As there are so many different spoken Chinese languages (i.e. topolects, e.g. Mandarin, Min, Cantonese etc.) and a few written Chinese languages (e.g. classical Chinese and various dialects of written Mandarin), why is the main site entitled "Chinese Language" rather than "Chinese Languages"? Are proposers of this site suggesting that there is only one single "Chinese language"?

Or, is this site meant to be one for Mandarin (Putonghua)? If so, I think the site name should be changed to reflect this intent.

  • 2
    I think it has more to do with standardisation than a conscious decision. All the other sites are French Language, Japanese Language etc.
    – going
    Mar 3, 2014 at 4:56
  • 1
    @xiaohouzi79 Hmm, standardisation of what?
    – user4086
    Mar 3, 2014 at 5:53
  • All the various dialects and writing systems are part of the Chinese Language.
    – 杨以轩
    Mar 3, 2014 at 11:29
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    @QuestionOverflow Please read the Wikipedia entry you mentioned again. The second paragraph states that "Varieties of Chinese are usually perceived by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, rather than separate languages, although this identification is considered inappropriate by some linguists and sinologists." To my knowledge, the "some" in the previous sentence is an understatement. Actually very few linguists --- except those sponsored by the establishment in China --- would argue that spoken Mandarin, spoken Min, etc. are "dialects" of a single Chinese Language.
    – user4086
    Mar 3, 2014 at 12:28
  • @user1551, that's what the linguists think. As a native speaker, I don't see there is any problem identifying them as one language family. Even physics, chemistry and biology are classified as science at times and sciences at other times when you want to place emphasis on the variety. It is just a matter of semantics.
    – 杨以轩
    Mar 3, 2014 at 12:36
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    @QuestionOverflow There indeed isn't any problem to identify Mandarin, Min etc. as one language family, but it is a mistake to identify them as one language --- those non-native speakers of Chinese who visit the main site would likely get a wrong picture, and speakers of other Chinese topolects than Mandarin may have uncomfortable feelings. If the main site is intended for discussions about Mandarin only, why don't we rename it to "Mandarin", which is much more accurate? If the site is about Chinese language family, why don't we simply add a trailing letter 's' in the title?
    – user4086
    Mar 3, 2014 at 12:56
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    In any case, if it's almost effortless to retify the issue, I see no reason not to do so.
    – user4086
    Mar 3, 2014 at 12:57
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    Albeit not necessarily intended, chinese.stackexchange.com is effectively advocating that there is only one Chinese language and all Chinese tongues are dialects of each other. In view of this and the almost ubiquitous confusion of "Chinese" with "Mandarin" on the main site, I will delete this account out of frustration.
    – user4086
    Jun 11, 2014 at 8:09
  • Although I agree with the question's point, in answers to some of my questions I've seen Cantonese.
    – 伟思礼
    Jan 31, 2018 at 10:12

2 Answers 2


Why is the main site entitled "Chinese Language" rather than "Chinese Languages"?

I am sure the same argument could be said of English, French, or any other language. Regional variances, derivations, and topolects are not uniquely Chinese in nature (e.g. American/Australian/UK versions of English,...). I doubt you are recommending that all sites be renamed but the argument you've given could very well use that justification for what seems a questionable inference of semantics regarding the pluralism of the word "language". A word by the way whose definition itself implies some understanding of the implicit variations of which you complain.

(just to recap the definition of the reported problematic word)

language |ˈlæŋɡwɪʤ| noun 1 the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way: a study of the way children learn language | [ as modifier ] : language development. • any nonverbal method of expression or communication: a language of gesture and facial expression. 2 the system of communication used by a particular community or country: the book was translated into twenty-five languages. • Computing a system of symbols and rules for writing programs or algorithms: a new programming language. 3 the manner or style of a piece of writing or speech: he explained the procedure in simple, everyday language. • the phraseology and vocabulary of a certain profession, domain, or group of people: legal language. • (usu. as bad/strong language) coarse, crude, or offensive language: strong language. PHRASES speak the same language understand one another as a result of shared opinions or values. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French langage, based on Latin lingua ‘tongue.

("language", New Oxford American Dictionary)

Are proposers of this site suggesting that there is only one single "Chinese language"

No, I don't think so, and I'm not sure why anyone would make this assumption.

So to recap, I think that "they", whoever built the site, got the name right.

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    You don't seem to understand the concept of topolect. You gave the example of "American/Australian/UK versions of English", but these are dialects of English, not topolects. What I was talking about are different spoken Chinese languages that are almost completely mutually unintelligible. These languages are by no means "regional variances, derivations" of a single language.
    – user4086
    May 30, 2014 at 22:40
  • @user1551 - From Wikipedia version of dialect... A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect, a dialect that is associated with a particular ethnic group can be termed as ethnolect, and a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. ("Dialect", Wikipedia.org, para 1, Source)
    – Tommie C.
    May 30, 2014 at 22:46
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    That passage of Wikipedia has clearly confused topolects with dialects. Topolects are not (necessarily) "regional dialects" of the same language. The term "topolect" was coined by the linguist Victor Mair. See his influential paper for a full explanation of the meaning of the term.
    – user4086
    May 30, 2014 at 23:23
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    According to Mair, while some Chinese tongues can be considered as dialects of each other and they "just as English may be subdivided into its Cockney, Boston, ..., and other varieties", the major Chinese topolects "barely resemble each other" and they "are roughly parallel to English, Dutch, Swedish, and so on", so that they are deemed inappropriate to be considered as dialects of a single language (and your analogue of Aust./Amer./Brit. English is incorrect).
    – user4086
    May 30, 2014 at 23:24
  • @user1551 I don't want to debate whether a topolect is a dialect or not; several dictionary sources indicate this to be a fact (dictionary.com,thefreedictionary.com, et. al.) I'd rather have you consider my argument that "languages" is a semantic derivation of "language" which does not change the emphasis of this language site in any way. This might be better left to a chat in any case since the debate on this has a wide domain outside of CLSE.
    – Tommie C.
    May 30, 2014 at 23:48
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    The "facts" written in those dictionaries are clearly taken out of context from Mair's paper. Please, read the paper to understand the concept. And what do you mean by "'languages' is a semantic derivation of 'language'"? Introductory courses on programming languages are almost always entitled "Programming languages", without dropping the trailing 's'. University courses on Chinese languages are entitled "Chinese Languages" when they are genuinely about various languages, and sometimes sloppily entitled "Chinese Language" when they are actually about Mandarin. Why an exception on this site?
    – user4086
    May 31, 2014 at 6:02
  • @user4086: As a graduate student in linguistics, I agree with you. But I think you're making more of it than it's worth.
    – 伟思礼
    Jan 31, 2018 at 10:15

As far as I see, the reason why we reguard this forum as "Chinese Language" instead of "Languages" (In its plural form). Because this is strictly tied with the Mandarin instead of different of pronunciations in different areas in China.

The reasons are:

1) The official goverment has assigned the pronunciations,usages and syntaxes from the Northern China as the Mandarin Chinese for all people living in China, and this is a standard language for all foreigners.

2) For most foreigners, the reason you learn Chinese is to live or work in China. And the Mandarin can be widely used. Compared with this, a dialect can be only used in one place (This cannot be a common one). And if you ask Chinese dialect problems, maybe ONLY THE PEOPLE living in that place can answer you without an authorized statements. You should know that “Meat is good for one person, while a poison for another”.

  • If this is correct, should the site charter be modified to forbid mentioning Min, Wu, Cantonese, Hakka, etc. ?
    – 伟思礼
    Jan 31, 2018 at 10:16

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