Standard Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, is the official language spoken in mainland China and Taiwan, and it is one of the four official languages of Singapore.  Standard Mandarin is also known as Putonghua in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, Gwok Yu in Taiwan and as Huayu in Malaysia and Singapore.

The term “Mandarin” was first used by the Portuguese to refer to officials because they thought that the Sanskrit word mantra or mentri was similar to the Portuguese word mandar (to order someone to do something).  Because the officials issued orders the Portuguese called them mandarins.  Then the word mandarin came to mean the language that the officials spoke amongst themselves.

There were many changes made in Standard Mandarin in the 20th century. Daily conversation no longer contains many of the formal, polite and humble words previously used in imperial China e.g. jian – my humble, and gui – your honorable.

In both mainland China and Taiwan the educational system and the media have used Standard Mandarin and this has led greatly to the spread of it. As a result, most people in mainland China and Taiwan speak Standard Mandarin fluently. In December 2004, the first survey of language use in the People’s Republic of China revealed that 53% of its population, about 700 million people, could communicate in Standard Mandarin.

Standard Cantonese was the main language used by the majority of the population of Hong Kong prior to the British handover of Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997 and by the population of Macau  prior to the Portuguese handover of Macau to China on 20 December 1999.  Since then Standard Mandarin has become slightly more understood but not yet widely spoken by these two territories and is used by the two governments to communicate with officialdom in China.  Cantonese still remains the official government language of Hong Kong and Macau for internal communication and there is no official intent to have Standard Mandarin replace the regional languages.

© 2009