Talk:Varieties of Chinese

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merge & move[edit]

This is the article once at "Spoken Chinese". It was partially merged with the old "Varieties of Chinese", which covered the same topic but was more recent and was tagged for 'multiple issues'. The remnants of that article (its salvageable content) as well as its edit history is preserved at Talk:Varieties of Chinese/content fork.

The talk pages were archived, and linked above. — kwami (talk) 02:34, 2 February 2011 (UTC)

Standard Chinese or Mandarin?[edit]

IMO Mandarin is anachronistic - more suited to Qing officials and ducks. Can we edit the article to refer to 'standard Chinese'? After all the English speak English (not Anglo-saxon). The Italians speak Italian (not Tuscan). The Spanish speak Spanish (not Castilian), etc etc. Thanks. --Kleinzach 06:21, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

We already do. Where are you talking about? — kwami (talk) 07:11, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Lost? Per section title: 'Mandarin'.--Kleinzach 01:32, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
There is no section titled 'Mandarin'. There is 'bilingualism in Mandarin', which I agree should be changed, as both lects of the 'bilingual' may be Mandarin. — kwami (talk) 01:54, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Hmm. Let me assume good faith here. This section title (above) is entitled 'Standard Chinese or Mandarin?'. My first post contained a question. that question read "Can we edit the article to refer to 'standard Chinese'?" The rest of the short message explained the background to my suggestion. Is that clear now? --Kleinzach 02:16, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
No. Since you are presumably not actually referring to this section, it's irrelevant. Give me an idea of where in the article, not where on this talk page. — kwami (talk) 02:24, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
By Standard Chinese you mean Putonghua? Dylanwhs (talk) 03:17, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Indeed. (If you click on Putonghua that's actually where you arrive.) Thank you. --Kleinzach 03:25, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

the dialect thing- its not political[edit]

as early as 1848, this english language publication (written and published by non chinese englishmen), refers to varieties of Chinese as "dialects", and acknowledges that the "Dialect" term is used differently than what a dialect in the west would be described like. It acknowledges that chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, but calls them dialects, and says that the "Written character" is what unites them.

Therefore, the conspiracy theory thats been flying around, claiming that the term "dialec", was falsely applied to chinese languages by the communist party to deliberately misinform people that Chinese isn't a united language, is wrong.

There is no "playing politics", or lies on the part of the Chinese government regarding dialects- I didn't know that the communist party existed in 1848 and managed to magically take control of an English printing press and publishing company to print "propaganda".ΔΥΝΓΑΝΕ (talk) 01:25, 17 May 2011 (UTC)

It most certainly is political, just as it was political when Japanese speakers claimed that the languages in the Ryukyu islands were dialects. "We call them dialects in <insert language>" is not a valid excuse, nor are the claims of a misinformed linguist from the year 1848. Linguists, today, consider the many languages of China to be separate languages and refer to them as such. What China refers to them as is irrelevant, as they are not linguists. What Chinese linguists refer to them as in Mandarin is also irrelevant, as this is an English wikipedia article. (talk) 11:04, 31 May 2011 (UTC)
"dialect" means regional speech, typically mutually intelligible with each other. "Fangyan" in chinese, means "regional speech", the speech/ langauge of a specific region, regardless of mutual intelligibility. There is no equivalent word in English. "Dialect", was originally chosen by englishmen who chose that word to define Fangyan, not Chinese people. the author of that 1848 publication himself acknowledged that the "Dialects", were not mutually intelligible, but he used that word to describe them for lack of a better term. back then, hardly any chinese knew english- the westerners were the first to call chinese languages "dialects".ΔΥΝΓΑΝΕ (talk) 19:34, 31 May 2011 (UTC)
Actually, there are German dialects that people who only speak standard German cannot understand; same with Italian dialects. Linguists sometimes likewise call Spanish and Italian "dialects" or "idioms" of Modern Vulgar Latin. Hence, fangyan as "dialect" does make sense. It only seems not to sometimes because English does not have this kind of wide variation in dialects. For English-speakers, we would have to listen to other Germanic languages to get an idea of what, say, Cantonese would sound like to somebody who only spoke Mandarin (For example, here's a sample of Norwegian: [1] ) BGManofID (talk) 03:24, 9 December 2012 (UTC)
Are you referring to language varieties that are close enough to standard High German to be viewed as variants of it -- which would exclude Plattdeutsch, Alemannisch, English, Frisian, and Dutch -- or are you referring to all of the languages called Germanic, including also Swedish, Gothic and so forth? In this case, English speakers already have a pretty good understanding of what a wide range of languages is being considered. Your comparison Norwegian:English::Cantonese:Mandarin is an interesting one, but if it is accurate, it tends to argue against considering the Chinese languages as dialects of the German language but rather as a language group about the size and breadth of the Germanic language group.
Incidentally, you can look at that article (the one on the Germanic languages) for some indications on how the word dialect is generally used in modern descriptive linguistics -- namely for smaller differences and nonstandard or nonwritten variants. I do appreciate your evocation of dialects in the sense of daughter languages (even thousands of years later), but I suspect that this is either an older term, or one coming from historical linguistics. It's not a bad usage, just a bit arcane for the present discussion.
I would be very interested to know if the Chinese languages : Germanic languages comparison is a good one. (talk) 09:35, 5 May 2014 (UTC)
Wot common Chinese people refer to the language(s) as, yes, is irrelavant, you're right. But how Chinese linguists refers to them can't be simply dismissed as such, can it? Do we not have any linguists, may I ask? I personally think that you are removing them from the discussion-----"wot do you Chinese know? This is English wikipedia!" Please, state the facts and argue the ideas, but save the patronising. (talk) 12:42, 22 July 2011 (UTC)
The term "dialects" in English for the Chinese languages comes from an earlier period when Chinese linguistics (and linguistics in general) was not as well understood by linguists and other observers who were communicating in English. It was exacerbated by the very interesting Chinese phenomenon of several spoken languages with one written language -- certainly quite unique and not invented by the current government of China. But the continued defence of this misleading term is partly due to ignorance on the part of everyday speakers of Chinese about the definitions of linguistic terms describing the languages they use every day (such folk notions are not restricted to Chinese speakers), together with a deliberate conflation of various languages under the general term of Chinese, which is then identified with Mandarin, on the part of the current Chinese government. So yes, while the origin is complex, the continuation is definitely political -- and it mars this article to the point where you have to read linguistics from other sources than Wikipedia to really understand what is going on. (talk) 08:50, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

Top-level grouping is presented as misleadingly definite and discrete[edit]

According to Gan Chinese, Gan and Xiang were only carved out of the Mandarin region in 1937. Jin Chinese was carved out in 1985 by a single linguist, Li Rong, on the basis of a single feature, retention of the final glottal stop, even though it is retained in other areas such as Southwestern Mandarin, which apparently no prominent linguist has championed promoting to a top-level group, even though Chinese people perceive Sichuanese to be as distinctive as Xiang or Gan.

Actually Sichuan, Hunan, and Jiangxi all show stratification between more Mandarinized dialects in their northern plains and more conservative, divergent dialects farther southwest in and near the hills. Here the English Wikipedia articles are behind the Chinese Wikipedia articles in incorporating newer and more detailed evidence. These patterns are actually a good fit for the wave model which is nowhere mentioned in this article, which only talks about tree structure.

Varieties_of_Chinese#Quantitative_similarity apparently remains the only actual citation (at least in English Wikipedia) of quantitative study of distance between major Chinese dialects, as opposed to particular linguists' edicts on top-level grouping presented without supporting reasoning. Apparently the presentation of a single definite tree in this article follows the standard English-language survey textbooks like Norman and Ramsey, which are now about 25 years old, and based on Chinese sources older than that.

Various linguists' positions on top-level grouping are indeed facts we should document, but Wikipedia should not strongly endorse or reify one particular position, e.g. by providing a very prominent map, tree, or outline for one grouping, and little to nothing for others, when the situation is so indefinite. Contrast Afroasiatic_languages#Distribution_and_branches which instead prominently presents the variation and conflict between linguists' views on top-level grouping of Afroasiatic. --JWB (talk) 07:01, 10 July 2011 (UTC)


I'm rereading Norman, and he does talk about the wave model; his primary division of Chinese dialects is into Northern, Southern, and a transitional Central zone, which includes Wu, and has received multiple waves of Northern influence. Interestingly his discussion (Chapter 8) is based on 12 cities as major data points, including Kunming, but none in Sichuan. The Yunnan dialect area originated with a Northern Chinese population colonizing a previously non-Chinese-speaking areas, bypassing influence from southern Chinese dialects, and Kunming is still noted for its intelligibility with Beijing. On the other hand, Sichuan has more conservative, less Mandarinized dialects in southwestern Sichuan. Norman has almost no mention of Sichuan; it appears only once in the index. Taking this into account, the situation in Sichuan looks similar to those in Hunan and Jiangxi, but has been glossed over in favor of a contiguous Southwestern Mandarin area because of the obscurity of southwestern Sichuan. --JWB (talk) 23:20, 11 July 2011 (UTC)

Here is machine translation of a table from zh:官话#.E5.88.86.E5.8C.BA.E5.8F.B2:

Partitioning method for a variety of Mandarin, the following is a brief history of the partition:

Mandarin partition history
Years Partitioning Note
1934 North Mandarin , Hua Nanguan if two independent large dialect "Mandarin" is the first time for Chinese district; contains the current language Jin , Xiang language , Gan
1937 - 1948 Northern Mandarin , Mandarin on the river (ie, Southwest Mandarin ), Xiajiang Mandarin (the JAC Mandarin ) for the three separate major dialect Hunan and Jiangxi language area is set aside, the scope and Mandarin area has been and now Mandarin and Shanxi very close to the range of language areas.
1955 - 1981 Mandarin was first merged into a large dialect area. Internal partitions in different ways, a more popular way will be divided into North Mandarin , Northwest Mandarin , Mandarin JAC and the Southwest Mandarin Mandarin Chinese has since become a major dialect
1987 Atlas of Chinese language Mandarin dialect for a large area, the internal into the Northeast Mandarin , Beijing Mandarin , Jiao-Liao Mandarin , Ji Luguan words , Zhongyuan Mandarin , Lan silver Mandarin , Mandarin JAC and the Southwest Mandarin Jin Mandarin language was first set aside; 8 Zone to become the most popular Chinese dialect classification of academic

--JWB (talk) 23:50, 12 July 2011 (UTC)

"Examples of variations"---is it really valid?[edit]

FIrst of all, I am not a linguist, but I am Chinese and I received education in China up to year 9, so I assume that it is appropriate for me to state some of my views. I don't think the comparison offered in this section is the most valid one. The "cognate to cognate" translation from Hokkien to Mandarin, in a way, isn't really a valid translation, and I personally think that the translator has the purpose of creating an awkward sentence in mind when doing the translation. If "我家己人"("I myself" in Hokkien) can be translated as "My family's own person", then "我自己个儿“("I myself" in Beijing Mandarin) may as well mean "myself-single-son"! As you can see, a sentence in Mandarin can also be subject to such manipulation and become unrecognisable. It is clear that any such word to word interpretation should not be valid. A passage written fully in British slang would produce some comic effect when interpreted with the algorithm for Standard English. Also, "我家己人 有淡薄 无爽快“isn't really meaningless to a Mandarin speaker. "我家己人” clearly contains elements of "I"(我) and "self"(己人) in it, while the meaning of “淡薄”(weak;slight) can be easily extended to serve as a qualification for the degree of something. "无" is also commonly used in Mandarin to indicate negativity, and “爽快” does not merely mean mentally "refreshed"; it can mean physically refreshed, i.e. free of desease. In this way the meaning can be easily formed. (talk) 13:15, 22 July 2011 (UTC)

I agree with this statement as a Southern Chinese who also speaks Mandarin. I can tell you that 家己人 means exactly the same thing as 自己 in putonghua but that the way they pronounce things in Hokkien makes use of the 家 in this case just like Wu would say 自家 to mean the same thing as 自己. In the same way 淡薄 is only an archaic way of saying something is in a slight degree which in putonghua is 一点. 无 is a synonym of 不. So the two phrases
"我家己人 有淡薄 无爽快" and
"我自己有一点不舒服" can be paired like this. 我家己人/我自己 有淡薄/有一点 无/不 爽快/舒服.
So for any Chinese person to read this it might look awkward at first but you'll be able to figure it out in no time. I'll add the Wu to extend the point. 我家己人/我自己/我自家 有淡薄/有一点/有些 无/不/勿 爽快/舒服/舍意.
This is not to say there isn't something nonsensical to Mandarin in Hokkien but that this wasn't it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:15, 6 July 2012 (UTC)

Chinese switch on zh wiki[edit]

Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this question, but what's the switch called on the Chinese wiki that allows you to view different variants of Chinese? (talk) 14:57, 16 February 2013 (UTC)

If you mean different regional dialects, they appear as separate languages here on Wikipedia, so check under the tab "其他语言" in the left. There's one for Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka. On the Mandarin page, you switch between traditional and simplified scripts by clicking on the button on the upper left next to "Article" and "Talk". (talk) 11:26, 10 August 2013 (UTC)

Political and cultural-centric POV - CHANGE TITLE[edit]

I move that this article be retitled either: "Chinese Dialects", or "Chinese Languages", both phrases actually meaning the same thing. I prefer the latter as it does no carry the implication either of any subordinate status or of any superordinate reality ie it does not align with a nationalist/political framework but with a linguistic one. The phrase "Varieties of Chinese" I find derogatory. It is simply a political POV and therefroe not something that Wiki should tolerate. There is no hard difference between dialects and languages as many article on wiki testify, and "Chinese" is no exception to this fact. LookingGlass (talk) 10:29, 22 February 2013 (UTC)

It's actually the opposite: the current title is neural, and the two you suggest are not. And BTW, they do not mean the same thing, but opposite things. — kwami (talk) 04:44, 23 February 2013 (UTC)
Please would you provide some substance to your opinion Kwamikagami? Why do you think that "Chinese languages" is not neutral but "Varieties of Chinese" is? To me "Varieties of Chinese" sounds colonialistic. "Varieties" are variations on a dominant theme. However in some case these langauges/dialects are quite distict things. In any even the term "varieties" is not one that is recognised as far as I am aware in linguistics. LookingGlass (talk) 12:54, 25 February 2013 (UTC)
Kwami is correct. See Variety (linguistics). Keahapana (talk) 23:34, 25 February 2013 (UTC)

Thank you for the reference Keahapana. However there remains a problem in my opinion. Wikipedia is a general purpose encyclopedia, not a specialist one. Especially the titles of articles should therefore use everyday English rather than technical jargon, especially where such jargon is unreferenced outside of the specialist area concerned. Here, for instance, neither Merriam Webster online nor Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus list the meaning "lect" for the word: "variety", so while the term may be technically correct in linguistic circles (contrary to my initial understanding), it is obfuscatory and misleading as nobody outside of that sphere has access to the knowledge of its usse by the discipline (and in a title it cannot be cross-referenced) Using the techincal term seems seems to serves no purpose than the promotion of a POV. This point is seen in the section on classification where it is stated "The difference between Mandarin and other Chinese "dialects" is easily comparable to that between English and its Germanic cousin languages (German, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, etc.)". Again, in a non-technical article, it would be absurd to suggest that English, German, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, etc. were "varieties" of a macro language. I notice now that the article seems to be based almost entirely upon a 19C work by Samuel Wells Williams, an active US missionary and diplomat. The title seems to me neither to further the development of a non-POV article (ie one that separates it from or makes clear its political and cultural aspect) nor to assist the general reader in quickly understanding the subject of the article. The whole promotes a the political aspect of language classification. LookingGlass (talk) 19:46, 5 March 2013 (UTC)

I agree that it is politically motivated. "Varieties" is not wrong, if you read the Wikipedia article on the term, but it is imprecise because it equivocates between language and dialect. "Languages" is the more commonly understandable term, and it is more precise because it makes it clear that we are really talking about a language group. People are sticking to "varieties" because "languages" offends some people's world view. But it should not; Chinese is a language family like any other, it should be describable using normal linguistic terms without people getting bothered about it.
Incidentally the discussion does draw our attention to one feature of modern linguistics that sometimes troubles me: modern linguistics gives primacy to spoken language as the "real" language. But that is a whole other discussion. (talk) 09:56, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

I basically agree with LookingGlass. Some people say it is "neutral" to use this title. But the purpose of such a "neutral" term is to satisfy some people's political view of language diversity. Just one simple question: do we use "varieties of Romance" for the article on the Romance languages? NO, even though, as pointed out in the first sentence of the Classification section, the Romance languages are actually less varied than the Han (Chinese) languages. I'm sure there are also some people out there that think the Romance languages are somewhat dialects of a macro language because of the level of mutual intelligibility. Why do we have to use "varieties" in the title only for the Han languages? Is the political view of some people really so important that we need, in a linguistic article, to conceal the fact that they are languages, not dialects? Lysimachi (talk) 00:32, 21 December 2014 (UTC)

Varieties seems to be used quite often in the scholarly literature. It covers both languages and dialects, as this article does. Having two articles called Chinese language and Chinese languages would be a bit confusing, and merging the two would probably result in an article that was too big (though it's a possibility). W. P. Uzer (talk) 10:55, 21 December 2014 (UTC)
In fact, the two probably should be merged. They are dealing with the same topic, and we shouldn't really be having two articles on the same topic just on the grounds that there are different points of view as to whether it's a single language or not. There are anyway separate articles on Written Chinese and Standard Chinese. I would call the merged article Chinese languages - I think the idea that they are separate languages is well enough known and accepted at least sufficiently as not to surprise anyone. W. P. Uzer (talk) 21:27, 23 December 2014 (UTC)
The Chinese language article covers a broader topic, roughly matching the whole of the Cambridge Language Surveys Chinese volume, in which chapters or pairs of chapters correspond to sub-articles here:
Chapter Wiki article(s)
1. Introduction
2. The historical phonology of Chinese Historical Chinese phonology
3. The Chinese script Chinese characters, Written Chinese
4. The classical and literary languages Classical Chinese
5. The rise development of the written vernacular Written vernacular Chinese
6. The modern standard language I Standard Chinese
7. The modern standard language II
8. Dialectal variation in North and Central China Varieties of Chinese, Sinitic languages
9. The dialects of the Southeast
10. Language and society bits in several articles
There are a couple of forks here, but the overall article isn't one of them. Kanguole 01:29, 24 December 2014 (UTC)
So would you say that this article and Sinitic languages is an unnecessary fork? W. P. Uzer (talk) 07:47, 24 December 2014 (UTC)
Probably, though Sinitic languages is an incomplete list without content or context. Also, the groups it calls "languages" are themselves composed of multiple non-mutually-intelligible varieties. Kanguole 11:32, 24 December 2014 (UTC)


"In addition, while speaking similar dialect provides very strong group identity at the level of a city or county, the high degree of linguistic diversity limits the amount of group solidarity at larger levels. Finally, the linguistic diversity of southern China makes it likely that in any large group of Chinese, Mandarin will be the only form of speech that everyone understands." I don't really understand this segment at all. This belongs to the "Political issues" section. First, it says "while speaking similar dialect provides very strong group identity at the level of a city or county." I interpret that as speaking similar dialect is a good thing then the next clause is about linguistic diversity is bad. While something is good, something else is bad. I have no idea why the 2 totally different ideas are connected with a comma in the same sentence? Plus the "while" conjunction is not even being used correctly. The sentence simply doesn't make any sense. Second, "Finally, the linguistic diversity of southern China makes it likely that in any large group of Chinese, Mandarin will be the only form of speech that everyone understands," how is that a political issue? The second sentence shows the benefits of knowing Mandarin (I believe the Mandarin in this context means the same as "Standard Chinese" language) so why is it in the "Political issues" section? Come on, Wikipedia is only this good?? (talk) 08:12, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

citation needed[edit]

I highlight a part of a sentence in the intro that needs a reliable citation. It goes "Because they share a common written form,[1] most Chinese speakers and Chinese linguists perceive them to be variations of a single Chinese language". Can anyone, especially the one who wrote this sentence, show us a study that surveyed a significant number of "Chinese speakers" and a significant number of "Chinese linguists", of which more than half say they perceive "the varieties of Chinese" to be "variations of a single Chinese language" because "they share a common written form"? If there is no such study, I don't think such statement should be there. Wikipedia is based on reliable sources, not personal views.Lysimachi (talk) 17:23, 18 December 2014 (UTC)

I changed this sentence and gave sources for what I wrote in its place. W. P. Uzer (talk) 21:29, 23 December 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for adding the referfence, W. P. Uzer. However, there still seems to be two problems.
First, in the book, it was not indicated at all why the varieties of Chinese (Han languages) are popularly perceived as a single language, but in the present version of the article, the reasons are given. What is the reference that the reasons are the "common written form" and "that they are spoken chiefly within a single politically unified country"? I'm especially curious how you came to the "common written form" being the reason. Would Germans and Italians think German and Italian are the same language because they both use the Latin script? OK, some people may say the Han characters are written the same for different varieties of Chinese, but the words are spelled differently for different European languages. However, the different Han languages also use different characters and some characters are used in some but rarely in others (e.g., English: They are eating a baozi right now.; Mandarin:現在他們在吃包子; Yue: 佢哋而家食緊包). Also it is more common for some Han languages to use Latin script (please take a look at the 客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî version of the article), because there are many spoken syllables without unambiguous written characters that correspond.
Second, per WP:V, the cited sources should be reliable, preferably those with "fact-checking and accuracy" or "academic and peer-reviewed publications". Is the book you cited a peer-reviewed one? The part of the book cited does not include any reference to support the notion that the Han languages popularly perceived to be variants of the same language, nor did it do any study to support that. In this regard, that notion seems merely to be the author's own perception. In addition, in the same sentence where the "popular perception" is mentioned, the author also said that "There is as yet no agreed Romanisation system for other [i.e., non-Mandarin] spoken varieties of Chinese ... it seems unlikely that efforts will be made to design such systems". For this book published in 1994, both of those suggestions seem to be wrong, as there had already been effort to design such systems (e.g. Church Romanization for Southern Min or Cantonese Pinyin for Yue). Also, the author seemed to suggest that there is an agreed system for Mandarin romanization, but it was not true because, at least at that time, the Taiwanese used system(s) other than Pinyin for Mandarin. Such ignorance of Han languages makes me concerned about the reliability of this book. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Lysimachi (talkcontribs) 00:31, 24 December 2014 (UTC)
Certainly this needs some more work, preferably with some expansion in the rest of the article. Others may know of better and more detailed sources about this matter. However, I can find plenty of sources that express similar sentiments to the two books I cited, it's not just the view of that one author. W. P. Uzer (talk) 10:04, 24 December 2014 (UTC)
If it is personal view or "sentiments", it should be pointed out in the article it is the view of a particular author who thinks it is "popularly perceived" that way (per WP:POV). Also please note, as mentioned above, not all Han languages use the same written form. It is therefore misleading to say "because the varieties share a common written form". Lysimachi (talk) 00:16, 6 January 2015 (UTC)