Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Half of Chinese Do Not Know Chinese

"Nearly half of China's 1.3 billion people can't speak Mandarin." So says a Chinese educational ministry report claiming 47% of all nationals cannot speak Putonghua or "the common language" as defined by the Communist Party. Putonghua is based on the Beijing dialect.

If this is true then the forced Han cultural imperialism has its work cut out for it in multiethnic China.

For more on the new Imperial China read The Geographer’s New Map, Part II: China

Category: Languages


Sun Bin said...

technical your title is not correct.
should be "Half of Chinese Do Not Know mandarin".

case 1: chinese includes all the ethnicity, as defined by china (i guess china is entitle to define itself?), so that includes all Han dialects, Manchurians (not Han and almost a dead language), and other ethnic languages such as korean/mongolian/tibetan
case 2: if you define Chinese as Han. then Chinese still incluse all those dialects such as cantonese, shangahinese, fujianese (aka taiwanese), etc

either case, mandarin chinese does not equal 'chinese'.

2) even the Minister's 47% figure is not quite right. it only refers to mandarin chinese, aka putonghua, the dialect spoken in beijing, as you correctly indicated.
about 70% of the chinese population speak a variation of mandarin, difference small enough for them to communicate with each other (i.e. smaller than portuguess vs spanish). what hte minister refers to is, orthodox mandarin which is taught is school.

Sun Bin said...

If you look at your two links.
CIA's # contradicts Blij's claim.
Blij's totally ignorant comments make me doubt if he has ever been to China, or even went to the CIA site. e.g. he called HK as "minority area" with "rebellion incidence".
while the 1000s of protests are predominatntly by Han and economic in nature.

I thought any geographer is better than Blij.

Dan tdaxp said...

Sun Bin is refering to Zhonghua Minzu, the Chinese Nation. As it was developed, it refered to all ethnicities within the border of the late Qing Empire. (Similart to America's focus on nationality by land and not blood). Of course, since that time China lost Mongolia and (for a few hundred days) gainedd Taiwan, so "Chinese Nationalists" may now exclude Mongolia and incorporate China.

I'm not sure what Sun Bin means by "(i guess china is entitle to define itself?." It sounds all nice and politically correct, but what does it actually mean? That ethnicity should be designed by a State and not by enthnologists?

Of course, his entire discussion of ethnicity is a red herring.

The Chinese language is broken into a more-or-less shared writing system and numerous languages. Sort of like if all Romance languages agreed to write in vulgar latin while using their current pronunciations and idioms. "Mandarin" is a dialect of Chinese in the same sense that French is a dialect of Latin.

Catholicgauze is correctly when he notes that most of those under Beijing's rule do not speak that language that Beijing calls "Standard Language," Taipei calls "National Language," and the rest of the world knows as the Chinese language.

Sun Bin said...

The different Han dialects share a lot mroe than just the chacter set, e.g. grammar, common words, etc....
linguistically all han dialects belong to the same subset.
then it is tibetan language family (which includes burmese).

Mongolian and uighur (tungustic) are another branch, which is different from Sino-tibetan.

From the geographically POV, there are more mongolians living in today's China than in Mongolia, so it is also one of China's ethnicity (if one takes the Zhonghua Minzu defn).

It sounds extremely ignorant if one think cantonese and shanghainese are as different from mandarin (beijing) dialect as tibetan or mongolian is.

Furthermore, the difference between Mandarin and say, the language spoken in Xian and Harbin (which are 2000 miles away), are as different as American englisha nd British english.

So the analogy of Romance languages only works for mabe 30-40% of Han dialects.

Dan tdaxp said...

Sun Bin,

Interestingly, but 90% irrelevent and 10% dubious.

A discussion on language families is interesting, but what's the point? All Romance languages are part of the Indo-European familiy that also includes Germanic, Slavic, Farsi, and northern Indian languages. This no more prooves that French is a dialect of Latin than your exegesis on the linguistics of East Asia show that Mandarin is a "dialect" of Chinese.

It's an exagerationg to say that Chinese share a character set. Mao's splintering of written Chinese is just one recent example, but even before that regional and class-level differences existed. Still, there is a more-or-less similarity between the various written langauges, as European languages more-or-less share the Latin alpahbet.

Nor am I clear on your discussion on how some Chinese languages are closer to each other than others. Italian and Spanish are closer to each other than Italian and Spanish, and Catalan can be quickly picked up if one knows Occitan, but that is hardly an argument that those languages are dialects of Latin.

There is no reason to be ashamed that there is no "Chinese" language outside Mandarin. For most of China's history, she has been "united" in the since that the Holy Roman Empire was before the Reformation.

Sun Bin said...

What are you beating at? that Chinese=Mandarin and there is no other dialects?

How much do you know the Chinese languages to be so authorative?

Do you even understand Mandarin, Cantonese, Hoklo/Minnan/Taiwanese?

How do you define dialect? Which linguist has said the above are not Dialects of Han Chinese?

My first comment was to clarify the confusion of Mandarin with the term Chinese. I did not even plan to go into how one defines the term Chinese language. How is that irrelevant and dubious? It is you who gave the whole thing your peculiat political spin.

Sun Bin said...

Anyway, let's agree that linguistic is also sort of a continuum, like genetic. And let's agree than China's (official) view (on history, etc) are geography (i.e. land) based and backward projected.

Such details do not have to affect the discussion on China's dialects (i.e. as commonly known as dialect in China years before the CCP came into rule, and also in most other countries). i.e. (recap focusing on linguistic)
1) Zonghua Minzu is the "official" view, that includes many ethnic/linguistic groups and even families: sinotibetan, tungus, even some indo-european (there are russians living in Xinjiang and Heilongjiang and it is officially an ethnic minority) -- this is one definition of "Chinese languages"
2) The commonly accepted term Chinese (let's set politics aside, i.e. as it was accepted 100 years ago) includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese. We regard these as dialects. (if you want to define dialect differently, that is also okay. But this would be different from what most people think)
3) Therefore, when we heard the term Mandarin Chinese, it refers to the dialect of Beijing, though it is also extremely close (mutually comprehensible) to most of the dialects north of Yangtze River. but Chinese includes many (more distinct) dialects, mostly south of Yangtze.

therefore, i am not really sure what you meant by "there is no "Chinese" language outside Mandarin"

Dan tdaxp said...

What are you beating at? that Chinese=Mandarin and there is no other dialects?

I'm saying that many of the "dialects" identified by the Chinese government and Chinese nationalists are as much "dialects" as French and Italian are "dialects" of Latin.

Which linguist has said the above are not Dialects of Han Chinese?

Well, here's one.

"The various Chinese languages are often referred to as dialects because they have in common the Chinese writing system. Thus, an educated speaker of any of the language varieties recognizes written Chinese, but may pronounce it in his or her own "dialect." These "dialects," however, are not mutually intelligible. Hence, from a linguistic point of view, they are not considered proper dialects but rather as separate languages (Norman 1988). The term language is used here to refer to the major distinctions within Chinese (for example, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Wu, and Min) and the term dialect to refer to further distinctions (for example, Toishan is a dialect of Cantonese)."