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Chinese Minor

The Chinese language is widely considered a family of closely related dialects or languages, many of which are mutually unintelligible when spoken, but which share a mutually intelligible writing system. Within this variety, Mandarin Chinese hosts by far the greatest number of speakers, more even than all the other dialects combined. Mandarin (sometimes also referred to as Standard Chinese) is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, alongside Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

The writing system in Chinese consists of characters, similar to hieroglyphs, which commonly exhibit both semantic and phonetic elements. In the mid 20th century, and culminating in the Cultural Revolution, many common Chinese characters were simplified, greatly reducing the number of brush strokes necessary to write a single character. The goal was to aid language learning and ease of communication, thereby modernizing China economically and politically. The simplification process coincided with the development of Pinyin, a system of phonetically rendering Chinese characters in the Western alphabet, which further aided language acquisition, particularly by Western individuals.

Much of Chinese grammar is similar to that of English, predominantly syntax. However, one of the major distinguishing traits of Chinese as a spoken language is that it is tonal, or that the meaning of words is often determined by the pitch and style of articulation, rather than purely phonetic characteristics.

About the Curriculum

Chinese courses use a self-instructional language program format with enrollments limited to three to six students. Examinations in the language are half oral (administered by external examiners appointed by the University) and half written (administered by the course professor).


The following resources can be used to practice listening and reading comprehension skills and to gain a better understanding of the geography, history and popular culture relevant to Chinese language study.

Learn more about the minor in the Course Catalog