Language the other national minorities. These can be divided into four language families: Tibetan, Hani, Tujia and Yi languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman group, Mongolian, Kazakh and Uigur to the Altaic group and the languages oftheZhuang, Dai, Bouyei and Dong to the Thai group.
The Yao and Miao minorities from the southern mountain regions speak a language with idioms whose roots are unknown. For the minorities in the autonomous regions, their language is the official one.
Chinese is a difficult language to speak and understand. The main Chinese reason for the difficulty lies with the difference between the written and characters spoken language. There is no alphabet and there is no link between the sound uttered and the symbol which represents it. The meaning is shown by a symbol, originally it was a pictograph, to which a phonetic value has been assigned. Chinese is a monosyllabic language; each character has its own single- syllable pronunciation and its own meaning.
The complicated relationship between the written and spoken Ian- Phonemes guage has had a lasting influence on Chinese culture and is rendered even more difficult by the limited number of monosyllabic phonemes (about 400). To differentiate between words and to help in the formation of new words, four different tonal levels are used. Conversely, in contrast with the small number of phonemes, there are many thousands of characters (about 45,000-50,000 but only 10,000 are in common use and only 4000 are used by the mass media). There are, for example, 37 characters which when spoken resemble the sound “pi”.
At the first tonal level alone, it can mean “splendid”, “to hit” and “unfired clay”. Consequently, readers of Chinese have to be able recognise the character and its exact phonetic sound to understand the language completely-something that requires a considerable amount of memorisation.
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