or the Sinitic language(s) can be considered a language or language
family. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese
in China, it forms one of the two branches of Sino-Tibetan family of
languages. About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over
one billion people, speak some form of Chinese as their native language.
The identification of the varieties of Chinese as "languages"
or "dialects" is controversial.
Chinese is distinguished by its high level of internal diversity, though
all spoken varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. There are between
seven and thirteen main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification
scheme), of which the most spoken, by far, is Mandarin (about 850 million),
followed by Wu (90 million), Min (70 million) and Cantonese (70 million).
Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, though some, like
Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and
some degree of intelligibility. Chinese is classified as a macrolanguage
with 13 sub-languages in ISO 639-3, though the identification of the
varieties of Chinese as multiple "languages" or as "dialects"
of a single language is a contentious issue.