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Although many of the finer details remain unclear, most scholars agree that Old Chinese differs from Middle Chinese in lacking retroflex and palatal obstruents but having initial consonant clusters of some sort, and in having voiceless nasals and liquids.Middle Chinese was the language used during Northern and Southern dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE).The People's Republic founded in 1949 retained this standard, calling it pǔtōnghuà ( In Hong Kong and Macau, because of their colonial and linguistic history, the language used in education, the media, formal speech, and everyday life remains the local Cantonese, although the standard language has become very influential and is being taught in schools.The Chinese language has spread to neighbouring countries through a variety of means.Although the relationship was first proposed in the early 19th century and is now broadly accepted, reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan is much less developed than that of families such as Indo-European or Austroasiatic.Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of inflection in many of them, and the effects of language contact.It can be divided into an early period, reflected by the Qieyun rime book (601 CE), and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by rhyme tables such as the Yunjing constructed by ancient Chinese philologists as a guide to the Qieyun system.Linguists have identified these sounds by comparing the categories with pronunciations in modern varieties of Chinese, borrowed Chinese words in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean, and transcription evidence.

The varieties of Chinese are usually described by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, but linguists note that they are as diverse as a language family.Later Korea, Japan, and Vietnam developed strong central governments modeled on Chinese institutions, with Literary Chinese as the language of administration and scholarship, a position it would retain until the late 19th century in Korea and (to a lesser extent) Japan, and the early 20th century in Vietnam.Although they used Chinese solely for written communication, each country had its own tradition of reading texts aloud, the so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations.The resulting system is very complex, with a large number of consonants and vowels, but they are probably not all distinguished in any single dialect.Most linguists now believe it represents a diasystem encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading the classics.The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, but may be even more varied.

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