Chinese (汉语 or 漢語, Hànyǔ) is a group of related language varieties, several of which are not mutually intelligible, and is variously described as a language or language family.[a] Originally the indigenous speech of the Han majority in China, Chinese forms one of the branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family and is now spoken by many Chinese ethnic groups. About one-fifth of the world's population, or over one billion people, speaks some form of Chinese as their first language.
Varieties of Chinese are usually perceived by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, rather than separate languages, although this identification is considered inappropriate by some linguists and sinologists. The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, although all varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken, by far, is Mandarin (about 960 million), followed by Wu (80 million), Yue (60 million) and Min (50 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, although some, like Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some degree of intelligibility.
Standard Chinese (Putonghua / Guoyu / Huayu) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC, also known as Taiwan), as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The logogrammic written form of the standard language (Zhōngwén 中文) is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.
Of the other varieties of Chinese, Cantonese (the prestige variety of Yue) is influential in Guangdong province and Cantonese-speaking overseas communities and remains one of the official languages of Hong Kong (together with English) and of Macau (together with Portuguese). Min Nan, part of the Min group, is widely spoken in southern Fujian, in neighbouring Taiwan (where it is known as Taiwanese or Hoklo) and in Southeast Asia (also known as Hokkien in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia). There are also sizeable Hakka and Shanghainese diasporas, for example in Taiwan, where most Hakka communities are also conversant in Taiwanese and Standard Chinese.