (Jinyu; previously part of Mandarin)
    • Hui (Huiyu; previously part of Wu)
    • Ping (Pinghua; previously mostly part of Yue)

From divinatory ideographs scratched into bone
to abstract brush art on cloth and paper—
the evolution of Chinese writing is unparalleled.

      Each one of these has a large array of dialects, some with poor mutual comprehensibility. For many centuries, official cohesion among the Chinese people has been facilitated by the use of a common, neutral, ideographically based writing system and a written style based on Ancient and Middle Chinese. In the beginning of the 20th century, with the end of the millennia-old chain of Chinese imperial dynasties, this archaic written language experienced a decline, and a new written and spoken common language based on Mandarin dialects came to be developed—thereby sacrificing neutrality. However, the ancient script remains in use, although a simplified version as well as a Western-alphabet-based auxiliary script have been developed on the Chinese mainland and have been formally adopted in Singapore (where the native language of most Chinese is not Mandarin but Min). The only community of Chinese speakers that does not use the Chinese script are the Muslim Dungan (Hui) people of Central Asia; they write their Mandarin dialects with the Cyrillic alphabet, without tone marking.

Classical Chinese is an archaic, dialectically neutral national literary language in which most of precontemporary Chinese literature is composed. It is only read aloud in recitation and is then pronounced either in Mandarin or in the speaker’s native variety. Many Classical Chinese phrases are used in Modern Chinese. However, Classical Chinese itself, though still studied and read and indeed a basic requirement in most branches of Chinese studies, has not been used much in composition since the beginning of the 20th century, especially since the middle of the 20th century.

Mandarin, used as a native language throughout Northern China, is the largest Chinese language with regard to speaker number and geographic area, and it is also the dominant language in China (including Taiwan) as well as among Singapore’s Chinese. It is the China’s lingua franca, serving as a second language among most non-native speakers in China (including ethnic minorities) and increasingly among Chinese people outside China.
     Possibly due to large-scale absorption of non-Chinese people among Northern Chinese populations throughout history, Mandarin happens to be the Chinese language that has changed most of all, certainly with regard to phonology. Like all Chinese languages, it is tonal, but most Mandarin dialects have “only” four tones (as shown in our transliterations), some as many as five, and a few northwestern dialects have only three, two or none at all, most likely due to Altaic or other types of non-Chinese substrates.
ALL languages and dialects are beautiful, precious gifts. So cherish yours and others! Share them with the world!      Most Northern Mandarin dialects have retroflex consonants (pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled upward or even backward). (These sounds are spelled sh, r, ch and zh in Pinying orthography, as opposed to dento-alveolar x, q and j, and dental s, c and z.) Retroflexion is particularly strong in the non-standard dialects of Greater Beijing (Peking) and surrounding areas. To a somewhat lesser extent it is a feature in what is generally considered prestigeous Standard Mandarin of Mainland China. Outside this area, few people use retroflex consonants, and the non-distinction between retroflex and dental consonants increases the number of homophones in the Southern Mandarin areas, in Taiwan and in Southeast Asia. (For instance, zhè sìshísì shŏu cí ‘these forty-four poems’ is outside the Northern Mandarin range pronounced as if spelled sìsísì sŏu cí, all of which are permissible Mandarin syllables too.) Retroflexion is more clearly heard in the narration of the second Mandarin translation presented here, not surprisingly so, as the speaker is from Tianjin, a large port city situated a relatively short distance east of Beijing.

Cantonese: [Click here]

Genealogy: Sino-Tibetan > Chinese (Sinitic)

Historical Lowlands language contacts: English

    Click to open the translations:
    [Modern Version 1] [Modern Version 2] [Cantonese] [Classical Chinese] Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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