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date: 21 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The Chinese language comprises many regional varieties, or dialects. The most significant is Mandarin or Guanhua官话, from which Putonghua普通话originates. Besides Mandarin, other main dialect groups have been identified. The classification of Chinese dialects and their interrelationships remain uncertain because new data are constantly emerging; in addition, each main dialect group could be further divided into branches or subbranches, and because Chinese dialects have evolved for hundreds or thousands of years, mutual intelligibility is not always possible. Also, within a dialect group, it is common that a single sinogram (Chinese character) may have different literary and colloquial readings. By analyzing these readings, the history of a certain dialect can be partially reconstructed. This chapter focuses on geographical distribution, three models of dialect formation, phonological characteristics, evolution rate and dialect history, literary versus colloquial readings and linguistic strata, lexical and syntactic differences, and unclassified dialects.

Keywords: Chinese dialects, Guanhua, Putonghua, literary versus colloquial readings, linguistic strata

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