Translating for China, what a real headache ! China counts up to 81 dialects, 49 of which bear the same name as the ethnicity that uses it. The other 32 are named differently than their speakers’ ethnicity (for example, more than 90,000 Tibetans have the gyarong language as their mother tongue).
Linguistic distances between minor languages are largely more visible in the South of China than in the North, which makes communication harder for southern Chinese people. Those 81 dialects are strongly different from one another and this is why they are sorted into four large categories : Sino-Tibetan languages, Altaic languages, Austronesian languages, and Indo-European languages.
The Sino-Tibetan group clusters half of the dialects spoken in China. Those 40 languages are spread into four distinctive groups : Chinese, Tibeto-Burman languages, Kam-Tai languages, and Hmong-Mien languages. With 1.5 billion speakers, the Sino-Tibetan group represents the second largest linguistic family in speakers. Majorly spoken in China, this linguistic group extends to Nepal, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Thailand.
Altaic languages cluster 19 out of the 81 languages spoken in China. This linguistic group is named after the Altai Mountains, which cross through Central Asia, containing China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Altaic languages listed in China include the Turkish languages at 0.7 %, the Tungusic languages at 0.5 %, and the Mongolic languages at 0.32 %.
With just under 300 million speakers, Austronesian languages are part of one of the most geographically spread out linguistic families, second only to the Indo-European languages. This area includes a large part of Oceania (Taiwan, New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island). In China, only 0.035 % of the population speaks a language coming from this family. These 14 different dialects all come from one group.
Globally, Indo-European languages form the most spread out linguistic family. Despite their prevalence in most of the world, these languages are not really spoken much in China (only 0.0026 % of the population speaks them). With 0.0023 % and 0.0003 % of the Chinese speakers, Tajik and Slavic languages are respectively the two categories represented in China.
Written by Morgan POULELLAOUEN
Translated by David LOURY