Saturday, October 4, 2008


A tattoo is a permanent marking made by inserting ink into the layers of skin to change the pigment for decorative or other reasons. Tattoos on humans are a type of decorative body modification, while tattoos on animals are most commonly used for identification or branding.

Tattooing has been practiced worldwide. The , the indigenous people of Japan, traditionally wore facial tattoos. Today one can find Berbers of Tamazgha and Maori of New Zealand with facial tattoos. Tattooing was widespread among Polynesian peoples and among certain tribal groups in the Philippines, Borneo, Mentawai Islands, Africa, North America, South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, Japan, Cambodia, New Zealand and Micronesia. Despite some taboos surrounding tattooing, the art continues to be popular in many parts of the world.


The origin of the word "tattoo" cannot be confirmed for certain but a from the Polynesian most likely Tongan, Samoan or Tahitian word ''tatau'', meaning to mark or strike twice is very probable. The first syllable "ta", meaning "hand", is repeated twice as an reference to the repetitive nature of the action, and the final syllable "U" translates to "color". The instrument used to pierce the skin in Polynesian tattooing is called a ''hahau'', the syllable "ha" meaning to "strike or pierce".

The OED gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian tatau. In Marquesan, tatu." The first closest known usage of the word in English was recorded in the diary of in 1769 during his voyage to the Marquesas Islands. The text reads, “...they print signs on people’s body and call this tattaw”, referring to the Polynesian customs. Sailors on the voyage later introduced both the word and reintroduced the concept of tattooing to Europe.]

In Japanese the most common word used for traditional designs is, "Horimono".

The traditional Japanese hand method is called, "Tebori".

The word, "Irezumi," simply means, "insertion of ink," and could mean tattoos using Tebori, or Western style machine, .

Japanese may use the word, "Tattoo," to mean non-Japanese styles of tattooing.

Tattoo enthusiasts may refer to tattoos as, "Tats," "Ink," "Art," or, "Work," and to tattooists as, "Artists". The latter usage is gaining greater support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of both traditional and custom tattoo designs. Copyrighted tattoo designs that are mass-produced and sold to tattoo artists are known as , a notable instance of industrial design. Flash sheets are prominently displayed in many tattoo parlors for the purpose of providing both inspiration and ready-made tattoo images to customers.


Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since Neolithic times. ?tzi the Iceman, dating from the fourth to fifth millennium BC, was found in the ?tz valley in the Alps and had approximately 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on his lower spine, behind his left knee, and on his right ankle. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BC have been discovered, such as the the Mummy of Amunet from Ancient Egypt and the mummies at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau. Tattooing in Japan is thought to go back to the Paleolithic era, some ten thousand years ago. Various other cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes, to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes.

Tattoos are created by inserting colored materials inside the skin's surface. The first tattoos probably were created by an accident. Someone had a small wound, and rubbed it with soot and ashes from a fire. Once the wound had healed, they saw that a mark stayed permanently.


Decorative and spiritual uses

Tattoos have served as , marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts. The symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures, sometimes with unintended consequences. Also, tattoos may show how a person feels about a relative or about an unrelated person.

Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, sentimental/memorial, , and reasons, and to symbolize their belonging to or identification with particular groups, including criminal gangs and prostitutes (e.g. the so-called whore stamp below the waist but also a particular ethnic group or law-abiding subculture. Some Māori still choose to wear intricate on their faces. In Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, the yantra tattoo is used for protection against evil and to increase luck.


People have also been forcibly tattooed for various reasons. The well known example is the identification system for inmates /Jews in during the Holocaust. However, tattoos can be linked with identification in more positive ways. For example, in the period of early contact between the Māori and Europeans, Māori chiefs sometimes drew their moko on documents in place of a signature. Even today, tattoos are sometimes used by forensic pathologists to help them identify burned, putrefied, or mutilated bodies. Tattoo pigment is buried deep enough in the skin that even severe burns will often not destroy a tattoo. Because of this, many members of today's military will have their identification tags tattooed onto their chests . For many centuries seafarers have undergone tattooing for the purpose of enabling identification after drowning. In this way recovered bodies of such drowned persons could be connected with their family members or friends before burial. Therefore tattooists often worked in ports where potential customers were numerous. The traditional custom continues today in the Royal Navy and in many others.

Tattoos are also placed on animals, though very rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification and other marks.
Pet dogs and cats are often tattooed with a serial number via which their owners can be identified. Also, animals are occasionally tattooed to prevent sunburn . Such tattoos are often performed by a veterinarian and in most cases the animals are anesthetized during the process. is used for similar reasons and is often performed without anesthesia, but is different from tattooing as no ink or dye is inserted during the process.


When used as a form of cosmetics, tattooing includes permanent makeup, and hiding or neutralizing skin discolorations. Permanent makeup are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips , eyes , and even s, usually with natural colors as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.


Medical tattoos are used to ensure instruments are properly located for repeated application of radiotherapy and for the areola in some forms of breast reconstruction. Tattooing has also been used to convey medical information about the wearer .


Tattoos have experienced a resurgence in popularity in many parts of the world, particularly in North America, Japan, and Europe. The growth in tattoo culture has seen an influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine arts training. Coupled with advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing, this has led to an improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the presence of tattoos became evident within , inspiring television shows such as 's ''Inked'' and 's ''Miami Ink'' and ''LA Ink''. The decoration of blues singer Janis Joplin with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, is taken as a seminal moment in the popular acceptance of tattoos as art. As seen in the 2007 movie ''Eastern Promises'', body art again features heavily, showcasing the ink-embroidered torso of a Russian mobster. Tattoos are generally considered an important part of the culture of the .

In many traditional cultures tattooing has also enjoyed a resurgence, partially in deference to cultural heritage. Historically, a decline in traditional tribal tattooing in Europe occurred with the . However, some Christian groups, such as the Knights of St. John of Malta, sported tattoos to show their allegiance. A decline often occurred in other cultures following European efforts to convert aboriginal and indigenous people to Western religious and cultural practices that held tattooing to be a "" or "heathen" activity. Within some traditional indigenous cultures, tattooing takes place within the context of a rite of passage between adolescence and adulthood.

A poll conducted online in January 2008 by Harris Interactive estimated that 14% of all adults in the United States have at least one tattoo, just slightly down from 2003, when 16% had a tattoo. The highest incidence of tattoos was found among the gay, lesbian and bisexual population and among Americans ages 25 to 29 years and 30 to 39 years . The youngest age group and the oldest age group are the least likely to have a tattoo . Men are just slightly more likely to have a tattoo than women . Regionally, people living in the West were more likely to have tattoos.

In 2006, a survey which took place in 2004 was published by the ''Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology''. It found that 24% of Americans who were between the ages of 18 and 50 had a tattoo.

Negative associations

In Japan, tattoos are strongly associated with the Yakuza, particularly full body tattoos done the traditional Japanese way . Certain public Japanese bathhouses and gymnasiums often openly ban those bearing large or graphic tattoos in an attempt to prevent Yakuza from entering.

In the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliation.
"Tear tattoos", for example, can be symbolic of murder, with each tear representing a death of a friend. Insofar as this cultural or use of tattoos predates the widespread popularity of tattoos in the general population, tattoos are still associated with criminality. At the same time, members of the have an equally well established and longstanding history of tattooing to indicate military units, battles, kills, etc., an association which remains widespread among older Americans. Tattooing is also common in the British Armed Forces.

Tattoos can have additional negative associations for women. Although derogatory slang phrases such as "tramp stamp" are sometimes used to describe a , it remains one of the most popular spots for a tattoo for females. The prevalence of women in the tattoo industry itself, along with larger numbers of women bearing tattoos, has changed negative perceptions.

A study of "at-risk" adolescent girls showed a positive correlation between body-modification and negative feelings towards the body and self-esteem; however, it also illustrated a strong motive of body-modification as the search for "self and attempts to attain mastery and control over the body in an age of increasing alienation."

In some Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, people with tattoos can be arrested for gang affiliation.


Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skin's dermis, the layer of connective tissue underlying the . After initial injection, pigment is dispersed throughout a homogenized damaged layer down through the epidermis and upper dermis, in both of which the presence of foreign material activates the immune system's phagocytes to engulf the pigment particles. As healing proceeds, the damaged epidermis flakes away while deeper in the skin granulation tissue forms, which is later converted to connective tissue by collagen growth. This mends the upper dermis, where pigment remains trapped within fibroblasts, ultimately concentrating in a layer just below the dermis/epidermis boundary. Its presence there is stable, but in the long term the pigment tends to migrate deeper into the dermis, accounting for the degraded detail of old tattoos.


Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents; some cultures continue this practice, which may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by hand-tapping the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones with clay formed disk or, in modern times, needles. Traditional Japanese tattoos are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. This method is known as "Tebori".

The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second. This modern procedure is ordinarily sanitary. The needles are single-use needles that come packaged individually. The tattoo artist must wash not only his or her hands, but they must also wash the area that will be tattooed. Gloves must be worn at all times and the wound must be wiped frequently with a wet disposable towel of some kind.

Prices for this service vary widely globally and locally, depending on the complexity of the tattoo, the skill and expertise of the artist, the attitude of the customer, the costs of running a business, the economics of supply and demand, etc. The time it takes to get a tattoo is in proportion with its size and complexity. A small one of simple design might take fifteen minutes, whereas an elaborate sleeve tattoo or back piece requires multiple sessions of several hours each.

The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of the electric engraving device invented by Thomas Edison. Modern tattoo machines use coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil. The first twin coil machine, the predecessor of the modern configuration, was invented by another Englishman, Alfred Charles South of London, in 1899.

"Stick and poke"

A technique often used for home-made tattoos is "stick and poke". The tip of a sewing needle is wrapped in ink-soaked thread, leaving only the point protruding. Keeping this simple instrument saturated with ink, the skin is pricked over and over, creating a design. The purpose of the thread is to keep the point of the needle coated in ink, increasing the quantity of ink that penetrates the skin. Inks can be improvised from a number of sources such as coal, ashes or shoe polish, but Higgins "Black Magic" waterproof ink is the brand most commonly cited by collectors of so-called "India ink" or "stick and poke" tattoos in the United States. Sometimes called "prison tattoos", these tattoos are popular with gutter punks and others associated with the modern hobo subculture, who frequently tattoo visible parts of their bodies, including their hands and faces.

"Natural" tattoos

According to George Orwell, could develop characteristic tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds. This can also occur with substances like gunpowder. Similarly, a traumatic tattoo occurs when a substance such as asphalt is rubbed into a wound as the result of some kind of accident or trauma. These are particularly difficult to remove as they tend to be spread across several different layers of skin, and scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on the location. In addition, tattooing of the gingiva from implantation of amalgam particles during dental filling placement and removal is possible and not uncommon. A common example of such accidental tattoos is the result of a deliberate or accidental stabbing with a pencil or pen, leaving graphite or ink beneath the skin.

See Scarification

Dyes and pigments

Early tattoo inks were obtained directly from nature and were extremely limited in pigment variety. Today, an almost unlimited number of colors and shades of tattoo ink are mass-produced and sold to parlors worldwide. Tattoo artists commonly mix these inks to create their own, unique pigments.

A wide range of dyes and pigments can be used in tattoos, from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates, dyes made from ash, and other mixtures. The current trend for tattoo pigment favors Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene as seen by the widespread popularity of Intenze, Millennium and other ABS pigmented brands.

Iron oxide pigments are used in greater extent in . Many pigments were found to be used in a survey of professional tattooists. Recently, a blacklight-reactive tattoo ink using microcapsules has surfaced. The technical name is BIOMETRIX System-1000, and is marketed under the name "Chameleon Tattoo Ink". This same ink can also be found as "The Original Blacklight Inks by NEWWEST Technologies".

Studio hygiene

The properly equipped tattoo studio will use containers for objects that have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids, sharps containers for old s, and an autoclave for sterilizing tools. Certain jurisdictions also require studios by law to have a sink in the work area supplied with both hot and cold water.

Proper hygiene requires a body modification artist to wash his or her hands before starting to prepare a client for the stencil, between clients, and at any other time where cross contamination can occur. The use of single use disposable gloves is also mandatory. In some states and countries it is illegal to tattoo a even with parental consent, and it is usually not allowed to tattoo impaired persons, people with contraindicated skin conditions, those who are pregnant or nursing, those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Before the tattooing begins the client is asked to approve the final position of the applied stencil. After approval is given the artist will open new, sterile needle packages in front of the client, and always use new, sterile or sterile disposable instruments and supplies, and fresh ink for each session . Also, all areas which may be touched with contaminated gloves will be wrapped in clear plastic to prevent cross-contamination. Equipment that cannot be autoclaved will be wiped with an approved disinfectant.

Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, generally helps artists to be aware of the latest trends. However, many of the most notable tattooists do not belong to any association. While specific requirements to become a tattooist vary between jurisdictions, many mandate only formal training in bloodborne pathogens, and cross contamination. The local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions.

For example, according to the health department in Oregon and Hawaii, tattoo artists in these states are required to take and pass a test ascertaining their knowledge of health and safety precautions, as well as the current state regulations. Performing a tattoo in Oregon state without a proper and current license or in an unlicensed facility is considered a felony offense. Tattooing was legalized in New York City, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma between 2002 and 2006.


Tattoo artists, and people with tattoos, vary widely in their preferred methods of caring for new tattoos. Some artists recommend keeping a new tattoo wrapped for the first twenty-four hours, while others suggest removing temporary bandaging after two hours or less. Many tattooists advise against allowing too much contact with hot tub or pool water, or soaking in a tub for the first two weeks. This is to prevent the tattoo ink from washing out or fading due to over-hydration and avoid infection from exposure to bacteria and chlorine. In contrast, other artists suggest that a new tattoo be bathed in very hot water early and often.

General consensus for care advises against removing the scab that forms on a new tattoo, and avoiding exposing one's tattoo to the sun for extended periods; both of these can contribute to fading of the image. Furthermore, it is agreed that a new tattoo needs to be kept clean. Various products may be recommended for application to the skin, ranging from those intended for the treatment of cuts, burns and scrapes, to cocoa butter, salves, lanolin, A&D or Aquaphor. Oil based ointments are almost always recommended to be used in very thin layers due to their inability to evaporate and therefore over-hydrate the already perforated skin. In recent years, specific commercial products have been developed for tattoo aftercare. Although opinions about these products vary, there is near total agreement that either alone or in addition to some other product, soap and warm water work well to keep a tattoo clean and free from infection.
Ultimately, the amount of ink that remains in the skin throughout the healing process determines, in large part, how robust the final tattoo will look. If a tattoo becomes infected or if the scab falls off too soon , then the ink will not be properly fixed in the skin and the final image will be negatively affected.

Tattoo removal

While tattoos are considered permanent, it is possible to remove them. Complete removal, however, may not be possible , and the expense and pain of removing them typically will be greater than the expense and pain of applying them. Some jurisdictions will pay for the voluntary removal of . Pre-laser tattoo removal methods include dermabrasion, salabrasion , cryosurgery, and excision which is sometimes still used along with skin grafts for larger tattoos.

Tattoo removal is most commonly performed using lasers that react with the ink in the tattoo, and break it down. The broken-down ink is then absorbed by the body, mimicking the natural fading that time or sun exposure would create. All Tattoo pigments have specific light absorbance spectrums. A tattoo laser must be capable of emitting adequate energy within the given absorbance spectrum of the pigment in order to provide an effective treatment. Certain tattoo pigments, such as yellows, greens and fluorescent inks are more challenging to treat than the darker blacks and blues. These pigments are more challenging to treat because they have absorbance spectrums that fall outside or on the edge of the emission spectrums available in the respective tattoo removal laser.

Laser tattoo removal often requires many repeated visits to remove even a small tattoo, and may result in permanent scarring. The newer Q-switched lasers are said by the National Institute of Health to result in scarring only rarely, however, and are usually used only after a topical anesthetic has been applied. The NIH recognizes five types of tattoo; amateur, professional, cosmetic, medical, and traumatic . Areas with thin skin will be more likely to scar than thicker-skinned areas. There are several types of lasers, and each is effective at removing a different range of the . These lasers effectively remove black, blue, purple and red tattoo pigment. New lasers like the Versapulse & Medlite laser treat these colors & yellow and green ink pigment, typically the hardest colors to remove. Black is the easiest color to remove. Both the Revlite and Medlite C6 lasers utilize specialized dye hand-pieces that transform the wavelength of energy emitted by the laser. This expansion of wavelengths gives the laser an enhanced ability to treat a much broader range of tattoo pigments than than standard Q-switched lasers.

Also worth considering is the fact that some of the pigments used are known to break down into toxic chemicals in the body when attacked by light. This is especially a concern if these tattoos are exposed to or laser removal; the resulting degradation products end up migrating to the kidneys and liver. Laser removal of traumatic tattoos may similarly be complicated depending on the substance of the pigmenting material. In one reported instance, the use of a laser resulted in the ignition of embedded particles of firework debris.

Some wearers opt to cover an unwanted tattoo with a new tattoo. This is commonly known as a cover-up. An artfully done cover-up may render the old tattoo completely invisible, though this will depend largely on the size, style, colors and techniques used on the old tattoo. Some shops and artists use laser removal machines to break down and lighten undesired tattoos to make coverage with a new tattoo easier. Since tattoo ink is translucent, covering up a previous tattoo necessitates darker tones in the new tattoo to effectively hide the older, unwanted piece.

Health risks

Because it requires breaking the skin barrier, tattooing may carry health risks, including infection and allergic reactions. In the United States, for example, the Red Cross prohibits a person who has received a tattoo from for 12 months , unless the procedure was done in a state-regulated and licensed studio, using sterile technique.. Not all states have a licensing program, meaning that people who receive tattoos in those states are subject to the 12-month deferral regardless of the hygienic standards of the studio. Similarly, the UK does not provide certification for tattooists, and so there is a six month waiting period without exception.

Modern western tattooers reduce such risks by following universal precautions, working with single-use items, and sterilizing their equipment after each use. Many jurisdictions require that tattooists have training, such as is provided through the Red Cross and OSHA.


Since tattoo instruments come in contact with blood and bodily fluids, diseases may be transmitted if the instruments are used on more than one person without being sterilized. However, infection from tattooing in clean and modern tattoo studios employing single-use needles is rare. In amateur tattoos, such as those applied in prisons, however, there is an elevated risk of infection. To address this problem, a program was introduced in Canada as of the summer of 2005 that provides legal tattooing in prisons, both to reduce health risks and to provide inmates with a marketable skill. Inmates were to be trained to staff and operate the tattoo parlors once six of them opened successfully.

Infections that could be transmitted via the use of unsterilized tattoo equipment or contaminated ink include surface infections of the skin, herpes simplex virus, tetanus, staph, fungal infections, some forms of hepatitis, tuberculosis and HIV. Even if the needles are sterilized or never have been used, it is important to understand that in some cases the equipment that holds the needles cannot be sterilized reliably due to its design. People with tattoos are nine times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C, according to a study by Robert Haley, MD, chief of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Hepatitis C is spread by infected blood and infected needles, which is the virus' connection with tattooing.

No person in the United States is reported to have contracted HIV via a commercially-applied tattooing process. Washington state's OSHA studies have suggested that since the needles used in tattooing are not hollow, in the case of a needle stick injury the amount of fluids transmitted may be small enough that HIV would be difficult to transmit. Tetanus risk is reduced by having an up-to-date tetanus booster prior to being tattooed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that no data exist in the United States indicating that persons with exposures to tattooing alone are at increased risk for infection. In 2006, the CDC reported 3 clusters with 44 cases of methicillin-resistant traced to unlicensed tattooists According to the Centers for Disease Control, some studies have found an association between tattooing and HCV infection. The CDC is currently conducting a large study to evaluate tattooing as a potential risk.

Allergic reactions

Perhaps due to the mechanism whereby the skin's immune system encapsulates pigment particles in , tattoo inks have been described as "remarkably nonreactive histologically".

reactions to tattoo pigments are uncommon except for certain brands of red and green. People who are sensitive or allergic to certain metals may react to pigments in the skin with swelling and/or itching, and/or oozing of clear fluid called serum. Such reactions are quite rare, however, and some artists will recommend performing a test patch.

For those who are allergic to latex, many artists are using non-latex or will use non-latex gloves if asked.

There is also a small risk of anaphylactic shock in those who are susceptible, but the chance of a health risk is small.

Due to the fact that laser removal of tattoo ink causes a release of ink into the bloodstream the risk of anaphylactic shock is also present during removal.

Tattoo inks

Modern tattooing inks are carbon based pigments that have uses outside of commercial tattoo applications. Although the United States Food and Drug Administration technically requires premarket approval of pigments it has not actually approved the use of any ink or pigments for tattooing . As of 2004 the FDA does perform studies to determine if the contents are possibly dangerous, and follow up with legal action if they find them to have disallowed contents, including traces of heavy metals or other carcinogenic materials . The first known study to characterize the composition of these pigments was started in 2005 at Northern Arizona University . The FDA expects local authorities to legislate and test tattoo pigments and inks made for the use of permanent cosmetics. In California, the state prohibits certain ingredients and pursues companies who fail to notify the consumer of the contents of tattoo pigments. Recently, the state of California sued nine pigment and ink manufacturers, requiring them to more adequately label their products.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene ground down to an average diameter of slightly less than 1 micrometer is used as the colorant in the brighter tattoo pigments. The tattoo pigments that use ABS result in very vivid tattoos. Many popular brands of tattoo pigment contain ABS as a colorant. ABS colorants produce extremely vivid tattoos that are less likely to fade or blur than the traditional pigments, but ABS tattoo pigment is also harder to remove because it is so much less reactive to lasers.

There has been concern expressed about the interaction between magnetic resonance imaging procedures and tattoo pigments, some of which contain trace metals. Allegedly, the magnetic fields produced by MRI machines could interact with these metal particles, potentially causing burns or distortions in the image. The television show ''MythBusters'' tested the theory, and found no interaction between tattoo inks and MRI.

Professional tattoists rely primarily on the same pigment base found in cosmetics. Amateurs will often use drawing inks such as low grade , but these inks often contain impurities and toxins which can lead to illness or infection. Although "greywork" is often done with a better quality pelikan #17 or Talens drawing ink mixed with a darker lining ink to optain a softer grey.

Temporary tattoos

Temporary tattoos are popular with models and children as they involve no permanent alteration of the skin but produce a similar appearance that can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The most common style is a type of body sticker similar to a decal, which is typically transferred to the skin using water. Although the design is waterproof, it can be removed easily with oil-based creams. Originally inserted as a prize in packages, they consisted of a poor quality ink transfer that would easily come off with water or rubbing. Today's vegetable dye temporaries can look extremely realistic and adhere up to 3 weeks due to a layer of glue similar to that found on an adhesive bandage.

Henna tattoos, also known as Mehndi, and silver nitrate stains that appear when exposed to ultraviolet light, can take up to two weeks to fade from the skin. Temporary airbrush tattoos are applied by covering the skin with a stencil and spraying the skin with ink. In the past, this form of tattoo only lasted about a week. With the newest inks, tattoos can reasonably last for up to two weeks.


* Fisher, Jill A. 2002. Tattooing the Body, Marking Culture. ''Body & Society'' 8 : 91-107.
* Marked for Life: Jews and Tattoos .

* Buckland, A. W.: ?On Tattooing“, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1887/12, p. 318-328.
* Caplan, Jane ed.: Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, Princeton 2000.
* DeMello, Margo: Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community, California – Duke University Press 2000.
* Gell, Alfred: Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia, Oxford – Clarendon Press 1993.
* Gilbert, Stephen G.: Tattoo History. A Source Book, New York – Juno Books 2001.
* Gustafson, Mark: ?Inscripta in fronte - Penal Tattooing in Late Antiquity“, in Classical Antiquity, April 1997, Vol. 16/No. 1, p. 79-105.
* Hambly, Wilfrid Dyson: The History of Tattooing and Its Significance: With Some Account of Other Forms of Corporal Marking, London - H. F.& G. Witherby 1925 .
* Jelski, Andrzej: Tatua?, Warszawa – Wydawnictwo Alfa 1993 .
* Joest, Wilhelm: T?towiren, Narbenzeichnen und K?rperbemalen: Ein Beitrage zur vergleichenden Ethnologie, Leipzig/Berlin 1887 .
* Jones, C. P.: ?Stigma: Tattooing and Branding in Graeco-Roman Antiquity“, in Journal of Roman Studies, 77/1987, s. 139-155.
* Keimer, Ludwig: Remarques sur le Tatouage dans l?Egypte ancienne, Le Caire – Imprimerie de L?Institut Francais D?Archéologie orientale 1948 .
* Lombroso, Cesare: ?The Savage Origin of Tattooing“, in Popular Science Monthly, Vol. IV., 1896.
* Rubin, Arnold ed.: Marks of Civilization. Artistic Transformations of the Human Body, Los Angeles – UCLA Museum of Cultural History 1988.
* Rychlík, Martin: Tetování, skarifikace a jiné zdobení těla, Prague - NLN 2005 .
* Sanders, Clinton R.: Customizing the Body. The Art and Culture of Tattooing, Philadelphia – Temple University Press 1989.
* Sinclair, A.T.: ?Tattooing of the North American Indians“, in American Anthropologist 1909/11, No. 3, p. 362-400.

Popular and artistic

*''Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo'' Terisa Green, ISBN 0-451-21514-1
*''The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo'' Terisa Green, ISBN 0-7432-2329-2
*''Total Tattoo Book'' Amy Krakow, ISBN 0-446-67001-4


* Haley R.W. and Fischer R.P., ''Commercial tattooing as a potential source of hepatitis C infection'', Medicine, March 2000;80:134-151
* ''MR Safety and the American College of Radiology'' Shellock, F.G. and Crues, J.V.
* ''Tattoo-Induced Skin Burn During MR Imaging'' Wagle, W.A. and Smith, M.
*Articles on, CA lawsuit
*Article listing inks which may react to MRI
*American Chemical Society study
*Washington state OSHA information about HIV in body fluids
*NIH report on Q-switch and ruby laser removal methods
*Red Cross Donation Guidelines for recent tattoos, 2006

Other references

* May 4, 2004,
* May 9, 2006,
* July 29, 2008,

Taiwanese kana

Taiwanese kana is a katakana-based writing system once used to write , when Taiwan was by Japan. It functioned as a phonetic guide to hanzi, much like furigana in or in . There were similar systems for other languages in Taiwan as well, including and Formosan languages.

The system was imposed by Japan at the time, and used in a few dictionaries, as well as textbooks. The Taiwanese-Japanese Dictionary , published in 1931-1932, is an example. It uses various signs and diacritics to denote sounds that do not exist in Japanese. The system is chiefly based on the Amoy dialect of Min Nan.

Through the system, the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan aimed to help Taiwanese people learn the Japanese language, as well as help Japanese people learn the Taiwanese language. Linguistically speaking, however, the syllabary system was cumbersome for a language that has phonology far more complicated than Japanese. After Japanese administration ended, the system soon became obsolete. Now, only a few scholars, such as the ones who study aforementioned dictionary, learn Taiwanese kana.

Currently, Mojikyo is the only piece of / that fully supports the system. Unicode lacks some overlined kanas and tone signs.

The system has some varieties throughout the times. This article is mainly about the last edition, used roughly from 1931.

Basic rules

Mapped sounds are mostly similar to katakana in Japanese. Notable differences include:
* All the syllables are written with 2 or 3 kana. When a vowel is not followed by or a consonant, kana for the vowel is repeated.
* When a syllable contains 3 vowels, or 2 vowels followed by a consonant, a vowel in middle is written with a small vowel kana.
* The sound /?/ is spelt オ, while /o/ is ヲ. Therefore, POJ ''o·'' is always オ, while ''o'' may be spelt オ or ヲ, depending on the pronunciation. Unlike in Japanese, ヲ is never /wo/.
* Cosonant is written with a vowel "o", when it precedes ヲ.
* Final ''n/m/ng'' are ヌ/ム/ン respectively. ヌ/ム can also be used for ''nu/mu'' in initials.
* Syllabic ''ng'' is spelt as ン. The syllable ''"ng"'' is ン, not ウン or ンン.
* Syllabic ''m'' is spelt as ム. The syllable ''"m"'' is ム, not ウム or ムム.
* Initial ''ng'' is spelt as ''g'' with a nasal tone sign.
* Final consonants ''k/t/p'' are small /ツ/ respectively, similar to the kana used in .
* Final consonant ''h'' is written as a small kana after the preceding vowel.
* are written as kana with a dot under it.
* There are five overlined kana to deal with ''t'' and ''ch''. sounds similar to ''ティ'' in modern Japanese katakana. is similar to ''トゥ'', to ''ツァ'', to ''ツェ'', and to ''ツォ''.

* フ is not /?u/ as in Japanese, but /hu/.
* ヤ, ユ, ヨ, ワ, ヰ, or ヱ are not used.
* There are two optional vowel kana for Cho??-chiu dialect. for /?/, for /?/.

Tone signs

There are different signs for normal vowels and .

* When a text is , those signs are written on the right side of letters. Taiwanese kana is known to be written vertically only, so it is unknown how to put the signs if it were written horizontally.
* Initial consonants ''m/n/ng'' are always written with nasal vowel tone signs.

Comparison chart with

* Some combinations don't exist in reality.
* You always have to put tone signs.
*1: ''g'' always takes normal vowel tone signs, ''ng'' always takes nasal vowel tone signs.
*2: Some spellings are not clear. 仔 was sometimes written as ア rather than アア. 的 was sometimes written as エ rather than エエ.
*3: Nasal vowels are spelt with オ, such as オオ, ポオ, イオ, ピオ, and so on.


:シェヌ シイ コン、ハ シェン ァム ァム チ?ア。

:Pe?h-ōe-jī: Sian-si? kóng, ha?k-seng tiām-tiām thia?.
:: 先生講、學生恬恬聽。
:Translation: A teacher is speaking. Students are quietly listening.

Suzhou dialect

Suzhou dialect is a dialect of , one of the subdivisions of Chinese spoken language. It is spoken in the city of Suzhou, in Jiangsu province of China and is considered the standard form of the Wu dialects.

It is typical of the Wu dialects, being rich in vowels and conservative in having many initials. And it has many similarities with the Shanghai dialect, being comprehensible between the speakers.


Considered one of the most flowing and elegant languages of China, Suzhou dialect is mutually intelligible with dialects spoken in neighbouring Shanghai, and the dialects spoken its satellite cities of Kunshan, Changshu, Zhangjiagang etc. It has noticeable differences with Wuxi dialect, although this does not render the two dialects unintelligible to each other. It is also partially intelligible with dialects spoken in Hangzhou and Ningbo. Neither native Mandarin nor Cantonese speakers understand Suzhou dialect.

Due to the city's population flow patterns, many Suzhou-area residents native to the city do not speak Suzhou dialect, but can usually understand it, although the level of fluency varies. Standard Mandarin, therefore, is spoken throughout the city.



Suzhou dialect has a set of voiced initials and exhibits unvoiced unaspirated and aspirated stops, there are unvoiced and voiced fricatives sets. Moreover, palatized initials also feature.


Suzhou has one tripthong rime, . Unlike Shanghai, it has no nasalised rimes, although it does have a set of rimes which end in a nasal stop. Middle Chinese entering tone characters which end in end as a glottal stop in Suzhou. Middle Chinese nasal endings have merged with rimes which end with in Suzhou. Middle Chinese ending rimes have split into two types in Suzhou. Those which have a high fronted main vowel merge with ending rimes. Those which possess a palatising medial and back main vowel, retain the ending.


In Suzhou, part of the Middle Chinese Shang tone characters has merged with the modern yin qu tone.


Surname stroke order

The Surname Stroke Order arose as an impartial method of categorization in the order on which names appear in official documentation or in ceremonial procedure without any line of hierarchy. It is similar to an alphabetical order of names, but in Chinese this is impractical as the Chinese written language lacks an alphabetical structure, and the general populace does not rely on the pinyin Romanization, from which some order schemes have developed. In official setting, the number of strokes in a person's determines where a person should be placed and the list order. Surnames "" and "" for example, are simple surnames that usually appear on the front of lists, while surnames such as "" and "" appear on the bottom of lists.

Stroke order

Stroke order refers to the correct order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument. Chinese characters are used in various forms in the modern , , and in . They are known as ''hanzi'' in , ''kanji'' in , and ''hanja'' in languages. While these languages all utilize a common set of characters, the rules governing stroke order may differ in each language.

The number of strokes per character for most characters is between one and thirty, but the number of strokes in some obscure characters can reach as many as seventy. As such, official stroke order was devised to help speed, fluidity, and accuracy in composition. In the twentieth century, took place in mainland China, greatly reducing the number of strokes in some characters, and a similar but more moderate simplification also took place in Japan. The basic rules of stroke order within each language, however, remained the same.


The rules for stroke order evolved to facilitate , to maximize ease of writing and reading, to aid in producing uniform characters, and – since a person who has learned the rules can infer the stroke order of most characters – to ease the process of learning to write. They were also influenced by the highly cursive Grass Script style of .

Because writing characters in the normalised stroke order can greatly facilitate learning and memorization, children are required to learn and use correct stroke order in school; adults, however, may ignore or forget the normalised stroke order for certain characters, or develop idiosyncratic ways of writing. While this is rarely a problem in day-to-day writing, in calligraphy, stroke order is vital; incorrectly ordered or written strokes can produce a visually unappealing or, occasionally, incorrect character, particularly in styles such as Grass Script, in which individual strokes are often combined in fluid motions without lifting the brush from the paper. Also, the accuracy of handwriting recognition software may be reduced when entering strokes out of order.

The Eight Principles of Yong uses the single character 永, meaning "eternity", to teach the eight most basic strokes.

Stroke order per style

Ancient China

In ancient China, the carved on ox scapula and tortoise plastrons showed no indication of stroke order. The characters show huge variations from piece to piece, sometimes even within one piece. During the divination ceremony, after the cracks were made, the characters were written with a brush on the shell or bone . Although the brush-written stroke order is not discernible after carving, there exists some evidence that it was not entirely idiosyncratic: a few of the characters, often marginal administrative notations recording the provenance of the shells or bones, were not later recarved, and the stroke order of these characters tends to resemble traditional and modern stroke order . For those characters which were later engraved into the hard surface using a knife, perhaps by a separate individual, there is evidence that in at least some cases all the strokes running one way were carved, then the piece was turned, and strokes running another way were then carved .

With the development of '''' and '''' we continue to see "cursive" signs which also do not indicate a clear stroke order. Moreover, it is evident that each archaic kingdom of current China had its own set of characters.

Imperial China

In Imperial China, the graphs on old steles — some dating from 200 BCE, and in Xiaozhuan style — start to reveal tiny indications of the stroke order of the time.

About 220 BCE, the emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first to conquer all China, imposed several reforms, among them Li Si's character uniformisation, which created a set of 3300 standardized ''Xiǎozhuàn'' characters. However, stroke order could still not yet be ascertained from the steles, and no paper from that time is extant.

The true starting point of stroke order is the which is more regularized, and in some ways similar to modern text. In theory, by looking the Lìshū style steles' graphs and the placement of each stroke, we can see hierarchical priority between the strokes, which indicates the stroke order used by the calligrapher or stele sculptors.

— still in use today — is more regularized, allowing clearly to guess the stroke order used to write on the steles. It can be seen that the stroke order 1000 years ago was similar as that at the end of Imperial China. By example, the stroke order of 广 is clear in the Kangxi dictionary of 1716; but in a modern book, the official stroke order will not appear clearly. The Kangxi and current shapes have tiny differences, while current stroke order is still the same, according to old style.

Cursive styles and hand-written styles

Cursive styles such as '''' and '''' show stroke order very clearly, as each move made by the writing tool is visible. However, calligraphic stroke order does not always follow standard stroke order.

Native writers, moreover, create their own stroke order rules for their own use, with some tiny differences with the official stroke order taught in school.

Stroke order per polity

While the majority of characters are written in exactly the same stroke order everywhere, the "official" stroke order of Chinese characters varies from country to country because calligraphic styles evolved differently in Imperial China, Modern and Communist China, Japan, and Korea.

* Traditional stroke order: Imperial China, in China from 1911 to 1949, modern Taiwan and Hong Kong. This system of stroke order follows the rules of traditional Chinese and Chinese Grass Style calligraphy.
* Japanese stroke order: Modern Japan and Korea. This stroke order follows the traditions of Japanese calligraphy and Japanese Grass Style. The occupation of Korea by Japan , and their close intellectual and artistic exchanges meant that they developed similar calligraphies and now follow the same stroke order. Some Japanese kanji were reformed in 1946.
* Modern stroke order: Modern Mainland China . The Chinese government in 1956, and also reformed the stroke order of some characters. A notable "innovation" of this stroke order reform was the conception of a "horizontal writing" stroke order, to facilitate horizontal writing.

Basic rules

1. Write from left to right, and from top to bottom

As a general rule, characters are written from left to right, and from top to bottom. For example, among the first characters usually learned is the number one, which is written with a single horizontal line: 一. This character has one stroke which is written from left to right.

The character for "two" has two strokes: 二. In this case, both are written from left to right, but the top stroke is written first. The character for "three" has three strokes: 三. Each stroke is written from left to right, starting with the uppermost stroke:

This rule applies also to more complex characters. For example, 校 can be divided into two. The entire left side is written before the right side . There are some exceptions to this rule, mainly occurring when the right side of a character has a lower enclosure , for example 誕 and 健. In this case, the left side is written first, followed by the right side, and finally the lower enclosure.

When there are upper and lower components, the upper components are written first, then the lower components, as in 品 and 襲.

2. Horizontal before vertical

When strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes: the character for "ten," 十, has two strokes. The horizontal stroke 一 is written first, followed by the vertical stroke 十.

3. Cutting strokes last

Vertical strokes that "cut" through a character are written after the horizontal strokes they cut through, as in 車 and 中.

Horizontal strokes that cut through a character are written last, as in 母 and 海.

4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right

Right-to-left diagonals are written before left-to-right diagonals : 文.

5. Centre verticals before outside "wings"

Vertical centre strokes are written before vertical or diagonal outside strokes; left outside strokes are written before right outside strokes: 小 and 水.

6. Outside before inside

Outside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokes; bottom strokes are written last: 日 and 口. This applies also to characters that have no bottom stroke, such as 同 and 月.

7. Left vertical before enclosing

Left vertical strokes are written before enclosing strokes. In the following two examples, the leftmost vertical stroke is written first, followed by the uppermost and rightmost lines : 日 and 口.

8. Bottom enclosing strokes last

Bottom enclosing strokes are always written last: 道, 週, 画.

9. Dots and minor strokes last

Minor strokes are usually written last, as the small "dot" in the following: 玉.

Traditional Chinese stroke order

* by the Taiwan Ministry of Education. Book available online . ISBN 957-00-7082-X

Japanese stroke order

* Hadamitzky, Wolfgang & Mark Spahn. ''A Handbook of the Japanese Writing System''. Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 0-8048-2077-5.
* Henshall, Kenneth G. ''A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters''. Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 0-8048-2038-4.
* O'Neill, P.G. ''Essential Kanji: 2,000 Basic Japanese Characters Systematically Arranged for Learning and Reference''. Weatherhill. ISBN 0-8348-0222-8.
* Pye, Michael ''The Study of Kanji: A Handbook of Japanese Characters''. Hokuseido Press. ISBN 0-8934-6232-2.
** Includes a translation of the Japanese Ministry of Education rules on Kanji stroke order.

Archaic characters

* Keightley, David N. . Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-520-02969-0

Traditional Chinese stroke order

* with animated stroke order, by the Ministry of Education, R.O.C. .

Modern Chinese stroke order

* - Free Online Chinese character stroke order animations for over 5000 frequently used Chinese characters with pronunciations, example words, writing worksheet generation and character learning flashcards.
* , from the California State University, Long Beach
* - unknown number of animations.
* Online query of stroke order animations.
* Complete set of Online Stroke Order Animation, together with Dictionary from CEDICT and HANDEDICT

Japanese Kanji and Korean Hanja stroke order

* , from the Engineering Department of New Mexico Tech, Socorro.
*, 3205 Kanji with stroke order.
*, a free interactive online tool for learning Japanese kanji, featuring 1235 hand-written stroke order animations.
*, 1,513 Japanese kanji stroke order diagrams and animations, freely downloadable under license.
*, ????
*, 6,373 Japanese kanji stroke order diagrams presented as a TrueType font.

Standard Mandarin

Standard Mandarin, also known as Standard Spoken Chinese, is the official modern Chinese spoken language used in and , and is one of the four official languages of .

The phonology of Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect of the , a large and diverse group of Chinese dialects spoken across northern and southwestern China. The vocabulary is largely drawn from this group of dialects. The grammar is standardized to the body of modern literary works written in Vernacular Chinese, which in practice follows the same tradition of the Mandarin dialects with some notable exceptions. As a result, Standard Mandarin itself is usually just called "Mandarin" in non-academic, everyday usage. However, use "Mandarin" to refer to the entire language. This convention will be adopted by the rest of this article.

Native names

Standard Mandarin is officially known
* in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau as ''Putonghua'' or as ''Hanyu'' .
* in Taiwan as ''Guoyu'', and unofficially in Hong Kong as ''Kwok Yu''
* in Malaysia and Singapore as ''Huayu'' .
In other parts of the world, the three names are used interchangeably to varying degrees.

The name ''Guoyu'' received official recognition in 1909, when the Qing Dynasty determined Standard Mandarin as the "national language". The name ''Putonghua'' also has a long, albeit unofficial, pedigree. It was used as early as 1906 in writings by Zhu Wenxiong to differentiate a modern, standard language from classical Chinese and Chinese dialects.

For some linguists of the early 20th century, the ''Putonghua'', or "common tongue", was conceptually different from the ''Guoyu'', or "national language". The former was a national prestige dialect or language, while the latter was the ''legal'' standard. Based on common understandings of the time, the two were, in fact, different. ''Guoyu'' was understood as formal vernacular Chinese, which is close to classical Chinese. By contrast, ''Putonghua'' was called the "the common speech of the modern man", which is the spoken language adopted as a national lingua franca by conventional usage. The use of the term ''Putonghua'' by left-leaning intellectuals such as Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun influenced the People's Republic of China government to adopt that term to describe standard Mandarin in 1956. Prior to this, the government used both terms interchangeably. The use of the term Hanyu or language of the Han, reflects Soviet influence on Chinese ethnic policy in which China was conceived of as a single nation with multiple nationalities, and Hanyu being the language of the majority Han.

''Huayu'', or "language of the ", originally simply meant "Chinese language", and was used in overseas communities to contrast Chinese dialects against foreign languages. Over time, the desire to standardise the variety of Chinese spoken in these communities led to the adoption of the name "Huayu" to refer to standard Mandarin. This name also avoids choosing a side between the alternative names of ''Putonghua'' and ''Guoyu'', which came to have political significance after their usages diverged along political lines between the and the . It also incorporates the notion that Mandarin is usually not the national or common language of the areas in which overseas Chinese live.


Chinese languages have always had dialects; hence prestige dialects have always existed, and linguae francae have always been needed. Confucius, for example, used ''yǎyán'' , or "elegant speech", rather than colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty also referred to ''tōngyǔ'' , or "common language". Rime books, which were written since the Southern and Northern Dynasties, may also have reflected one or more systems of standard pronunciation during those times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite, pronunciations may have been very different, as the unifying factor of all Chinese dialects, Classical Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.

The Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty began to use the term ''guānhuà'' , or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the . The term "Mandarin" comes directly from the Portuguese. The word ''mandarim'' was first used to name the Chinese bureaucratic officials , because the Portuguese, under the misapprehension that the Sanskrit word that was used throughout Asia to denote "an official" had some connection with the Portuguese word ''mandar'' , and having observed that these officials all "issued orders", chose to call them ''mandarins''. From this, the Portuguese immediately started calling the special language that these officials spoke amongst themselves "the language of the mandarins", "the mandarin language" or, simply, "Mandarin". The fact that Guanhua was, to a certain extent, an artificial language, based upon a set of conventions , is precisely what makes it such an appropriate term for Modern Standard Chinese .

It seems that during the early part of this period, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various dialects in the capital, Beijing. In the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard. But these attempts had little success since as late as the 19th century the emperor had difficulty understanding some of his own ministers in court, who did not always try to follow any standard pronunciation. Although by some account, as late as the early 20th century, the position of Nanjing Mandarin was considered to be higher than that of Beijing by some and the Chinese Postal Map Romanization standards set in 1906 included spellings with elements of Nanjing pronunciation. Nevertheless, by 1909, the dying Qing Dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as ''guóyǔ'' , or the "national language".

After the Republic of China was established in 1912, there was more success in promoting a common national language. A Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation was convened with delegates from the entire country. At first there was an attempt to introduce a standard pronunciation with elements from regional dialects. But this was deemed too difficult to promote, and in 1924 this attempt was abandoned and the Beijing dialect became the major source of standard national pronunciation, due to the status of that dialect as a prestigious dialect since the Qing Dynasty. Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.

The People's Republic of China, established in 1949, continued the effort. In 1955, the name ''guóyǔ'' was replaced by ''pǔtōnghuà'' , or "common speech". Since then, the standards used in mainland China and Taiwan have diverged somewhat, especially in newer vocabulary terms, and a little in pronunciation.

The advent of the 20th century has seen many profound changes in Standard Mandarin. that were in use in imperial China have almost entirely disappeared in daily conversation in modern-day Standard Mandarin, such as ''jiàn'' and ''guì'' .

The word 'Putonghua' was defined in October 1955 by the Minister of Education Department in mainland China as follows: "''Putonghua'' is the common spoken language of the modern group, the lingua franca of all ethnic groups in the country. The standard pronunciation of Putonghua is based on the Beijing dialect, Putonghua is based on the Northern dialects , and the grammar policy is modeled after the used in modern Chinese literary classics" .

In both mainland China and Taiwan, the use of Standard Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the educational system and in the media has contributed to the spread of Standard Mandarin. As a result, Standard Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in Mainland China and in Taiwan.

In the Hong Kong and Macau, which are now of the People's Republic of China, Standard Cantonese has been the primary language spoken by the majority of the population, due to historical and linguistic reasons. After and , Standard Mandarin has become only slightly more understood and is used by the governments of the two territories to communicate with the Central People's Government of mainland China. However, Cantonese remains the official government language of Hong Kong and Macau when not communicating with China.


The standardized phonology of Standard Mandarin is reproduced below. Actual reproduction varies widely among speakers, as everyone inadvertently introduces elements of his/her own native dialect. By contrast, television and radio announcers are chosen for their pronunciation accuracy and "neutral" accent.


The following is the inventory of Standard Mandarin as represented in the :

1 is often transcribed as . This represents a variation in pronunciation among different speakers, rather than two different phonemes.

Corresponding chart in:
* Zhuyin

For more complete information, showing how initials and finals interact, see this zhuyin-IPA . The vowel sounds in that chart have been verified against the official IPA: . A table of valid initial and final combinations can also be seen at:
* Pinyin table
* Zhuyin table

What are traditionally termed ''retroflex'' are phonetically not true retroflex articulations. These consonants are, rather, ''flat apical postalveolar'', and thus differ from both palatoalveolar and retroflex consonants .

The alveolo-palatal consonants are in complementary distribution with the alveolar consonants , retroflex consonants and velar consonants . As a result, linguists prefer to classify as allophones of one of the three other sets. The Yale and Wade-Giles systems, for example, mostly treat the palatals as allophones of the retroflex consonants; ''Tongyong Pinyin'' mostly treats them as allophones of the alveolars; and Chinese braille treats them as allophones of the velars.

may be pronounced as , which is characteristic of the speech of young women, and also of some men. This is usually considered rather effeminate and may also be considered substandard.

The null initial, written as an apostrophe after a coda of , is most commonly realized as , though are common in other dialects of Mandarin; some of these correspond to null in the Standard Mandarin but contrast with it in their dialect.


The , or , of a syllable, in Standard Mandarin, is the part after the initial consonant. A Mandarin final can be structurally described as V. In other words, it consists of an optional medial, a , and an optional . When present, the medial can be one of the three corresponding to the three high vowels: , , . The coda can be absent; it can be one of two : and ; or it can be one of two s: , .

Not counting tone distinctions, there are about 35 distinct finals in Mandarin.

There are at least the following phones:

This shows fourteen different vowels. By very conservative standards, this represents a system of eight phonemes: /a/ , /e/ , /o/ , /?/ , /z?/ , /i/ , /u/ , and /y/ .

Further reduction can be achieved by noticing that /e/, /o/, and are in complementary distribution, and can be treated as a single phoneme . Exceptions are the isolated words and , which function only as exclamations and can be treated as outside of the core system . Note also that the finals can be considered to be phonemically either or ; likewise for , which can be either or . It would also be possible to merge and , provided that the alveolo-palatal and retroflex series are not themselves merged, since /i/ does not occur after retroflex or velar sounds or after alveolar fricatives and affricates. If all of these suggestions are followed, and and considered to be and , the resulting system of , , , , and is much like the standard pinyin romanization scheme .

An even more reduced system results from considering main vowel , and to be the surface results of the respective glides combined with a null meta-phoneme. This system, shown below, analyzes the final part of a syllable as a combination of a glide slot , a main vowel slot , and a coda slot .

When the medial, nucleus, and coda combine into a final, their pronunciations may be affected. The following is the full table of finals of Standard Mandarin in the :

1 Both pinyin and zhuyin have an additional "o", used after "b p m f", which is distinguished from "uo", used after everything else. "o" is generally put into the first column instead of the third. However, in Beijing pronunciation, these are identical.

? Another way to represent the four finals of this line is: , which reflects Beijing pronunciation.

? is pronounced when it follows an initial.

Corresponding chart in:
* Zhuyin

A table of valid initial and final combinations can also be seen at:
* Pinyin table
* Zhuyin table

R Finals

Standard Mandarin also uses a rhotic consonant, . This usage is a unique feature of Standard Mandarin; other dialects lack this sound. In Chinese, this feature is known as Erhua. There are two cases in which it is used:

#In a small number of words, such as 二 "two", 耳 "ear", etc. All of these words are pronounced as with no initial consonant.
#As a noun suffix . The suffix combines with the final, and regular but complex changes occur as a result.

The "r" final must be distinguished from the retroflex semi-vowel written as "ri" in the pinyin spelling and represented either by or in IPA. Saying "The star rode a donkey," in English, or "Wo nü-er ru yiyuan" , will make it clear that the first "r" in either case is said with a relatively lax tongue, whereas the second "r" sounds both involve a very active curling of the tongue and contact with the top of the mouth.

In other dialects of Mandarin, the rhotic consonant is sometimes replaced by another syllable, such as "li" in words that indicate locations. For example, "zher" and "nar" become "zhe li" and "na li", respectively.

The "ki-" sequence

Until a few centuries ago, some Mandarin Chinese words started with the sound sequence "ki-" or "gi-" . This changed in the last two or three centuries to "chi-" and "ji-", at varying times in different areas, and not in the dialect used in the Manchu dynasty imperial court. That is why some European transcriptions of Chinese names contain "ki-". Examples are Peking for Beijing, Nanking, Chungking, "-kiang" for "-jiang" , Fukien for Fujian .


Mandarin, like all Chinese dialects, is a tonal language. This means that , just like consonants and vowels, are used to distinguish words from each other. Many foreigners have difficulties mastering the tones of each character, but correct tonal pronunciation is essential for intelligibility because of the vast number of characters in the language that only differ by tone . The following are the 4 tones of Standard Mandarin:

# First tone, or high-level tone :
#: a steady high sound, as if it were being sung instead of spoken.
# Second tone, or rising tone , or , high-rising:
#: is a sound that rises from mid-level tone to high
# Third tone :
#: has a mid-low to low descent; if at the end of a sentence or before a pause, it is then followed by a rising pitch. Between other tones it may simply be low.
# Fourth tone, falling tone , or high-falling:
#: features a sharp fall from high to low, and is a shorter tone, similar to curt commands.


Neutral tone

Also called Fifth tone or zeroth tone , neutral tone is sometimes thought of as a lack of tone. It usually comes at the end of a word or phrase, and is pronounced in a light and short manner. The neutral tone has a large number of allotones: Its pitch depends almost entirely on the tone carried by the syllable preceding it. The situation is further complicated by the amount of dialectal variation associated with it; in some regions, notably Taiwan, the neutral tone is relatively uncommon.

Despite many examples of minimal pairs , it is sometimes described as something other than a full-fledged tone for technical reasons: Namely because some linguists feel that it results from a "spreading out" of the tone on the preceding syllable. This idea is appealing intuitively because without it, the neutral tone requires relatively complex tone sandhi rules to be made sense of; indeed, it would have to have 4 separate allotones, one for each of the four tones that could precede it. However, the "spreading" theory incompletely characterizes the neutral tone, especially in sequences where more than one neutrally toned syllable are found adjacent.

The following are from Beijing dialect. Other dialects may be slightly different.

Most romanizations represent the tones as diacritics on the vowels .'' Zhuyin uses diacritics as well. Others, like Wade-Giles, use superscript numbers at the end of each syllable. The tone marks and numbers are rarely used outside of language textbooks. Gwoyeu Romatzyh is a rare example where tones are not represented as special symbols, but using normal letters of the alphabet .

To listen to the tones, see .

Tone sandhi

Pronunciation also varies with context according to the rules of tone sandhi. The most prominent phenomenon of this kind is when there are two third tones in immediate sequence, in which case the first of them changes to a rising tone, the second tone. In the literature, this contour is often called ''two-thirds tone'' or ''half-third tone'', though generally, in Standard Mandarin, the "two-thirds tone" is the same as the second tone. If there are three third tones in series, the tone sandhi rules become more complex, and depend on word boundaries, stress, and dialectal variations.

tone sandhi rules at a glance

# When there are two 3rd tones in a row, the first syllable becomes 2nd tone , and the second syllable becomes half-3rd tone .
#: ex: becomes
# When there are three 3rd tones in a row, things get more complicated.
#: If the first word is two syllables, and the second word is one syllable, the first two syllables become 2nd tones, and the last syllable stays 3rd tone:
#:: ex: becomes
#: If the first word is one syllable, and the second word is two syllables, the first syllable becomes half-3rd tone , the second syllable becomes 2nd tone, and the last syllable stays 3rd tone:
#:: ex: becomes
# If a 3rd tone syllable is followed by a non-3rd tone syllable, the first syllable becomes a half-3rd tone:
#: ex: becomes
Rules for "" and ""

"" and "" have special rules which do not apply to other Chinese characters:
# When in front of a 4th tone syllable, "" becomes 2nd tone.
#: ex: becomes
# When in front of a non-4th tone syllable, "" becomes 4th tone.
#: ex. :
#: ex. :
#: ex. :
# When "" falls between two words, it becomes neutral tone.
# When counting sequentially, and for all other situations "" retains its root tone value of 1st tone.
# "" only becomes 2nd tone when followed by a 4th tone syllable.
#: ex: becomes
# When "" comes between two words, it loses its tone .

Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones

Relationship between Middle Chinese and modern tones:

V- = consonant

L = sonorant initial consonant

V+ = initial consonant

Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese Initial
Standard Mandarin name
Yin Ping

Yang Ping



with no pattern
to Qu
to Yang Ping
Standard Mandarin contour
to 51
to 35

It is known that if the two morphemes of a compound word cannot be ordered by grammar, the order of the two is usually determined by tones — Yin Ping , Yang Ping , Shang , Qu , and Ru, which is the plosive-ending tone that has already disappeared. Below are some compound words that show this rule. Tones are shown in parentheses, and ''R'' indicates Ru.















Standard Mandarin and Beijing dialect

Due to evolution and standardization, Standard Mandarin, although based on the Beijing dialect, is no longer synonymous with it. Part of this was due to the standardization of Mandarin to reflect a greater vocabulary scheme and a more archaic and "proper-sounding" pronounciation and vocabulary. This makes the Mandarin spoken in Beijing to be sometimes considered "improper". The areas near Beijing, especially the cities of Chengde and Shijiazhuang in neighbouring Hebei province, speak a form of Mandarin closest to its fully standardized pronounciation; this form is generally heard on national and local television and radio.

By the official definition of the People's Republic of China, Standard Mandarin uses:
* ''The phonology or sound system of Beijing.'' A distinction should be made between the sound system of a dialect or language and the actual pronunciation of words in it. The pronunciations of words chosen for Standard Mandarin -- a standardized speech -- do not necessarily reproduce all of those of the Beijing dialect. The pronunciation of words is a standardization choice and occasional standardization differences do exist, between putonghua and guoyu, for example.
In fluent speech, Chinese speakers can easily tell the difference between a speaker of the Beijing dialect and a speaker of Standard Mandarin. Beijingers speak Standard Mandarin with elements of their own dialect in the same way as other speakers.
* ''The vocabulary of Mandarin dialects in general''. This means that all slang and other elements deemed "regionalisms" are excluded. On the one hand, the vocabulary of all Chinese dialects, especially in more technical fields like science, law, and government, are very similar. This means that much of the vocabulary of standardized Mandarin is shared with all varieties of Chinese. On the other hand, much of the vocabulary and slang found in Beijing dialect is not found in Standard Mandarin, and may not be understood by people outside Beijing.
* ''The grammar and usage of exemplary modern Chinese literature'', such as the work of Lu Xun, collectively known as "Vernacular Chinese" . Vernacular Chinese, the standard written form of modern Chinese, is in turn based loosely upon a mixture of northern , southern, and grammar and usage. This gives formal standard Mandarin structure a slightly different feel from that of street Beijing dialect.

In theory the Republic of China in Taiwan defines standard Mandarin differently, though in reality the differences are minor and are concentrated mostly in the of a small minority of words.

Speakers of Standard Mandarin generally have little difficulty understanding the Beijing accent, which the former is based on. Natives of Beijing commonly add a final "er" — commonly used as a diminutive — to vocabulary items, as well as use more neutral tones in their speech. An example of Standard Mandarin versus the Beijing dialect would be: standard ''men'' compared with Beijing ''menr''. These give the Beijing dialect a somewhat distinctive lilt compared to Standard Mandarin spoken elsewhere. The dialect is also known for its rich colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions.

Although Chinese speakers make a clear distinction between Standard Mandarin and the Beijing dialect, there are aspects of Beijing dialect that have made it into the official standard. Standard Mandarin has a T-V distinction between the polite and informal versions of you that comes from Beijing dialect, but its use is quite diminished in daily speech. In addition, there is a distinction between "''zánmen''" and "''wǒmen''" . In practice, neither distinction is commonly used by most Chinese.

The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which are not yet accepted into Standard Mandarin:

倍儿: bèir means 'very much'; 拌蒜: bàn suàn means 'stagger'; 不吝: bù lìn means 'do not worry about'; 撮: cuō means 'eat'; 出溜: chū liū means 'slip'; 大老爷儿们儿: dà l?o yer menr means 'man, male';

The following samples are some phrases from Beijing dialect which have been already accepted as Standard Mandarin in recent years.
二把刀: èr b? dāo means 'not very skillful'; 哥们儿: gē ménr means 'good male friends', "buddies"; 抠门儿: kōu ménr means 'parsimony'.

Standard Mandarin and other dialects and languages

Although Standard Mandarin is now firmly established as the ''lingua franca'' in Mainland China, the national standard can be somewhat different from the other dialects in the vast Mandarin , to the point of being to some extent unintelligible. However, pronunciation differences within the Mandarin dialects are usually regular, usually differing only in the tones. For example, the character for "sky" 天 is pronounced with the high level tone in the Beijing dialect and in Standard Mandarin , but is the falling tone in the Tianjin dialect of Mandarin. In languages other than Mandarin it can range from ''ti'' to ''teen'' in the high level or high falling tone in Standard Cantonese.

Although both Mainland China and Taiwan use Standard Mandarin in the official context and are keen to promote its use as a national lingua franca, there is no official intent to have Standard Mandarin replace the regional languages. As a practical matter, speaking only Standard Mandarin in areas such as in southern China or Taiwan can be a social handicap, as some elderly or rural Chinese-language speakers do not speak Standard Mandarin fluently . In addition, it is very common for it to be spoken with the speaker's regional accent, depending on factors as age, level of education, and the need and frequency to speak correctly for official or formal purposes. This situation appears to be changing, though, in large urban centers, as social changes, migrations, and urbanization take place.

In the predominantly areas in Mainland China, while the use of Standard Mandarin is encouraged as the common working language, the PRC has been sensitive to the status of minority languages and has not discouraged their use. Standard Mandarin is very commonly used for logistical reasons, as in many parts of southern China the linguistic diversity is so large that neighboring city dwellers may have difficulties communicating with each other without a ''lingua franca''.

In Taiwan, the relationship between Standard Mandarin and local languages, particularly Taiwanese, has been more heated. During the dictatorship of the Kuomintang from 1949 until the lifting of martial law in 1987, the KMT government discouraged or even forbade the use of Taiwanese and other local vernaculars. This produced a backlash in the 1990s, amongst the general Taiwanese populace. Under the administration of Chen Shui-Bian, the Taiwanese languages were taught as an individual class, with dedicated textbooks and course materials. The former President, Chen Shui-Bian, often broke out into Taiwanese during speeches, while former President Lee Teng-hui, also speaks Taiwanese openly when interviewed in the media.

In Singapore, the government has heavily promoted a "Speak Mandarin Campaign" since the late 1970s. The use of other Chinese languages in media is prohibited and their use in any context is officially discouraged. This has led to some resentment amongst the older generations, as Singapore's migrant Chinese community is made up almost entirely of south Chinese descent. Lee Kuan Yew, the initiator of the campaign, admitted that to most Chinese Singaporeans, Mandarin was a "stepmother tongue" rather than a true mother language. Nevertheless, he saw the need for a unified language among the Chinese community not biased in favor of any existing group.

See also:
* Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation
* Mandarin Promotion Council
* Speak Mandarin Campaign


Most Chinese speak Standard Mandarin with elements of their own dialects mixed in.

For example, natives of Beijing, add a final "er" — commonly used as a diminutive — sound to vocabulary items that other speakers would leave unadorned .

On the other hand, speakers from northeastern and southern China as well as Taiwan often mix up zh and z, ch and c, q and c, sh and s, x and s, h and f, and l and n because their own home dialects often do not make these distinctions. As a result, it can be difficult for people who do not have the standard pronunciation to use pinyin, because they do not distinguish these sounds.

See List of Chinese dialects for a list of articles on individual dialects of Chinese languages and how their features differ from Standard Mandarin.

Role of standard Mandarin

From an official point of view, Standard Mandarin serves the purpose of a lingua franca — a way for speakers of the several mutually unintelligible Han Chinese languages, as well as the Han and , to communicate with each other. The very name ''Putonghua'', or "common speech", reinforces this idea. In practice, however, due to Standard Mandarin being a "public" lingua franca, other languages or dialects, both Han and non-Han, have shown signs of losing ground to Standard Mandarin, to the chagrin of certain local culture proponents.

On Taiwan, ''Guoyu'' continues to be the official term for standard Mandarin. The term ''Guoyu'' is rarely used in Mainland China, because declaring a Beijing-dialect-based standard to be the national language would be deemed unfair to other Chinese dialects and ethnic minorities. The term ''Putonghua'' , on the contrary, implies nothing more than the notion of a lingua franca. However, the term ''Guoyu'' does persist among many older Mainland Chinese, and it is common in U.S. Chinese communities, even among Mainlanders. Some in Taiwan, especially proponents of Taiwan independence, also object to the term ''Guoyu'' to refer to standardized Mandarin, on the grounds that the "nation" referred to in the name of the language is China and that Taiwan is or should be independent. They prefer to refer to Mandarin with the terms "Beijing dialect" or ''Zhongwen'' . As with most things , some support the name for precisely the same reasons that others oppose them.

In December 2004, the first survey of language use in the People's Republic of China revealed that only 53% of its population, about 700 million people, could communicate in Standard Mandarin. A survey by ''South China Morning Post'' released in September 2006 gave the same result. This 53% is defined as a passing grade above 3-B of the Evaluation Exam. Another survey in 2003 by the China National Language And Character Working Committee shows, if mastery of Standard Mandarin is defined as Grade 1-A , the percentages as follows are: Beijing 90%, Shanghai 3%, Tianjin 25%, Guangzhou 0.5%, Dalian 10%, Xi'an 12%, Chengdu 1%, Nanjing 2%. Consequently, foreign learners of Mandarin usually opt to learn at Beijing, although learning grammar and writing is not confined to that area.

With the fast development of China, more Chinese people leaving rural areas for cities for job or study opportunities, and the Mandarin Level Evaluation Exam has quickly become popular. Most university graduates take this exam before looking for a job. Many companies require a basic Mandarin Level Evaluation Certificate from their applicants, barring applicants who were born or bred in Beijing, since their Proficiency level is believed to be inherently 1-A . As for the rest, the score of 1-A is rare. People who get 1-B are considered qualified to work as television correspondents or in broadcasting stations. 2-A can work as Chinese Literature Course teachers in public schools. Other levels include: 2-B , 3-A and 3-B . In China, a proficiency of level 3-B usually cannot be achieved unless special training is received. Even if most Chinese do not speak Standard Mandarin with standard pronunciation, spoken Standard Mandarin is understood by virtually everyone.

The China National Language And Character Working Committee was founded in 1985. One of its important responsibilities is to promote Standard Mandarin and Mandarin Level proficiency for Chinese native speakers.

Common Phrases


Standard Chinese

Standard Chinese can refer to the following:
*The standard: Standard Mandarin
*:It ''may'' refer to Standard Cantonese in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau.
*The standard: Vernacular Chinese

Spoken Chinese

comprises many regional variants, the largest of which are , , Cantonese, and . These sub-groups of the Chinese spoken language are, for the most part, not mutually intelligible.

Although the English word ''dialect'' is often used to translate the Chinese term ''fangyan'' , the differences between the major variants are great enough that they are mutually unintelligible, a criterion used by many linguists to distinguish different languages from dialects of a single language. However, most Chinese view them as variants of a single Chinese language, which is often a prime consideration of a dialect.


Chinese people make an impressional strong distinction between language and spoken language . English does not necessarily have this distinction. As a result the terms ''Zhongwen'' and ''Hanyu'' in Chinese are both translated in English as "Chinese".

Within China, it is common perception that these varieties are distinct in their spoken forms only, and that the language, when written, is common across the country. Therefore even though China is home to hundreds of relatively unique spoken languages, literate people are usually able to communicate through written language effectively.

Diversity of spoken Chinese

Spoken Chinese is a dialect continuum. Differences between the spoken language generally become more pronounced as distances increase. However, the degree of intelligibility varies immensely depending on region. For example, the Mandarin spoken in all three northeastern Chinese provinces is mutually intelligible, but in the small province of Zhejiang a person from one valley may be completely unable to comprehend the language from the next valley, even though both are considered dialects of Wu Chinese. This unevenness of mutual intelligibility makes classification difficult.

There is little formal study of any dialect but Standard Mandarin. Outside of China, the only two spoken languages generally presented in formal courses are Standard Mandarin and Standard Cantonese. Inside China, second language acquisition can only be achieved through immersing in the local language.

The Chinese spoken languages are generally classified into the following groups:
* 官话/官話 : This is the group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, and makes up the largest spoken language in China. Standard Mandarin, called ''Putonghua'' or ''Guoyu'' in Chinese, which is often also translated as "Mandarin" or simply "Chinese", belongs to this group. It is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China, and Singapore. Mandarin Chinese is also the official language of the Republic of China, currently governing Taiwan, although there are minor differences in this standard from the form standardized in the PRC.
:Mandarin is characterized by four tones, compared to eight in Cantonese, and the loss of final consonants, so that while Middle Chinese had an inventory of ''-p, -t, -k, -m, -n, ng,'' Standard Mandarin only has ''-n, -ng.'' Mandarin has adjusted to the high number of homonyms created by these losses through word compounding. The use of compounds is generally less frequent in other dialects.
* 吴语/吳語: spoken in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and the municipality of Shanghai. Wu includes , sometimes taken as the representative of all Wu dialects. Wu's subgroups are extremely diverse, especially in the mountainous regions of Zhejiang and eastern Anhui. The group possibly comprises hundreds of distinct spoken forms which are not mutually intelligible amongst each other. The Wu dialect is notable among Chinese dialects in having kept "voiced" initials, such as , , , , , , etc.
* The languages 闽语/閩語: spoken in Fujian, Taiwan, parts of Southeast Asia particularly in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, and amongst Overseas Chinese who trace their roots to Fujian and Taiwan. The largest Min language is , which is spoken in Southern Fujian, Taiwan, and by many Chinese in Southeast Asia, and includes the Taiwanese and dialects amongst others. Min is the only branch of Chinese that cannot be directly derived from Middle Chinese. It is also the most diverse, divided into seven subgroups defined on the basis of relative mutual intelligibility: Min Nan , Min Dong , Min Bei, Min Zhong, Pu Xian, Qiong Wen, and .
* 粤语/粵語: spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau, parts of Southeast Asia and by Overseas Chinese with an ancestry tracing back to the Guangdong region. Used by linguistics, "Cantonese" covers all the Yue dialects, such as Toishanese, though the term is also used to refer specifically to the Standard Cantonese of Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Similar to Wu and Min, not all subgroups of Cantonese are mutually intelligible. Some dialects of Yue have intricate sets of tone compared to other Chinese dialects, with up to seven or eight tones. Yue keeps a full complement of Middle Chinese word-final consonants .
* 湘语/湘語: spoken in Hunan. Xiang is usually divided into the "old" and "new" dialects, with the new dialects being significantly influenced by Mandarin.
* 客家话/客家話: spoken by the Hakka people, a cultural group of the Han Chinese, in several provinces across southern China, in Taiwan, and in parts of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Singapore. The term "Hakka" itself translates as "guest families", and many Hakka people consider themselves to be descended from Song-era refugees from North China, although genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that the Hakka originated right around where they are today. Hakka has kept many features of northern Middle Chinese that have been lost in the North. It also has a full complement of nasal endings, -m -n -? and occlusive endings -p -t -k, maintaining the four categories of tonal types, with splitting in the ''ping'' and ''ru'' tones, giving six tones. Some dialects of Hakka have seven tones, due to splitting in the ''qu'' tone. One of the distinguishing features of Hakka phonology is that Middle Chinese voiced initials are transformed into Hakka voiceless aspirated initials.
* 赣语/贛語: spoken in Jiangxi. In the past, it was viewed as closely related to dialects, because of the way Middle Chinese voiced initials have become voiceless aspirated initials, as in Hakka, and were hence called by the umbrella term "Hakka-Gan dialects". This term has, however, now become obsolete.

There is some dispute as to whether the following languages should be classified separately:
* 徽语/徽語: spoken in the southern parts of Anhui—usually classified as a dialect of Gan.
* 晋语/晉語: spoken in Shanxi, as well as parts of Shaanxi, Hebei, Henan, and Inner Mongolia. It is often classed as a dialect of Mandarin.
* 平话/平話: spoken in parts of the Guangxi. It is sometimes classed as a dialect of Cantonese.

Some varieties remain unclassified. These include:
* Danzhou dialect 儋州话/儋州話: spoken in Danzhou, Hainan.
* Xianghua 乡话/鄉話: spoken in a small strip of land in western Hunan, this group of dialects has not been conclusively classified.
* Shaozhou Tuhua 韶州土话/韶州土話: spoken at the border regions of Guangdong, Hunan, and Guangxi. This is an area of great linguistic diversity, and has not yet been conclusively described or classified.

In addition, the Dungan language is a dialect of Mandarin spoken in Kyrgyzstan. However, it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet as a result of Soviet rule.


Bilingualism with Mandarin

In southern China , where the difference between Standard Mandarin and local dialects are particularly pronounced, well-educated Chinese are generally fluent in Standard Mandarin, and most people have at least a good passive knowledge of it, in addition to being native speakers of the local dialect. The choice of dialect varies based on the social situation. Standard Mandarin is usually considered more formal and is required when speaking to a person who does not understand the local dialect. The local dialect is generally considered more intimate and is used among close family members and friends and in everyday conversation within the local area. Chinese speakers will frequently code switch between Standard Mandarin and the local dialect. Parents will generally speak to their children in dialect, and the relationship between dialect and Mandarin appears to be mostly stable.

Knowing the local dialect is of considerable social benefit and most Chinese who permanently move to a new area will attempt to pick up the local dialect. Learning a new dialect is usually done informally through a process of immersion and recognizing sound shifts. Typically, a speaker of one dialect of Chinese will need about a year of immersion to understand the local dialect and about three to five years to become fluent in speaking it. Because of the variety of dialects spoken, there are usually few formal methods for learning a local dialect.

Political issues

Within the People's Republic of China there has been a consistent drive towards promoting the standard language (大力推广普通话 ''dàlì tuīguǎng Pǔtōnghuà''); for instance, the education system is entirely Mandarin-medium from the second year onwards. However, usage of local dialect is tolerated, and in many informal situations socially preferred. Unlike in Hong Kong, where colloquial Cantonese characters are often used for formal occasions, within the PRC a character set closer to Mandarin tends to be used. At the national level, differences in dialect generally do not correspond to political divisions or categories, and this has for the most part prevented dialect from becoming the basis of identity politics. Historically, many of the people who promoted Chinese nationalism were from southern China and did not natively speak the national standard language, and even leaders from northern China rarely spoke with the standard accent. For example, Mao Zedong often emphasized his Hunan origins in speaking, rendering much of what he said incomprehensible to many Chinese. One consequence of this is that China does not have a well developed tradition of spoken political rhetoric, and most Chinese political works are intended primarily as written works rather than spoken works.

Another factor that limits the political implications of dialect is that it is very common within an extended family for different people to know and use different dialects. In addition, while speaking similar dialect provides very strong group identity at the level of a city or county, the high degree of linguistic diversity limits the amount of group solidarity at larger levels. Finally, the linguistic diversity of southern China makes it likely that in any large group of Chinese, Standard Mandarin will be the only form of speech that everyone understands.

On the other hand, in the Republic of China on Taiwan, the government had a policy until the mid-1980s of promoting Standard Mandarin as high-status and the local languages—Taiwanese and —as low-status, a situation which caused much resentment and resulted in considerable backlash in the 1990s, manifested in the Taiwanese localization movement.

Examples of variations

The languages are often regarded as furthest removed linguistically from Standard Mandarin, in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary. To illustrate: in Taiwanese, a variety of , a Min language, to express the idea that one is feeling a little ill , one might say :

which, when translated cognate-by-cognate into Mandarin would be spoken as an awkward or semantically unrecognizable sentence:

Where as when spoken colloquially in Mandarin, one would either say:


the latter omitting the reflexive pronoun , not usually needed in Mandarin.

Some people, particularly in northern China, would say:


:''For more specific information on phonology of Chinese see the respective main articles of each spoken variety.''

The structure of each syllable consists of a consisting of a vowel with an optional or consonant as well as a . There are some instances where a non-vowel is used as a nucleus. An example of this is in Cantonese, where the sonorant consonants and can stand alone as their own syllable.

Across all the spoken varieties, most syllables tend to be open syllables, meaning they have no coda, but syllables that do have codas are restricted to , , , , , , or . Some varieties allow most of these codas, whereas others, such as , are limited to only two, namely and . Consonant clusters do not generally occur in either the onset or coda. The onset may be an or a consonant followed by a semivowel, but these are not generally considered consonant clusters.

The number of sounds in the different spoken dialects varies, but in general there has been a tendency to a reduction in sounds from Middle Chinese. The Mandarin dialects in particular have experienced a dramatic decrease in sounds and so have far more multisyllabic words than most other spoken varieties. The total number of syllables in some varieties is therefore only about a thousand, including tonal variation.

All varieties of spoken Chinese use . A few dialects of north China may have as few as three tones, while some dialects in south China have up to 6 or 10 tones, depending on how one counts. One exception from this is Shanghainese which has reduced the set of tones to a two-toned pitch accent system much like modern Japanese.

A very common example used to illustrate the use of tones in Chinese are the four main tones of Standard Mandarin applied to the syllable ''ma''. The tones correspond to these five :

* “mother” — high level
* “hemp” — high rising
* “horse” — low falling-rising
* “scold” — high falling
* question particle — neutral


Chinese is strictly bound to a set number of syllables with a fairly rigid construction which are the morphemes, the smallest building blocks, of the language. Some of these single-syllable morphemes can stand alone as individual , but contrary to what is often claimed, Chinese is not a monosyllabic language. Most words in the modern Chinese spoken varieties are in fact multisyllabic, consisting of more than one morpheme, usually two, but there can be three or more.

The confusion arises in how one thinks about the language. In the Chinese writing system, each individual single-syllable morpheme corresponds to a single character, referred to as a ''zì'' . Most Chinese speakers think of words as being ''zì,'' but this view is not entirely accurate. Many words are multisyllabic, and are composed of more than one ''zì.'' This composition is what is known as a ''cí'' , and more closely resembles the traditional Western definition of a word. However, the concept of ''cí'' was historically a technical linguistic term that, until only the past century, the average Chinese speaker was not aware of. Even today, most Chinese speakers think of words as being ''zì.'' This can be illustrated in the following Mandarin Chinese sentence :

Jīguāng, zhè liǎng ge zì shì shénme yìsi?

The sentence literally translates to, “''Jī'' and ''guāng'' , these two ''zì'' , what do they mean?” However, the more natural English translation would probably be, “''Laser,'' this word, what does it mean?” Even though ''jīguāng'' is a single word, speakers tend to think of its constituents as being separate .

Old Chinese and Middle Chinese had many more monosyllabic words due to greater variability in possible sounds. The modern Chinese varieties lost many of these sound distinctions, leading to homonyms in words that were once distinct. Multisyllabic words arose in order to compensate for this loss. Most natively derived multisyllabic words still feature these original monosyllabic morpheme roots. Many Chinese morphemes still have associated meaning, even though many of them no longer can stand alone as individual words - they are bound morphemes. This situation is analogous to the use of the English ''pre-.'' Even though ''pre-'' can never stand alone by itself as an individual word, it is commonly understood by English speakers to mean “before”, such as in the words ''predawn,'' ''previous,'' and ''premonition.''

Taking the previous example, ''jīguāng,'' ''jī'' and ''guāng'' literally mean “stimulated light”, resulting in the meaning, “laser”. However, ''jī'' is never found as a single word by itself, because there are too many other morphemes that are also pronounced in the same way. For instance, the morphemes that correspond to the meanings “chicken” /, “machine” /, “basic” , “hit” /, “hunger” /, and “sum” / are also pronounced ''jī'' in Mandarin. It is only in the context of other morphemes that an exact meaning of a ''zì'' can be known. In certain ways, the logographic writing system helps to reinforce meaning in ''zì'' that are homophonous, since even though several morphemes may be pronounced the same way, they are written using different characters. Continuing with the example, we have:

For this reason, it is very common for Mandarin speakers to put characters in context as a natural part of conversation. For example, when telling each other their names , Mandarin speakers often state which words their names are found in. As an example, a speaker might say Míngzi jiào Jiāyīng, Jiālíngjiāng de jiā, Yīngguó de yīng “My name is Jiāyīng, the ''Jia'' of ''Jialing River'' and the ''Ying'' in ''England'' ”.

The problem of homonyms also exists but is less severe in southern Chinese varieties like Cantonese and Taiwanese, which preserved more of the of Middle Chinese. For instance, the previous examples of ''jī'' for “stimulated”, “chicken”, and “machine” have distinct pronunciations in Cantonese : ''gik1'', ''gai1'', and ''gei1'', respectively. For this reason, southern varieties tend to employ fewer multisyllabic words.

There are a few morphemes in Chinese, many of them loanwords, that consist of more than one syllable. These words cannot be further divided into single-syllable meaningful units, however in writing each syllable is still written as separate ''zì''. One example is the word for “spider”, ''zhīzhū'', which is written as . Even in this case, Chinese tend to try to make some kind of meaning out of the constituent syllables. For this reason, the two characters and each have an associated meaning of “spider” when seen alone as individual characters. When spoken though, they can never occur apart.