Mandarin (/ˈmændərɪn/; simplified Chinese: 官话; traditional Chinese: 官話; pinyin: Guānhuà; literally: 'speech of officials') is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. The group includes the Beijing dialect, the basis of Standard Chinese. Because Mandarin originated in North China and most Mandarin languages and dialects are found in the north, the group is sometimes referred to as Northern Chinese (北方话, běifānghuà, 'northern speech'). Many varieties of Mandarin, such those of the Southwest (including Sichuanese) and the Lower Yangtze (including the old capital Nanjing), are not mutually intelligible or are only partially intelligible with the standard language. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in lists of languages by number of native speakers (with nearly a billion).
Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, spoken by 70 percent of all Chinese speakers over a large geographical area, stretching from Yunnan in the southwest to Xinjiang in the northwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast. This is generally attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication in the North China Plain compared to the more mountainous south, combined with the relatively recent spread of Mandarin to frontier areas.
Most Mandarin varieties have four tones. The final stops of Middle Chinese have disappeared in most of these varieties, but some have merged them as a final glottal stop. Many Mandarin varieties, including the Beijing dialect, retain retroflex initial consonants, which have been lost in southern varieties of Chinese.
The capital has been within the Mandarin area for most of the last millennium, making these dialects very influential. Some form of Mandarin has served as a national lingua franca since the 14th century. In the early 20th century, a standard form based on the Beijing dialect, with elements from other Mandarin dialects, was adopted as the national language. Standard Chinese is the official language of the People's Republic of China] and Taiwan and one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is used as one of the working languages of the United Nations. It is also one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities internationally and the most commonly taught Chinese variety.
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