Chinese is an umbrella term for a variety of languages from the Sino-Tibetan group of languages. Almost 1.2 billion people all over the world speak the language. The language consists of between 7 and 13 regional groups of languages that are quite different from each other. Of these, the largest in terms of native speakers is Mandarin with approximately 960 million speakers. The others in the list with significant numbers speaking the language are Wu (with 80 million speakers), Min (70 million), and Yue (60 million). Speakers of these languages do not comprehend each other since the languages are totally different from each other. To standardise the diversity in languages and foster comprehension, written language has become the way of communication among speakers of different languages that fall in the Chinese category.
Standard Chinese based on the Beijing dialect is the official language of China and Taiwan. It is also one of the four official languages of Singapore. Cantonese is another Chinese language that is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau.
Chinese is probably the oldest written language in the world. The first written records of Chinese language inscriptions were found in turtle shells dating back to 3000 years ago. There is no Chinese alphabet as such. The language uses characters instead. A dictionary A Dictionary of National Pronunciation was brought out in 1919 that presented a hybrid pronunciation of words that did not match any existing Chinese dialect so as to unify Chinese speakers. Other dictionaries modifying it further were brought out in the next few decades too. Finally, Standard Chinese with the Beijing dialect as the base was chosen as the lingua franca for people of different regions speaking different dialects to communicate with each other effectively.
Chinese is a tonal language with approximately 24 consonants, 6 vowels (and diphthongs), and four tones. The latter two are equally important in the language. The writing system in Chinese is based on logograms, like the Egyptian hieroglyphics and Japanese kanji. The system has been in use for thousands of years with hardly any modification. These written characters do not convey a concept but a sound. The sounds are combined to create a word. In the olden times, the characters were read from top to bottom and right to left. However, now they are mostly read from left to right.