Mandarin vs. Cantonese

Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The term Chinese language refers to a group of local dialects. In their spoken form, they are often mutually unintelligible but share one writing system. Chinese writing is logographic, where a symbol represents one word, syllable or concept rather than a sound. Chinese is not a homogenous language but a blend of more than 15 dialects. Within those groups many sub-variations exist which causes some linguists to doubt that Chinese is one single language. One of the reasons to consider Chinese to be a single language rather than a family of languages is that its speakers think of it as such.

All varieties of Chinese are tonal, where each syllable can have a number of meanings depending on the intonation. For example, Mandarin has 4 tones and Cantonese has between 6 and 9. The major varieties of Chinese are mutually unintelligible but most people in China and Taiwan who don’t speak Mandarin as their first language, can speak or at least understand it. In Hong Kong and Macau few people speak Mandarin, so they tend to use English to communicate with people from other parts of China.