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Chinese, major language of the Sino-Tibetan family, with more native speakers (over 800 million) than any other language in the world. Most Chinese speak Mandarin, a form based on the speech of the educated classes of northern China, particularly the city of Beijing (Peking). Since the early 1950s, this has been called the national language. Other dialects include Cantonese, Hakka, Wu, Fukienese, and Amoy-Swatow. In written form, all these dialects are the same, but the pronunciation may be mutually incomprehensible. Chinese is atonal, monosyllabic language. The writing system uses an individual character for each syllable, every character representing a word or idea rather than a sound. The characters range from one stroke to as many as 32, but the average is about 11. The earliest witten records in Chinese date back to about 1400 B.C., making Chinese one of the world's oldest, continuously written languages.

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