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Map of the Sinophone world.
  Countries with a Chinese-speaking majority
  Countries with more than 5,000,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 1,000,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 500,000 Chinese speakers
  Countries with more than 100,000 Chinese speakers
Traditional Chinese漢語圈
Simplified Chinese汉语圈
Literal meaningHan language circle
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese操漢語者
Simplified Chinese操汉语者
Literal meaningHan language-speaking person(s)

Chinese-speaking world or Sinophone (can be without capital letters) is a neologism that fundamentally means "Chinese-speaking", typically referring to a person who speaks at least one variety of Chinese. Academic writers use Sinophone "Chinese-speaking regions" in two ambiguous meanings: either specifically "Chinese-speaking areas where it is a minority language, excluding China and Taiwan" or generally "Chinese-speaking areas, including where it is an official language". Many authors use the collocation Sinophone world to mean the regions of Chinese diaspora outside of Greater China, and some for the entire Chinese-speaking world. Mandarin Chinese is the second most commonly spoken language today, with 1.12 billion people, approximately 20% of the world population, speaking it.


Region Speakers Percentage Year Reference
 Anguilla 7 0.06% 2001 [1]
 Australia 877,654 3.8% 2016 [1][note 1]
 Austria 9,960 0.1% 2001 [1]
 Belize 2,600 0.8% 2010 [1]
 Cambodia 6,530 0.05% 2008 [1]
 Canada 1,290,095 3.7% 2016 [1]
 Cyprus 1,218 0.1% 2011 [1]
 Falkland Islands 1 0.03% 2006 [1]
 Finland 12,407 0.23% 2018 [1]
 Hong Kong 6,264,700 88.9% 2016 [1][note 2]
 Lithuania 64 0.002% 2011 [1]
 Macao 411,482 97.0% 2001 [1]
 Marshall Islands 79 0.2% 1999 [1]
 Mauritius 2,258 0.2% 2011 [1]
   Nepal 242 0.0009% 2011 [1]
 Northern Mariana Islands 14,862 23.4% 2000 [1]
 Palau 331 1.8% 2005 [1]
 Philippines 6,032 0.4% 2000 [1]
 Romania 2,039 0.01% 2011 [1]
 Russia 70,722 0.05% 2010 [1]
 Singapore 1,791,216 57.7% 2010 [1][note 3]
 South Africa 8,533 0.02% 1996 [1]
 Thailand 111,866 0.2% 2010 [1]
 Timor Leste 511 0.07% 2004 [1]
 United Kingdom 162,698 0.3% 2011 [1]
 United States 3,268,546 1.0% 2017 [2]

Word origins[edit]

Sinophone's etymology is from Sino- "China; Chinese" (cf. Sinology) and -phone "speaker of a certain language" (cf. Anglophone, Francophone).

Edward McDonald (2011) claimed the word sinophone "seems to have been coined separately and simultaneously on both sides of the Pacific" in 2005, by Geremie Barmé (Australia National University) and Shu-Mei Shih (UCLA). Barmé (2008) explained the "Sinophone world" as "one consisting of the individuals and communities who use one or another—or, indeed, a number—of China-originated languages and dialects to make meaning of and for the world, be it through speaking, reading, writing or via an engagement with various electronic media." Shih (2004:29) noted, "By "sinophone" literature I mean literature written in Chinese by Chinese-speaking writers in various parts of the world outside China, as distinguished from "Chinese literature"—literature from China."

Nevertheless, there are two earlier sinophone usages. Ruth Keen (1988:231) defined "Sinophone communities" in Chinese literature as "the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the U.S." Coulombe and Roberts (2001:12) compared students of French between anglophones "with English as their mother tongue" and allophones (in the Quebec English sense) "without English or French as their mother tongue", including sinophones defined as "Cantonese/Mandarin speakers."

The Oxford English Dictionary does not yet include Sinophone, but records 1900 as the earliest usage of the French loanwords Francophone "French-speaking" and Anglophone "English-speaking". The French language – which first used Sinophone "Chinese-speaking" in 1983 (CNRTL 2012) – differentiates Francophone meaning "French-speaking, especially in a region where two or more languages are spoken" and Francophonie "French-speaking, collectively, the French-speaking world" (commonly abbreviating the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie). Haun Saussy contrasted the English lexicon lacking an inclusive term like Sinophonie or Sinophonia, and thus using Sinophone to mean both "Chinese-speaking, especially in a region where it is a minority language" and "all Chinese-speaking areas, including China and Taiwan, Chinese-speaking world".

"Sinophone" operates as a calque on "Francophone", as the application of the logic of Francophonie to the domain of Chinese extraterritorial speech. But that analogy is sure to hiccup, like all analogies, at certain points. Some, but not all, Francophone regions are populated by descendants of French emigrants, as virtually all of Sinophonia (I think) is populated by descendants of Chinese emigrants. Other regions, the majority in both area and population, are Francophone as a result of conquest or enslavement. That might be true of some areas of China too, but in a far more distant past. And at another level, the persistence of French had to do with the exportation of educational protocols by the Grande Nation herself, something that wasn't obviously true of the Middle Kingdom in recent decades but now, with the Confucius Institutes, is perhaps taking form. (2012)[citation needed]

English Sinophonia was the theme of an international conference organized by Christopher Lupke, President of the Association of Chinese and Comparative Literature, and hosted by Peng Hsiao-yen, Senior Researcher in the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, (Academia Sinica 2012) on "Global Sinophonia" – Chinese Quanqiu Huayu Wenhua 全球華語文化 (literally "global Chinese-language culture").


In the two decades since the English word sinophone was coined, it has gone through semantic change and increasing usage. Authors currently use it in at least two meanings, the general sense of "Chinese-speaking", and the academic "Chinese-speaking, especially in areas where it is a minority language." Shu-mei Shih, one of the leading academic authorities on sinophone scholarship, summarized treatments.

In the past few years, scholars have used the term Sinophone for largely denotative purposes to mean "Chinese-speaking" or "written in Chinese." Sau-ling Wong used it to designate Chinese American literature written in "Chinese" as opposed to English ("Yellow"); historians of the Manchu empire such as Pamela Kyle Crossley, Evelyn S. Rawski, and Jonathan Lipman described "Chinese-speaking" Hui Muslims in China as Sinophone Muslims as opposed to Uyghur Muslims, who speak Turkic languages; Patricia Schiaini- Vedani and Lara Maconi distinguished between Tibetan writers who write in the Tibetan script and "Chinese-language," or Sinophone, Tibetan writers. Even though the main purpose of these scholars' use of the term is denotative, their underlying intent is to clarify contrast by naming: in highlighting a Sinophone Chinese American literature, Wong exposes the anglophone bias of scholars and shows that American literature is multilingual; Crossley, Rawski, and Lipman emphasize that Muslims in China have divergent languages, histories, and experiences; Schiaini- Vedani and Maconi suggest the predicament of Tibetan writers who write in the "language of the colonizer" and whose identity is bound up with linguistic difference. (2011:3)[citation needed]

General meanings[edit]

"Chinese-speaking" is the literal meaning of sinophone, without the academic distinction of speakers outside of Greater China.

The Wiktionary is one of the few dictionaries that define sinophone:

  • adjective "Speaking one or more Sinitic or Chinese language(s), Chinese-speaking"
  • noun "a person who speaks one or more of the Sinitic or Chinese language(s) either natively or by adoption, a Chinese-speaking person."

Academic meanings[edit]

The word sinophone has different meanings among scholars in fields such as Sinology, linguistics, comparative literature, language teaching, and postcolonialism.

Recent definitions of the word include:

  • The Sinophone encompasses Sinitic-language communities and their expressions (cultural, political, social, etc.) on the margins of nations and nationalness in the internal colonies and other minority communities in China as well as outside it, with the exception of settler colonies where the Sinophone is the dominant vis-à-vis their indigenous populations. (Shih 2011:716)
  • The Sinophone world refers to Sinitic-language cultures and communities born of colonial and postcolonial histories on the margins of geopolitical nation-states all across the world. (Cambria 2012)


Map of Chinese-speaking world

Mandarin is the official language of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan); one of the official languages of Singapore as well as one of six official languages of the United Nations. Chinese is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau, where Cantonese is spoken locally. Sizeable Overseas Chinese communities exist in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Mauritius, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela, although the variant(s) of Chinese used usually differs.

The Ethnologue (Lewis 2013) estimated the total number of Sinophones at 1,197 million in 33 countries. The numbers of speakers (in millions) for the most common varieties are: Guan 848, Wu 77.2, Yue 62.2, Min Nan 46.8, Jin 45.0, Xiang 36.0, Hakka 30.1, Gan 20.6, Min Bei 10.3, Min Dong 9.1, Huizhou 4.6, Min Zhong 3.1 and Pu-Xian Min 2.6 (million).


  1. ^ Sum of 'Cantonese' and 'Mandarin'.
  2. ^ Figures for Cantonese.
  3. ^ Sum of 'Chinese' and 'Chinese and English'.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Population by language, sex and urban/rural residence". UNdata. Archived from the original on 19 May 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  2. ^ "IPUMS USA". Retrieved 2019-03-31.

General references[edit]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]