By Pat Welsh, contributor

This language corner is a new series designed for people who are interested in learning Mandarin.  In China it is called “Putonghua” (The “common language”) of China.  Before the 1950s, the terms “Kuoyü” and “Guanhua” were used to identify this national language.  

Since the early 19th century Chinese has been classified as one of the many Sino-Tibetan languages.  My own experience tells me that that this is really a catch-all grouping.  Tibetan, Burmese and related minority languages are nothing at all like any Chinese dialect.  Not only are there vast vocabulary differences, there are also significant differences in sentence structure and grammar. 

Before I delve further into the language itself, perhaps a little introduction to China’s overall language situation is in order.  In 1970 I began to earn a Master’s degree in Oriental Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas.  My first class was Readings in Chinese Political Writings.  I arrived early to the classroom and greeted my professor Chichou Huang, who was unknown to me.  I greeted him with the word “Zao” thinking that it meant “Good Morning.”  He winced and invited me to take a seat.  I was a little perplexed.  What I did not realize was that in Beijing Mandarin, my version of the word “zao” sounded much like the Beijing version of the F-word.  The tones between the Beijing and Chngqing subdialects were very different.

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