Yuen Ren Society
How many Chinese dialects are there, anyway?

We do not currently provide a list of all the dialects of China. How many are there? Well, it depends on how you count them. In principle, every county in China has its own forms of speech, and hence its own dialect. There are some 8,000 counties in China, and so 8,000 is a round approximation of the number of dialects.

Of course, much of Western China is populated by non-Chinese, but then elsewhere there are many Chinese-speaking areas where a single county may have several or even a dozens of distinct dialects. But the question is even sticker than that, because South and Central China have a number of what are sometimes called "dialect groups" that are radically different from each other, and from the language of North China. These dialect groups (Yue, Min, Hakka, Wu, among the largest and best known) are arguably separate languages, and all have their own dialects, many of which are mutually unintelligible.

So the short answer to your question is that we at the Yuen Ren Society aren't really sure how many Chinese dialects there are. We are by all means interested in the question, but we don't know the answer.

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