March 21, 2013 | Mandarin
How Do You Say Chinese in Chinese?
Seemingly simple things can become complicated when more than a billion people are involved.
In Pimsleur I learned two ways to say “Mandarin.” The main one was Pǔtōnghuà, which I have seen translated variously as “common speech,” “common tongue,” and “common language”—and which is, I have been told, a common and unambiguous way to refer to Mandarin in mainland China.
The other option Pimsleur taught me was Guóyǔ, meaning “country” (guó) and “language” (yǔ), which is a translation of “Mandarin” used in Taiwan.
It did feel funny to have two ways to say a language, but when you have 13 digits’ worth of people involved, stuff like that happens!
Then along came Fluenz and introduced me to a third way of referring to the language I was studying: Hànyǔ. This is a more general language term that contains a reference to the Han ethnic group, the majority ethnic group in China, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the population. Although Hànyǔ is used to refer to Mandarin, what I have read suggests it technically alludes to Chinese as a whole—meaning multiple dialects.
While researching the above three terms, I came across a fourth translation, Zhōngwén, which is similar to Hànyǔ in that it embraces the multiple Chinese dialects. I saw some posts indicating that Zhōngwén usually refers more to the written language as opposed to the spoken, but other posts disagreed with that distinction.
Mandarin Translations of ‘Language,’ Plus Free Dental Implants
Watch your tones, by the way, because if Hànyǔ is written Hányǔ (i.e., with the second tone rather than the fourth tone on that first syllable), it means “Korean,” not “Chinese”!
If I have made any mistakes in what I have written here, or if you disagree with anything I have written here, my apologies. It is hard to find consistent information on the above; there are quite a few divergent opinions, and I’m sure much misinformation, floating around the web.
It was pretty exhausting just to get this information together, in fact, but before I go rest, let me add that for “English,” as in the English language, Pimsleur taught me Yīngwén, while Fluenz taught me Yīngyǔ.
Oh, yeah, one more thing: in editing this entry—which looks so flimsy I can’t believe it took me this long to write!—I spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to figure out whether I was supposed to capitalize the names of languages in pinyin/Pinyin. My instinct was no, the majority of references I saw seemed to suggest yes, and I couldn’t find a clear answer! So for now I have given up on that quest and gone with capitalization.
Okay, this really is the final thing: I just found a dictionary on Mandarintools.com that provided me with a nice little table of three Chinese translations for the word “language” (huà, wén, and yŭ), along with an ad offering visitors free dental implants, if you are employed and act now.