Language Contact with Chinese
  • ISSN 0920-9034
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9870
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China is ethnically and linguistically diverse. There are 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in the country, including the majority Han, with a 1.2 billion-strong population and Tatar, the smallest minority group with only 3,556 people residing in Xinjiang, according to the 2010 Population Census of the People’s Republic of China, the latest census data available on the government’s website (www.stats.gov.cn). The Han accounts for 91.6% of the population, with the minorities taking up the balance of 8.4%. Most ethnic groups have their own languages, which fall into typologically distinct language families, the largest being Altaic and Sino-Tibetan. lists 299 languages in China and rates the country 0.521 in linguistic diversity, compared with 0.035 for Japan and 0.010 for South Korea (Simons & Fennig 2017). A few ethnic groups, such as the Hui (Chinese Muslims) and the Manchus, who founded the last imperial dynasty of Qing (1644–1912), have lost their indigenous languages over the centuries. They speak the language of the Han majority.

Linguistic diversity in China is manifested in two ways: across the ethnic groups and within the Han majority. In what follows, we give a schematic description of the languages and briefly summarize the papers in this issue that offer a snapshot of language contact in China.


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