As far as I know it’s important to be aware of the different regional names / words that exist when referring to Mandarin – and even better to know which one to use when speaking to Chinese people from different countries. Certainly, here in New Zealand, it is useful to know, as I meet Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.
I think you’re very likely to offend a Taiwanese, if you asked them whether they speak Pǔtōnghuà and vice versa likely to offend a mainland Chinese if you asked them whether they speak Guóyǔ. (Yes I realise we’re speaking of one and the same language – minus the accent and perhaps “slight” regional differences.)
Anyway, to start with it’s important to know a little bit about those countries where Mandarin Chinese is an official language:
- China (the People’s Republic of China) Zhōngguó (中国; 中國)
- Taiwan (Republic of China) Táiwān (台湾;台灣)
- Singapore Xīnjiāpō (新加坡) (one of the four official languages)
In China (including Hong Kong special administrative region & Macau:
Mandarin is known as Pǔtōnghuà (Simplified 普通话 ; Traditional普通話)
Meaning: common speech (of the Chinese language)
Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong, thus I suspect there is a Cantonese word for Mandarin that may be more prevalent than the Mandarin word Pǔtōnghuà when referring to Mandarin. Any corrections on this would naturally be welcome…
Mandarin is known as Guóyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 国语; Traditional Chinese: 國語)
Meaning: national language’
Singapore & Malasia:
Mandarin is known as Huáyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 华语; Traditional Chinese: 華語)
Meaning: Chinese language (in a cultural sense).
I suspect it may be kosher to refer to Putonghua when speaking to a Singaporean, but I still think it’s best to refer to Mandarin as Huáyǔ when speaking to a Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese simply because it is the word they themselves are more likely to use (and I guess therefore would be more respectful).
Zhōngguó huà (中国话) and Zhōngwén (中文)
These two words can also be used to refer to Mandarin. However the difference between these two is that
Zhōngguó huà refers only to spoken language i.e words e.g.
Wǒ huì shuō zhōngguó huà
Zhōngwén (中文) refers to the Chinese Language in the sense of both the spoken and written language:
wǒ huì shuō zhōngwén
With the latter, you’re stating that you’re learning both how to speak Chinese as well as write it.
Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語)
Of this one, I’m not entirely sure at all – it seems that Hànyǔ is very much interchangeably used with Zhongwen, however this may not always be the case and I don’t know whether there are any exceptions.
It also seems that Hànyǔ is the preferred option for academic / educational purposes. Most courses refer to Mandarin as Hànyǔ and not Pǔtōnghuà
Apparently, 汉语also refers to the language spoken by the Han nationality, i.e. Pǔtōnghuà the standard contemporary Chinese language.
Well, I hope this is just slightly useful. I still need to do some more research into the last one and see if I can find anything more concrete…