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Other than Mandarin, which language has the largest number of speakers?


vellocet
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This is actually a very interesting question with some very counter-intuitive answers, depending on whether you only look within China (i.e. whether you include overseas Chinese) and also whether it matters to you whether all the speakers of a certain dialect group (Min, Yue, etc) can understand each other or not.

 

There are at least 64 million native speakers of Cantonese in Guangdong province, and when you add in Hong Kongers (7 million), people who speak Cantonese [Yue] varieties as a 2nd dialect in Guangxi and overseas Chinese, it is v likely the number of Cantonese speakers worldwide is over 80 million.

 

Min is another strong candidate for most widely spoken Chinese language apart from Mandarin, but the problem is there is very low intelligibility between Northern (Min-Bei), Central and Southern Min (Min-Nan). Southern Min by itself, when taking southern Fujian plus much of Taiwan and the overseas Chinese speakers in SE Asia, probably has around 45 million speakers. 

 

According to Ethnologue, Wu has around 80 million native speakers  (https://www.ethnologue.com/language/wuu), the vast majority of which live within China in Jiangsu / Zhejiang province. There is high intelligibility within the Taihu group (including Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo, etc), but drops off rapidly once you start including highly-divergent sub-dialects like Wenzhou.

 

Overall - if you are just looking within China Wu probably comes out on top, if you include overseas Chinese Yue probably edges out as historically it is much more common in overseas Chinese communities. 

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