Posted on April 20, 2015
The United Nations has two working languages, English and French, and six official languages, Arabic, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese.
In 2010 UNESCO established a language day for each of the six official languages. These language days celebrate multilingualism (speaking more than one language) and cultural diversity. They are supposed to entertain and inform.
Today was chosen to celebrate Chinese to pay tribute to the legendary figure Cangjie, who was supposed to have invented Chinese characters around 5,000 years ago. The legend states that the Yellow Emperor was dissatisfied with the rope-tying method of keeping records and asked Canjie to create characters for writing.
“ The Chinese language” is actually a group of languages that, according to some linguists, are even more different from one another than French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese are! Mandarin is by far the most spoken (and, I assume, the one that the U.N. Celebrates), with around 960 native speakers. Here are a few other Chinese languages:
Wu – around 80 million native speakers
Min – around 70 million native speakers
Yue – around 60 million native speakers
– Yue includes Cantonese
Altogether, with between 7 to 13 different forms of Chinese and a larger number of dialects, about 1.2 billion people (about 16% of the world's population) speak Chinese as their native language.
Chinese speakers are spread out all over Asia and the world, with significant numbers in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, Philippines, and elsewhere.
Chinese is tonal. That means that a word like “ma” can have multiple meanings depending on the tone, the high or low pitch, or the change of pitch. Check out this Introduction to Tones!
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