Mandarin Chinese – the Order of Words is from Biggest to Smallest

Chinese culture is hierarchal. As language and culture reflect each other hierarchy is also found in the Mandarin Chinese language. This is specifically found in the ordering of objects and other things such as time by their size. What this means is that when describing something the largest or most important term or reference will come first.

This is different to how the same thing would be described in English. When English-speakers write the address at the top of a business letter in English they typically start with the person’s name, the company name, then the street number and street name, the city and possibly country (for international communication).

An address written by someone from China would start with the country (China), then the name of the province, the city, the local area, and the street and number, then finally the person’s name.

The same hierarchical order is seen in the way Chinese people write the date with the year first, followed by the month and then day. Once again this is written from the biggest to the smallest.

To illustrate this more let us consider the northern part of a country, such as China. The English description for the area of land in the northern part of China would be “northern China”. In a similar way we might refer to the northern part of Europe as “northern Europe”.  In Mandarin Chinese it is important to refer to the biggest or largest first.  Clearly the country of China is larger than the part of China than is in its northern area.  So the northern part of China would be described as “China northern” “Zhongguo beifang”.

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