Middle Chinese was the language used during Northern and Southern dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE).
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.
In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in mountainous areas that are difficult to reach, and are often also sensitive border zones.
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For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help: IPA.; literally: "Chinese writing") is a group of related, but in many cases mutually unintelligible, language varieties, forming a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
Chinese is spoken by the Han majority and many other ethnic groups in China.
After the fall of the Northern Song dynasty, and during the reign of the Jin (Jurchen) and Yuan (Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech (now called Old Mandarin) developed based on the dialects of the North China Plain around the capital.
As a practical measure, officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Guānhuà (官话/官話, literally "language of officials"). After much dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an abortive attempt at an artificial pronunciation, the National Language Unification Commission finally settled on the Beijing dialect in 1932.
Most linguists now believe it represents a diasystem encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading the classics.
The relationship between spoken and written Chinese is rather complex.
The phonetic categories of Archaic Chinese can be reconstructed from the rhymes of ancient poetry.
Qieyun, a rime dictionary, recorded a compromise between the pronunciations of the north and the south.
The written form of the standard language (; Hànzì), is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.