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Status of Chinese dialects?


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How are Chinese dialects treated in China as compared to Pǔtōnghuà? Is their use encouraged, disouraged or simply viewed as neutral? 

 

In France for example use of dialects was so frowned upon by all of 20th century that kids would be beaten by their teachers for talking in their dialect instead of "proper" Parisian French. Parents would not teach the children how to speak the local dialect and they nearly died out. The same happened in Gernany, Austria and (I believe) italy.

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My favourite anecdote about dialects is relevant here.  It involves some high school students in south west China complaining that when inspectors came to their school, their teachers would all switch from using the local dialect to using putonghua.  The problem was that their putonghua was so bad they found it almost impossible to follow what the classes were about.

 

Officially I imagine the government is pretty enthusiastic about the development of putonghua as a way of keeping China united.  I always found it surprising in Guangzhou to hear announcements on the tube made in Cantonese - it just didn't seem like the kind of accommodation the Chinese government would usually make.  The problem though, as my story highlights, is that in order for putonghua to be implemented across the country, the people implementing it need to be able to speak it.

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when I taught high school in Guangzhou 15 years ago, there was a propaganda slogan in big characters on the outside wall of the school saying "please speak Putonghua", but pretty impossible when even the teachers taught the classes in Cantonese. 

however in the little preschool where I now teach in Henan the teachers very strictly use putonghua, and even reprimand the toddlers when they speak the local dialect, even though that's what they all speak with their parents at home.

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>>"How are Chinese dialects treated in China as compared to Pǔtōnghuà? Is their use encouraged, disouraged or simply viewed as neutral?" 

 

In some parts of China, it's a hot-button political issue. Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Tibet come to mind.

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I think the point abcdefg was making was that in those parts of China speaking anything other than putonghua is very much frowned upon as it will foster a sense of independence from the rest of the country.  As such, one would expect the rules about speaking putonghua to be more strictly enforced than in other more 'benign' regions.

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You're right, LinZhenPu, I didn't choose my examples well. Agree those are not really dialects; more like distinct ethnic languages. Somethingfunny said what I was struggling with. As I understand it, people from some of these regions feel their cultural identity is being threatened by mandates that Putonghua be used as the official lingo.

 

Even here in Yunnan there is an issue with minorities speaking their own traditional languages in rural schools. Many of these dialects are not even close to standard Mandarin Chinese. Beijing doesn't get too upset about it since they are way back in the hills.

 

I have several friends here in Kunming who are 哈尼族 from 红河州。 At times we have ridden together in a taxi and neither the driver nor I had any idea what was being said when the girls were chatting among themselves. Couldn't even pick out occasional words.

 

One year I had a teacher during the summer months whose "real" job was teaching Chinese in a middle school during the rest of the year.  She said it was an uphill battle to make the kids use Putonghua, even in class.

 

The whole 昆明话 business is a thorn in my flesh every single day. Even though it's not really saying much, I frequently get told, "Your Putonghua is better than mine" especially by older people here.

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9 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

"Your Putonghua is better than mine"

 

This, I think, is a common experience for any decent Chinese speaker living or travelling in a region with strong, distinct local dialects/languages.

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8 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

I frequently get told, "Your Putonghua is better than mine" especially by older people here.

 

It's the same here in Shanghai.

 

People here seem to very proud of their dialect. Speaking 上海话 means you are form Shanghai (more or less) and above those filthy 外地人 ;) 

I even heard people making negative remarks about someone who couldn't speak\ 上海话 very well.

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I understand and agree. The "compliment" is sort of a left-handed one. It is packaged with the criticism that I cannot really speak like a local. Suppose I could probably knuckle down and learn Kunminghua, but I don't really want to.

 

Sadly, I've already picked up enough local accent 口音 to be immediately branded as a "Yunnan hick" when I venture to Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou. It's not something over which I loose sleep.

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abcdefg, I would be more than glad, if anyone here encouraged me to learn the local language. I desperately want to learn, but everyone here has such a bad attitude towards it and deems it inferior and useless, that they won't even teach me when I ask. Kind of sad, since I really like the sounds and tones of this particular Chinese variety. (Same thing also goes for the language of the majority of locals here)

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Many will die out, but I was quite encouraged when a taxi driver from Anhui told me that several years ago the local radio channel started to broadcast in local dialect instead of Putonghua (it was a smaller city - forgot which one).

So maybe there is hope for survival of at least some.

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On 2017/2/3 at 11:18 AM, LinZhenPu said:

If you ask me, the 'dialects' spoken by Uyghurs and Tibetans are not Chinese dialects. Tibetan is, well, Tibetic and the Uyghur language is Turkic. I don't know about Qinghai.

 

Precisely, they have their own languages which has nothing to do with Chinese.

15 years ago they used to study in their own languages in school, but now they are forced to study in Chinese even if they don't want to. Uighur children who study with other Uighur children in school are called 民考民,Uighur children who study with 汉族 children in school are called 民考汉。Usually 民考汉 speak better Chinese than 民考民,but no matter what, both of them have to study in Chinese, there is no way that government allows any of them to study in their own language.

However, compare to many Chinese children, who feel like 家乡话 is kind of 农村语,and 普通话 is 国语, Uighur and Tibetan children are very proud of their own languages and trying to do their very best to keep it alive.

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Just occurred to me that the head teacher at the Harbin Mandarin School said he learned the Kunming dialect when he was working there in a Chinese language school (teaching foreigners). Even though he learned it quite well he said that people in Kunming would brush him off saying 听不懂,你说的是日语。

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I have to say that Fujian has a sort of covert prestige in its various topolects and its huge variation. There was that 方言大赛 that 福建都市频道 (I think) produced, with lots of overt 劝告 directed at the heritage speakers of the four major topolects (Eastern Min, Southern Min, Puxian Min and Hakka). There is also the 攀讲 programme on the online TV channel 福州明珠网 (Zohi TV) for Eastern Min. 

 

But it is definitely related to a certain conservative ethnocentrism, bordering on parochialism (see here for the "don't learn Fuzhouhua" that one non-Chinese engineer heard a lot, as reported by the English version of the China Daily no less!). Nevertheless, examples of creativity involving (汉语?) topolects are generally applauded. Lamenting at the loss of the dialect is also definitely a thing. 

 

I tend to see English-language "mass" media in China concerns itself a bit more with revitalisation than native Chinese media. It is definitely a grassroots project, but I think most people are generally supportive.

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  • 11 months later...

I used to live in Ningbo for few years. Ningbohua is very different, I was told only Wenzhouhua is more distinct. Perhaps they were exaggerating, but even with my 0 Chinese skills I was able to hear the difference between putonghua and the local language at that time. They are so different. Regarding its status, many younger people can't really speak it properly (nbhua). I've been told there were some movements to preserve the local language, but I would definitely say the younger generations are perhaps at an intermediate level at best. I imagine it's a bit different in rural areas.

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