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.
The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, but may be even more varied. There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken by far is Mandarin (about 960 million), followed by Wu (80 million), Yue (60 million) and Min (70 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, although some, like Xiang and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some degree of intelligibility. All varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic.
The Sinitic languages, are a family of Sino-Tibetan languages, often synonymous with the group of Chinese varieties. They have frequently been postulated to constitute a primary branch, but this is rejected by an increasing number of researchers. The Bai languages and possible relatives, whose classification is difficult, may also be Sinitic; otherwise Sinitic is equivalent to Chinese, and the term may be used to indicate that the varieties of Chinese are distinct languages rather than dialects of a single language.
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