Talk:Chinese language/Archive 1

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fixed some grammar issues in the "Chinese Grammar" section and added a couple details. Hope everything still looks good.

The Anonymous Speaker #2, and responses

"The Chinese Language" is, however, a fiction. The term "Chinese" is employed to denote both the language spoken by Confucius and the one [Mao Zedong]? used in authoring his works, the language people in Beijing? use in daily life as well as the conversational language of Hongkong?. These sub-languages differ considerably. To the casual observer, this difference may seem so big as to render the usage of an umbrella term to collectively refer to them preposterous.

I don't quite agree with this paragraph. I am not a linguist so I can only express my opinion from the perspective of a native Cantonese speaker and a layman. The author is mixing the written language, spoken dialects and text from different periods in history in the same discussion. It is true that those who don't understand the differences simply lump everything together as Chinese. To my mom who don't know English, modern English and Shakespearean English are all English. According to the same argument, the English Language is a fiction too. It is just generalization due to ignorance. In my opinion, such generalized statement does not belong in an encyclopedia.

P0M 01:18, 12 Jan 2004 (UTC): Good analysis and good example. The original comment is valid, in a way, because it is really "the Chinese Languaes" (parallel to "the Romance Languages").

The language used by Confucius is known as "Wen Yen Wen" (literally: literature language text). The language used by Mao Zedong or those in present days Beijing is known as "Bai Hua Wen" (literally: plain speech text). "Plain speech" here refers to Mandarin. Both use the same characters. But it takes special scholars to understand Confucius's text. Most ancient literatures require annotation for students to understand the precise meaning.

P0M: Actually, "wen2 yan2 wen2" refers to a written language. It is not known for sure how people spoke because there are no tape recordings (obviously) and also no discussions about the relationship between written and spoken language. "Bai hua wen" does not refer to the language that Mao Zedong spoke. "Bai hua" means something like "vernacular Chinese," and it became a kind of cultural icon in the 1920s when people such as Hu Shi advocated writing books the way people spoke. There were already novels written pretty much the way people talk. The Hong Lou Meng would be a good example of that. But the "fine" people looked down on authors who would not write in proper wen2 yan2 wen2, and one of the results was that people had to be specially educated to read the gobbledegook that the officials turned out, and they had to learn how to write the same stuff (especially ba1 gu3 wen2) if they wanted to get a government job. It is the rare author today who really writes bai2 hua4 wen2. Most people write using what is called "shu1 mian4 yu3," a form of written Chinese that is closer to spoken Chinese than wen2 yan2 wen2 but which uses elements of wen2 yan2. It seems more formal, more educated, more proper, etc.

P0M: The wen2 yan2 wen2 that Confucius wrote does indeed require some help to get through. The language hadn't quite settled down at his time, or even at the time of Mencius or Zhuang Zi. But by the time of Xun2 Zi3, the language begins to look like a telegraphic form of spoken Chinese and the vocabulary is pretty much what it is today (i.e., most characters meant then what they mean today). By the time of Zhu Xi (1130-1200) you can get a good comparison of the difference between bai2 hua4 and wen2 yan2 because the Zhu Zi Yu-lei consists of lecture notes by his students and they more or less wrote down just what he said. It's easy to read. The Zhu Zi Wen Ji, on the other hand, is a compilation of letters, essays, etc. that Zhu Xi wrote himself. It is much harder to read because it is real wen2 yan2.

In fact, "Bai Hua Wen" became the official language around 1911. Mandarin is the closest dialect to "Bai Hua Wen" at the time. From that point on "Wen Yen Wen" became less and less popular in modern writing because they are too arcane to understand. All Chinese students have exposure to "Wen Yen Wen" when we study ancient Chinese literature in high school. Strictly speaking, there is only one official Chinese language, that is Mandarin. All others are just spoken dialects. I was told that there are 7 major dialect groups in China and hundreds if not thousands of regional dialects.

P0M: Actually, two things were going on. One was an educational policy set by the central government because they realized that they needed to have a common language of instruction all over the country if they were going to get universal literacy and not have education be the special privilege of the rich people. The Jiao4 Yu4 Bu4 of that time decided to select what we call "Mandarin" (the language that covers most of the huge map recently posted and that it calls "guan1 hua4 in accord with a tradition of long standing). They figured it would be easiest to unify China if they made the language of the largest group of speakers the official language for the entire country. It would be relatively easy for someone in, e.g., Yunnan to learn "standard Mandarin" than it would be for somebody in Guang Dong to do so. But it would be extremely hard to get all the people in China to speak Cantonese. The next thing they had to do was to try to get a version (dialect) of Mandarin that everyone could learn fairly easily. So they wanted to avoid Beijing regionalism (calling the sun ri4 tou2 when everybody else said tai4 yang2, using "mier2ge" instead of "ming2 tian2", etc.), but they wanted to select some compromise and as time went on Beijing hua minus the extra ers became a kind of de facto standard.
P0M: The other thing that was going on was the "democratization" of literature and writing, and that was the bai2 hua4 yun4 dong4. It had a big impact on the kind of writing that was taught in the school system, but I don't think it was primarily a government initiative. The government kind of caught up with it.

It is true that residents of Hong Kong can read newspapers from Beijing (but not vice versa). It is because Chinese people in Hong Kong learn Mandarin as the official written language and learn Cantonese as the spoken language. We don't learn the fictional Chinese you described. If one reads a Chinese newspaper aloud in Cantonese, it sounds strange because the grammar and choice of words are in Mandarin despite every word is pronounced in Cantonese. A well written Chinese article should be in Mandarin so that all Chinese people can read the same standard language regardless of their regional dialects. In practice, most tabloid newspapers in Hong Kong use Cantonese words and grammar in their writing. As a result, a Beijing resident will have major difficulties understanding a Hong Kong tabloid. They might have better luck with serious publications from Hong Kong which are written in formal written Chinese.

P0M: I've seen some things written in Taiwanese. I agree, it is not easy for the person who is used to reading something written in "the language of instruction." But, as you testify, people in Hong Kong can get used to reading (and even writing) things in the Mandarin idiom.

According to legend/history, the first emperor in Qin Dynasty unified the Chinese written language by burning books and buried scholars alive. In present days, most Chinese dialects can associate with the written language in one way or the other because each dialect evolved around the same written language over centuries.

P0M: I think it really isn't clear what people were speaking in, for instance, the State of Chu in 350 B.C. But the northern culture was becoming dominant and the Chu people were coming under its sway. The charts mention above indicate that all of the current yu3 (Yue4 yu3, Wu2 yu3, etc.) evolved out of the same language. What happened when the Romans spread their empire over Europe was that Latin turned into "mutant" forms everywhere it went, and because it was written alphabetically the written languages changed along with their spoken counterparts. As a result, an Italian needs to take lessons to learn to speak to somebody from Portugal, or even to read that language. But you are right to stress the importance of the written language because it had an immense stabilizing influence on the languages as they developed, and even though pronunciations and word choices changed, the whole thing held together much more consistently than did the Romance Languages (not to mention the Indo-European languages).

Chinese dialects are quite different from one another. Not only the pronounciation of the same words are different; the choice of words are different too. For example, a refridgerator is called a "Bing Shang" (ice box) in Beijing in Mandarin; but it is called a "Suet Gui" (snow cabinet) in Hong Kong in Cantonese; but it is called a "Shon Gue" (frost cabinet) in San Francisco old Chinatown in Taisanese. Despite both in Mandarin, Computer is called "Gee Shun Gi" (computing machine) in Beijing; but it is called "Den Lau" (electric brain) in Taiwan. If these are written as spoken, they all use different characters. However, all Chinese people can guess what it is by the meaning of the characters. There are exception when there are conflicts in usage. For example, "Gee Shun Gi" are names for handheld calculators in Hong Kong. So one has to read in context or identify the dialect used by the author to tell between a computer vs. a calculator.

P0M: Right. It's the combination of changing the pronunciations and using different vocabulary that tears languages apart. The same thing happens with the Romance Langueages or between English and German. If refrigerators were called "shuang gui" in Mandarin, then people would not have very much problem with "shon gue".

It is understandable that different names are given to modern inventions depending on cultural bias. However, some basic words are different too. For example, "home" is "Uk Kay" in Cantonese, but "Ga" in formal Chinese. If I were to write a letter to my brother, I would write "Uk Kay", but if I were to write for a newspaper, I should be writing "Ga" instead. A spoken dialect, such as Cantonese, should never be used in formal writings.

P0M: Differences across languages can create big problems -- especially if an innocent word in one language gets used in another language and it means something totally different. Americans speaking Spanish have to be careful not to try to say "I am embarassed," because it ends up meaning "I am pregnant."

The Anonymous Speaker #2, part II, and responses

The idea is that the different dialects people call Chinese are not always mutually intelligible, so deserve to count as different languages. Hence, the one Chinese language does not exist, the single written language not withstanding. This is not the same as English, where speakers from one dialect have a pretty good chance at conversing with speakers from another. Old English counts separately, as should Confucius' speech, but not the separation between Beijing's Mandarin and Hong Kong's Cantonese. Maybe I am missing the point... :(

P0M: Which person wrote the above paragraph? It's confusing when you don't sign your comments. Anyway, it's not very helpful to compare Chinese to English. Its better to compare Chinese Languages to Romance Languages. Then you find out that the Romance languages are a little easier to learn because they share cognates, but the Chinese Languages are lots easier to learn because they share characters. Or you could compare Germanic languages like English and German. They grew out of the same thing, but you almost wouldn't know it now.
P0M: Anyway, I basically agree with your observation. I am not sure how to quantify the trouble it takes for an English speaker to learn German or for a Hakka speaker to learn Dungan, but it should be possible to get a rough idea by measuring how long it takes people to be able to "handle exchanges on the street" in both situations.
P0M: The problem really is to find a way to talk about the "family tree" of languages without getting into nationalism and politics.

Both Beijing and Hong Kong use the same written Chinese language which was based on "Bai Hua Wen". Beijing use Mandarin dialect and Hong Kong use Cantonese dialect as their spoken language. The situation is similar to the 300+ dialects in India which seem totally unrelated, except English as a common language.

P0M: Right. Essentially, Hong Kong people write formal essays in a foreign language -- just the way educated people used to write in Latin so they could be understood by people from all over Europe who were educated.

The key point and the only difference here is the unification of the written language which happened centuries ago. Imagine if a dictatorship rules India today and he destroys all non-English books and scholars in India like the Qin emperor did. And 500 years from now, the Indian language will evolve into something like today's Chinese which are written the same way but spoken totally differently in each region of India.

P0M: I think you are assuming that everybody in India speaks essentially the same language and that it would keep its written form but evolve into different spoken languages. But, as I understand it, the languages spoken in India are quite diverse, and English has taken over the de facto role of common language simply because everybody was encouraged to learn English when the various nations in what we now call India were united under England's colonial rule.

The original author returns

I'm the original author of the Chinese language article, and it seems like I've dropped in quite late - sorry... I agree with nearly everything you say, but it seems like I've done a bad job rendering all this into understandable English. I'm not a Chinese speaker, so you are in a better position to write this article than I am - please go on and do it!

I can understand that the statement "The Chinese language is a fiction" ails you - I somewhat regret having written it since it is very blunt. But I think the basic idea is correct. And I also think you definitely can't compare the situation of Chinese with the situation of English (again, I'm not an expert with English, not even an English native speaker - so this may be complete bullshit), but neither can you compare the situation of Chinese and the Indian languages. There is no reason whatsoever to use a collective term like "the Indian language" - Hindi and Mahrati don't even belong to the same family of languages, I think. On the other hand, there _is_ a good reason for calling both Cantonese and Putonghua "Chinese" - I speak very little Cantonese, but AFAIK its grammar is identical to Putonghua grammar in great parts (no flectional system, use of particles like "de"/"ge"...). Calling Confucius' language "Chinese" is justified, I think, for the same reason it is justified to call the language of early medieval England "Old English" - no modern English speaker could understand it without linguistic training, but it is the direct ancestor of his language and hence "the same language". (Just an aside about the Chinese dialect groups: I think there are _eight_ of them, but I only found the names of _seven_ in my sources - see article - do you know which one could be the eighth?) So the situation as I see it is that "Chinese" is an umbrella term (you would perhaps agree to that), but that this fact is often not understood. In Germany, most people don't, and so I think an encyclopedia article would be a good place to set this right. If my article doesn't accomplish this - well, blame it on my bad English and "go thou and improve it"! -- Xiemaisi

PS: Oh, one last thing: You claim Qin Shihuangdi did the "fen shu keng ru" to unify Chinese language?!?!? First time that I've heard this explanation! I'm not an expert with this either, but to the best of my knowledge, he did it to suppress Confucianism. And in fact he didn't burn _all_ the books - he spared the exemplars in the Imperial Library. All he wanted to do was monopolize knowledge in his hands and make it controllable. That the Imperial Library burnt down during the riots towards the end of the Qin Dynasty (and thus all these books really _were_ lost) wasn't his fault! Oops, this is beginning to sound like the vindication of a tyrant ... Best I stop it now ;-)

"English in India" is an incorrect analogy. English is an alphabetic language. Even if India lost all written languages, the English alphabets would be used like Pinyin in China instead of unifying the dialects themselves. My point is that several factors (the unified writing system, the time past, syllablic nature of the language) all contribute to the evolution of Chinese dialects to the current state. The Chinese language is quite unique and it is hard to compare to other languages which based on alphabets. It is like comparing oranges and apples.

What does the orthography have to do with anything? Are Mycenaean and Hellenic Greek different languages, just because one uses a syllabary and the other an alphabet?

I changed the description of Chinese language as a fiction. The problem with that statement is that is assumes that the idea of the world consists of separate distinctive language which are intelligible with each other but are unintelligible to outsiders is the "correct" one. This idea of how languages are structures comes

out as a result of European ethno-linguistic nationalism of the 19th century, and there is no particular reason I know of to claim that it is more "correct" than the Chinese way of thinking about language.

I also edited some of the comments on grammar and writing system which are wrong. It is *NOT* true that there is a single writing system which is automatically intelligible to all Chinese. Most Chinese would have extreme difficulty reading something in wen-yan, and most Mandarin speakers would find something written in colloquial Cantonese to be completely untelligible. It's also not true that Chinese has a simple grammar (it doesn't have inflectional endings but the lack of complexity there is made up for in other areas). It is also not true that all dialects have the same grammar. There are many word order differences between the dialects.

Also, I added an outline of the description of different characters.

Made some more changes. Added an outline of material to be filled in. I changed the classification of dialects. The five part classification I've used is the

standard one which I got from "languages of China" by the Princeton University Press.

I removed some of the material regarding the tones and multi-syllabication of Chinese because it was wrong. First of the all the paragraph implied that tones developed in ancient Chinese due to lack of syllables and we don't know that. We do know that tones existed in middle Chinese. Also, (ironically) the multi-syllabication of Chinese words is something that is happening only in Mandarin due to loss of tones. Southern dialects are still mostly mono-syllable. So I moved that section under Mandarin.

I am english (learning Putonghua, slowly, but anyway...). I have corrected some grammer in the second paragraph, hope i didn't mess up any facts. Plus I have spotted something i am not sure how to correct: in the 2nd paragraph "wen yen" is mentioned, by the 3rd, it has become "wen yan". i assume this is a spelling mistake, but i could be wrong. If so, then maybe some clarification of the distinction should be made. cheers -- AW

Moved to talk

Hence one could say that the characters are what makes the Chinese language an entity. If some day an alphabetic system should supplant them, "the Chinese language" would cease to exist.

Actually what makes the Chinese language an entity is that Chinese people think of it as such. Within Chinese there are many sets of unintelligible character sets.

To ensure the acceptance of simplified characters, the PRC government forbid the use of traditional characters in mainland China. It is a huge success, but occasionally challenged by the invasion of pop cultures from Hong Kong and Taiwan--up to a point that People's Daily once called for a fight against the use of foreign characters: the traditional Chinese characters!!!

Two problems

1) As far as I know, the use of traditional characters is not banned in the PRC. People don't generally use them, but there isn't an official ban. Indeed, I have seen editions of the People's Daily printed in traditional characters.

2) The quote from the People's Daily needs far more context. It makes a big difference if the quote is from 1955, 1965 or 2000.

Hmm. If there is no official ban, then it is quite a common misconception. People Daily in traditional characters is not available within mainland China. The quote is from some time between 1980 and 2000, sure an extensive search is needed to confirm the exact date and quote. Wshun

Nailed dead

The notion of a "Chinese language" may seem at first to be a fiction. The term "Chinese" is employed for the classical written language known as "wen2 yan2 (文言 "literary language")" which was used by Confucius, as well as the modern standard known as "bai2 hua4 (白話 [白话] "vernacular")". It includes many different spoken variations which may be mutually unintelligible. The spoken language of Beijing is for example very different from Cantonese, the conversational language of Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons for using a collective name. The most important one is that Chinese themselves consider the language to be unified entity, and there are good reasons for treating it as such. [emphasis added]

I take exception to these statements. This is not NPOV -- it nails dead that 'Chinese language' (singular) is a fact, when it is instead still a controversial topic (see, for example, the two books I put in the References. Many linguists will still disagree and will say 'Chinese languages' (plural) is the correct description. The article, as it stands now, allows no such dissent.

And, I hope that one should realize they are representing more than 1 billion people when they say 'the Chinese [people] themselves consider ...', leaving no space for diversity of thought. --Kaihsu Tai 19:03, 16 Nov 2003 (UTC)

Also, should we move the article to Chinese (linguistics)? I will speak no more. --Kaihsu Tai 19:05, 16 Nov 2003 (UTC)

The discrepancy is over whether to call it "Chinese language" or "Chinese languages" (plural). Is there a better way of doing this? The current form is commonest. --Jiang 21:40, 16 Nov 2003 (UTC)
I've rewritten the article a bit to try to solve this problem by "giving equal airtime" to both views, so to speak. I suggest leaving it as "Chinese language", but put the actual Wiki template into the actual language / dialect groups: Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. -- Ran 07:24, 11 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Rewrite needed

The current article is a complete mess. I see no reason to separate "Chinese written language" from here as the content for both fits on one page. Not only is it unprecedented, it is unconvenient and illogicial - the Chinese language (singular) exists mainly because of its written language. Besides, the written language article repeats a whole lot of information either here or at Chinese character. If we're going to be redundant, please do it on fewer pages. I have posted a reorganized version at [User:Jiang/Sandbox]. I tried unsuccessfully to trim some of the fluff in the history section. IMHO this article is a disgrace to brilliant prose (it's listed there).

Ultimately, the template for Wikipedia:WikiProject Languages needs to be applied here. In addition, the information on Chinese romanization is spread over several pages. I've copied some of the text to User:Jiang/Scratch pad for anyone interested in making a comprehensive article. At the bottom of that article is also text copied from the Mandarin article that could appropriately be moved here or to the Chinese dialect page. --Jiang 13:45, 22 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Done. --Jiang 07:24, 1 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Since we're going have articles for both "Chinese language" as well as "Mandarin language", "Cantonese language", etc. I propose that we use the Wiki template for only Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. and not Chinese. In any case, the "Chinese language" is more a philosophical and cultural reality than a linguistic one -- and should be written as such. -- Ran 07:23, 11 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I disagree with that statement about linguistic reality. First of all, as far as writing is concerned, there is a large amount of mutual intelligiblity. I know of people who can't speak a word of Mandarin, but who can read and write Chinese just fine.
The basic issue is that the way Chinese model language is just different from the way that it is done in Europe.
Maybe we ought to have a new WikiProject for Chinese dialects. Something to keep in mind that among speakers, the notion that all of these are just dialects of one language is controversial in one case that I know of (i.e. Taiwanese). With every other dialect, there isn't any objection to calling these variations, dialects of a single language.
In addition to the above, there are a number of other issues. First, there are hundreds, if not thousands of recognizable variations of Chinese (i.e. practically every county in south China has it's own dialect). The second problem, is that with a very few exceptions, these variations have not been systematically categorized.

-- User:Roadrunner

Of course, Chinese written language can be revived if there's more to add, but I'm really looking for an article for Hanzi: Talk:Chinese_character#Boohoo. It should redirect to Hanzi once the text is transferred/written. --Jiang 06:29, 8 Jan 2004 (UTC)

POV issues

P0M: Point of view questions seem to be popping up. Recently an unidentified user added the following

Note that Dungan is not shown, and this is an interesting case because even thought Dungan is very closely related to Mandarin, no one considers it "Chinese" because it is written in Cyrillic and spoken by people outside of China who are not considered Chinese in any sense.

P0M:Whenever you say "everyone" or "nobody", you are taking on an enormous burden of proof. The charts given at:

include Dungan, and minority languages as well.

Right, and that chart illustrates my point since many of the languages in the chart are clearly not part of the Chinese language. No one considers Burmese, Karen or Tibetan to be Chinese. Dungan is a very interesting case because while it is a Sintic language very closely related to Mandarin, but no one considers it a Chinese language. (They probably would if the Dungan lived in China or used Chinese characters, but they live in Kyghizstan and use Cyrillic.)
My point is that the social classification system that people use are not tightly connected to the linguistic classification system. So Cantonese is considered Chinese while Dungan isn't.


P0M: I think what you say is rather wu3 duan4, if you will forgive me for saying so. -- Maybe I am a little snippy feeling because you are making me into a "nobody", or at least a "no one."

Just "editing boldly". Don't take it personally. One thing to keep in mind is that the conceptualization of the Chinese language is a remarkably emotional topic.

Sorry if I sound snippy myself.

P0M: It makes sense to discuss English as a member of the Indo-European language system, and I think it makes sense to discuss Chinese in its larger context too. But in an article on Chinese it would not make much linguistic sense to talk about Tibetan. That's not because they are unconnected, but because they are connected closer to the root. So maybe we need another article to take care of the "taproot" of the Chinese language family and of the related languages families at that basic level.


P0M: I just had another look at the first paragraph of the Chinese Language article. Whoever conceived the title created a conceptual problem by making it a singular term.

It's a singular term, because with one exception, Chinese think of it as a singular term.
P0M: What is your proof for this extraordinary assertion? Surely you don't mean that you have polled the entire population of China. Who was the one exception, anyway? I suspect that Chinese people often do not distinguish between singular and plural referents unless they have some pertinent reason to do so.
Roadrunner Personal experience. If you want a citation, look up Ramsay's _Languages of China_ where he justifies his use of Chinese in singular. The one exception where the language/dialect issue does come up among native speakers is Taiwan.

It would be better if the general reader were to be introduced from the very beginning that what we are really talking about is a kind of a tree that has grown from one ancient root and has branched many times. I think that most Western people with an average level of education know what the Romance languages are, so that makes a very convenient way of explaining how Cantonese is related to Taiwanese is related to.... Western people also understand how difficult it can be for people who speak Australian English to communicate with people who speak Indian English, so the idea of ci4 fang1 yan2 (or whatever you want to call it in Chinese) should not be hard to grasp.

One of my concerns is that in doing so, one presents the European way of classifying things as "normal" and the very different Chinese way as "abnormal."
P0M:I would rather have a set of vocabulary to go along with an objective measure of how "far apart" any two speakers are, and a fairly accurate idea of how things came to be as they are. At the very least, given what you said above, the two of us should be able to agree that the word "dialect" misguides things about as perfectly as ever they could be misguided. It's really frustrating when some people are speaking of, e.g., Beijing hua and Sichuan hua as "dialects" and somebody else is speaking of Cantonese and Hakka as "dialects." Nobody is going to get a clear picture if our vocabulary is that sloppy.
There are two problems. The first is that if you essentially have to invent terminology if you want a consistent hierarchy of Chinese dialects, and this terminology will have very little relation to the terminology which people normally use to describe them. The second is that socio-lingustically, Sichuan hua is as much a "dialect" as Cantonese. Linguistically, they Sichuanese is closer to Beijing hua than Cantonese, but it is only with a huge amount of effort that I can communicate with someone from Sichuan who is speaking the local "dialect." User:Roadrunner
P0M: I lived for 7 years in Taiwan. I don't believe you understand the difference between communicating with someone who speaks Sichuan hua and someone who speaks Taiwan hua (and I don't mean Taiwanese flavored Mandarin). The fact that you communicated at all indicates that you were able to adjust for the very regular tone changes, and the fairly regular phonetic changes.
Roadrunner I have Taiwanese speaking relatives living in Taiwan, and yes I do know the difficulties involved in communication. However, I have also been in a situation where I've attempted (unsucessfully) to communicate with someone from Sichuan. Theoretically we both were speaking forms of Mandarin, and I have no doubt that I would eventually find it easier to learn to understand him that I would my Taiwanese relatives. Still, the fact was that I couldn't understand him with a translator. I've also had the same experience with people from rural Anhui that were theoretically speaking Mandarin.

A closely related problem is that one has to be careful to make sure to present things in a way that isn't misleading. The problem with comparing Chinese to the Romance languages is that it gives the somewhat misleading idea that Shanghainese speakers think about Shanghainese in the same way that Spanish speakers think about Spanish, which isn't the case at all. Not to say that one shouldn't compare Chinese to the Romance languages. What I'm saying is that you need to be very explicit in the analogies, Chinese is like the Romance languages in one way, but not in others.
One analogy that is useful is that had the Roman Empire survived, we wouldn't be talking about Spanish, but rather the Spanish dialect of Romance.
One thing that the average non-Chinese speaker isn't quite aware of is how Cantonese and Taiwanese are exceptions, in that both have far more linguistic consciousness associated with them than most Chinese dialects.

P0M: I don't know what "linguistic consciousness" means, but besides clearing that up perhaps you can explain why Hakka speakers, Wu2 yu3 speakers, etc., have less of it than the Cantonese and Taiwanese.

Hakka also has high linguistic consciousness. When I mean linguistic consciousness, I mean the odds that someone will wear a t-shirt that says "I'm a X speaker and proud of it." What strikes me about most dialects is that they have low linguistic consciousness. Most Chinese dialects don't even have standard names, merely what people at place Y speak.
P0M: You mean that Shanghai speakers don't have linguistic consciousness?
User:Roadrunner Shanghaiese speakers have high linguistic consciousness, but what I'm saying is that cases like Shanghaiese and Hakka tend to be

exception rather than the rule. You can point to about a dozen or so dialects with high linguistic consciousness, but that's a small fraction of the hundreds of dialects in southern China.

What that means is that in central Zhejiang a person doesn't think of him or herself as speaking the same language as the person in the next county, even though both are linguistically classified as Wu.
P0M: How do you know that?
User:Roadrunner I've been there. Fortunately Ramsay also explicitly uses this as an example in his book Languages of China. The contrast between Taiwan, where language is a hot political issue, and Zhejiang, where it isn't, is rather striking. The big difference is the political background (i.e. in Zhejiang the language fault lines didn't coincide with the political ones). The other big difference is that Taiwanese is (comparatively) standard, while Wu dialects become unintelligible if you move 10 km in any direction.

There's a very good chance that the a speaker in central Zhejiang won't even know or care that the language he is speaking is classified as Wu, just like many English speakers don't know or care that they speak a Germanic language.


P0M: One other thing that needs to be made clear to the general reader is that the Chinese written language not only unites the people spread over broad geographical expanses, but also makes available to people, at very little cost, the written heritage of China going back to very early times.

Like everything else, this is complex.

Reword. Need to emphasize that between Chinese and Tibeto-Burmese is much more murky and a topic of research than the original text appeared to suggest. Roadrunner

P0M: I don't understand what you mean. People have been studying the ancient forms of Chinese and where it came from for decades. Bernard Karlgren was one of the early people who worked in this area and the outline of how Chinese, Tibetan, and Burmese are rooted in some earlier language probably got worked out quite some time ago. I can get more information on the subject, but I think most of my books are not at home with me now.

What I'm trying to say is that Sino-Tibetan is nowhere as well worked out as IE languages and
P0M: You may be correct. On the other hand, I'd like to see some evidence for that assertion.


Question. What is the source of evolutionary tree? It's radically different from the schema that I'm familar with. Roadrunner

P0M: Do you mean the evolutionary tree that is included in the URL I quoted above? That URL has several bibliographical references right on that page. I would have to copy out the source code for the page to figure some of them out because they have made the Chinese characters show up in such a small size. What evolutionary schema are you familiar with?

Most of the trees I've seen have Min split off very early in 300 AD and then everyone else start spliting off between 500-700 AD. Also, I've never seen anyone try to associate current spoken variations with ancient ones. User:Roadrunner

P0M: Where are the trees that you have seen? If somebody else is making a tree that has Men split off in 300 A.D. then how can they not be associating current Min (and its divisions) with ancient Min?

The diagram on this page is typical

That web page also gives a good argument why Chinese should be considered separate languages. For a counterargument, see Ramsay's Languages of China. User:Roadrunner
The reason I find the current diagram very suspect is that I do not see how it could have been create it. My understanding is that even though we have a good reconstruction of Archaic Chinese, I don't see how methodologically, you can connect the variations in Chinese in the early Han dynasty with today's dialects. User:Roadrunner
It is possible that there is some recent research I'm not aware of. User:Roadrunner
P0M: I don't think it is a good idea to trash somebody's work just because one doesn't agree with it. It seems to me that the people who have put that website together have done an enormous amount of work on it. They may be fools, but as a wai4 hang2 I'm not willing to bet on it one way or the other.


I've been doing some google searches and it seems that there are appear to be two entirely different and contradictory narratives about how the Chinese dialects developed!!!!

Most Western linguists have the dialects spliting up after the Tang Dynasty, many Chinese researchers have the dialects splitting up during the Warring states. User:Roadrunner

P0M: The Stanford site is interesting. It should answer some of your questions about how the history of the dialect changes has been worked out. Back in the days of Karlgren and his cohorts I would imagine that there were just a few pioneers at work. Once Chinese scholars got seriously involved in these questions once more the manpower devoted to sorting all the connections out must have increased by several hundred percent.
P0M: I had a look at the "dialect" chart that you posted an URL for above. Except for Xiang and Wu the end result looks almost the same as the chart on the URL I posted -- oh, and they don't list Hui (Anhui) at all. Since Wikipedia articles are supposed to be NPOV, I suppose both accounts should appear.


As of now, the entire section for "spoken Chinese" has become a mishmash of different topics embedded into each other. I suggest we reorganize the entire article into the following:

Different ways of looking at Chinese
Common characteristics within Chinese
Subdivisions within Chinese (a tree of links to Mandarin, Cantonese, etc, plus the Chinese dialect article, incorporated here)
Written Language
Development of Chinese

Also, the stuff about Sino-Tibetan should be moved to the section "Development of Chinese". -- Ran 2004.01.12 6:39

Question to Patrick0Moran: You mentioned that you spent seven years in Taiwan. I'm wondering if you have spent any time on the Mainland. One thing that I've noticed is that the linguistic geography of Taiwan is vastly different from that of southern Mainland China (and the sociopolitics is even more different). Basically in Taiwan, you have a rather large area where the language is intelligible (i.e. someone in Taipei can talk to someone in Kaohsuing in Taiwanese). This isn't the case at all in Zhejiang (and I've been told that it also isn't the case in Fujian or Guangdong).

P0M: I haven't spent enough time on the mainland to have a feeling for how much difficulty speakers within the Mandarin area have -- on the other hand, my teachers at NTU were from all over the place and the only faculty member who spoke really standard Mandarin was the Shakespeare teacher (Zhu1 Li4 Min2). We had one professor from Si4 Chuan1 who was easy for me to understand. I think that in most cases with faculty members my experience was with people who had grown up speaking non-Mandarin "dialects". On the other hand, there were very many retired military people who worked in the dorms, sold food on food carts, etc. Some were from Shandong, some from Sichuan, some from other places that I couldn't name off the top of my head. Conversing with them demanded that I pay intense attention, but we could always make ourselves understood.
Roadrunner I've never had too much trouble communicating in Mandarin with people with college educations. It's talking with their parents who they brought over to the United States where it gets interesting. The weird thing about it is that it seems that the college student usually perceives that their parent is talking in Mandarin and is a bit bewildered that I can't make head or tails out of it.
I have a suspicion that perhaps living for long periods in Taiwan causes someone to Taiwanize their Mandarin, more so if they stayed in their original village.
P0M: The old soldiers who had been in Taiwan already for decades hadn't Taiwanized their Mandarin -- at least not in any undesirable direction. Now that I think of it, I can give you a pretty good comparison. The mother and father of the family I lived with for a year were both Fu2 Zhou1 speakers. The mother was a person who enunciated clearly, and I never had trouble understanding her even when she said things like "bai2 ba3 kuai4" for "ba4 bai3 kuai4." But her husband's Mandarin was occasionally completely incomprehensible to me -- even after 7 years of occasional contact with them. One of my professors at Taida was also from Fu2 Zhou1, and I was lucky compared to most students because I already had Fu2 Zhou1 Guo2 Yu3 pretty well whipped. Also, he was a person who had engaged in many activities over the years that required that he communicate effectively. As a result, he had an accent, but it was as minimal as he could make it. My own family was a mirror image of that situation, in a way. One of my roommates from Taida came to the U.S. and spent some time in my home. My mother spoke to him as she speaks to everybody. She had no consciousness whatsoever that it would be helpful to slow down and enunciate clearly. My father, having been a lawyer, had learned that if he didn't communicate clearly in the courtroom then he would lose cases. So he was very well able to make himself understood.
P0M: One dynamic that used to be present in Taiwan was that Taiwanese speakers who did not like mainland Chinese would pretend not to understand a word of Mandarin if they didn't want to be bothered to give road directions or provide other such help.
P0M: Taiwan, as far as Taiwanese is concerned, is not as simple as you might assume. As I understand it, the Taiwanese around Taipei is considered a "dialect," as is the different kind of Taiwanese spoken on the east coast, around Su1 Ao4, for instance. The Taiwanese of Tai2 Nan2 is considered "standard." I have noticed that some of the things that I learned to say in Tai2 Bei3 were not understood in Tai2 Nan2. (Maybe part of the trouble was my accent?)
Roadrunner Which might explain why I don't notice these things since most of the people I try to speak Taiwanese (badly) with are from Tainan.
P0M: As for Fujian, the "dialects" there are as different from each other as Wu is different from Xiang. I lived with a family from Fu2 Zhou1, and they told me that when they came to Taiwan they absolutely could not communicate with Taiwanese. They had to learn it. Their word for "wan2" (have a good time) is something like "ka1 li2 ou4" (it is written as 2 hanzi, but li'ou is sort of an inverted third tone and it sounds like 2 syllables to me), whereas the Taiwanese is "chit5 tou2" or "chit5 tao2" (not sure of my pronunciation, but you get the idea).
Roadrunner Chit-te is one of those many fun words in Taiwanese that you can't really translate into Mandarin, and you wonder how Mandarin gets along without it.
I think that a lot of this has to do with expectation. I know someone from Taiwan who was shocked that she was able to talk in Taiwanese with some Zhejiangese. (Apparently, there are Min-nan families scatterred all over Zhejiang.) I suspect that they would find that their language intercomprehension was low, but since she expected it to be non-existent.
Conversely, what might (or might not) be the situation with your family is that they expected to be able to communicate with Taiwanese flawlessly and couldn't.
P0M: I have spoken with several Taiwanese speakers who claim that they can't understand a word of Fuzhou hua. I can see parallels in some cases, but often the vocabulary items seem to be totally different. "Your" is something like "li4 ei4" in Taiwanese, but it's like "nu(umlaut)3 di" in Fuzhou hua. The Taiwanese for "person" is something like "lang2", but it's nothing like that in Fuzhou hua as far as I can recall. One or two of these things won't create huge communication barriers, but if you get about half the words in a sentence totally different then you have no idea what the other words are either. You et totally lost.
One interesting area of research is how Chinese manage to learn dialect.
P0M: The same lady from Fuzhou went to live in Hong Kong for a couple years, and she said that she had learned to speak Cantonese fairly well after a year there. Knowing Mandarin and a smattering of Taiwanese, I can occasionally pick up a snatch of Cantonese here and there. So I suspect that she just worked outwards from the things that she could understand.
So the language tree and the maps I put up seem to me to be pretty accurate in that they reflect the realities of language differentiation in the Min language areas. By the way, Taiwanese and Minnan hua on the mainland have diverged over the last couple hundred years too.

My guess is that the fact that you have a flat coastal plain in western Taiwan and the fact that it was recently settled, means that you have a more uniform linguistic area. Whereas in Zhejiang, the mountains go all the way to the sea and there is no coastal plain. The result of that it is that people in adjacent counties can talk to each other in dialect only with great difficulty.

P0M: Talking to each other "with great difficulty" is the criterion for "dialect" I guess. It goes beyond just an "accent" difference. Of course there are all sorts of shades of difference, and it's arbitrary just where to draw the line. We have a history professor on my campus here who has a "southern accent" which doesn't bother me a bit even though I'm originally from the Mid-west, but one of my Chinese friends who has no trouble with other people's English tells me the guy is nearly incomprehensible to him. But who knows how to quantify this kind of thing?
Roadrunner Very complex network. The big problem is that when you try to quantify it, you find that A understands B, B understands C, but A doesn't understand C. Or you can find that A understands B, but B doesn't understand A, or that A understands B because A lived in town B for about two years. The other problem is linguistic domain. I can follow a kitchen table conversation in Taiwanese, but I couldn't understand a soap opera.

This has some socio-political implications. If you take ten random people from Taiwan, the odds are good that six of them will be able to talk to each other in Taiwanese. By contrast, if you take ten random people from Zhejiang, you will be lucky if two of them can speak to each other in Wu. One of the implications of this is that there is likely to be much more need for and much less resistance to someone insisting on a lingua franca (i.e. Mandarin). The other implication is that language is much less useful as a politically unifying force amoung Zhejiangese.

P0M: I don't know where you get your numbers from, but my guess is that the success rate would be much higher.
Roadrunner For Zhejiang. I asked around. Basically what I found was that people said that they could kind of understand the city next door, but that the city two doors down was incomprehensible. It's not at all surprising, if you look at the terrain. Basically this came up within a context where someone from Taiwan asked if dialect was prohibited in schools like it was in Taiwan in the 1970's. The answer was that it wasn't, but that practically, you had to use Mandarin because within that (Taizhou) city's metropolitian area, there were about four or five different unintelligible dialects. Keep in mind we are talking about an region that is at most 20 km across. Again, its not at all surprising, when you look at the mountains and rivers that separate the various cities. It's now turning into a large metropolitan area, but that involved a lot of blasting and bridging.

One of the things that has always amazed me is that people in Taiwan have accomodated to all different shades of Mandarin and seemingly don't notice wrong tones -- even when they make people say funny things. One of my professors would say something like, "Ta1 si4 yi1ge zui4 you2 ming3di si3 xiang4 jia5," (that 5 is ru4 sheng1), and I would be amused by "si3 xiang4" but nobody else in class would even crack a smile. So my guess is that Taiwanese would be better able to just relax and let the communication sink in, rather than getting so up-tight about it that they could not hear what was being said.

The other thing is that Mandarin is very non-uniform, and there are dialects that are theoretically Mandarin, but are intelligible to outsiders. I've tried, but I've never understood anything that Mao Tse-Tung is saying.

P0M: I'm guessing, but his first language was probably Xiang. His Mandarin (like that of Jiang Jieshi) would then be that of a second-language speaker.
Roadrunner My not sure that the concepts of first-language and second-language are applicable here.

He perhaps never bothered to learn to speak with a standard pronunciation. I had one professor from Anhui whose English was better than mine, but his Mandarin was the bane of my life. I used to record his lectures and then quiz my roommates when I couldn't figure out what he was saying. Sometimes they were stumped too.

Something to keep in mind here is that if a person can, he or she will generally adapt their speech to be more like standard Mandarin. So I've never had much of a problem talking to someone age 30 from urban Sichuan or Anhui, but have found talking to someone age 60 from rural Sichuan or Anhui to be impossible without a translator. The only way that I know that that their speech is classified as Mandarin is that I've read linguists that have analyzed it and classified it as such, but for my purposes, they might as well be speaking Cantonese or Greek.

P0M: If you look at the big map I think it may reflect what I was told about Anhui -- that there was an "Anhui hua" that was fairly easy to understand, and the other kind. Anhui province has lots of people who speak Hui, which is one of the seven major "dialects." The criterion that I have heard for a language difference that is merely a dialect difference is that if you go there to live for 6 months or so you will be able to catch on.
Roadrunner What I've heard (and its consistent with my efforts to learn Taiwanese) is that you will tend to be able to pick up a "foreign" Chinese dialect if you live somewhere for about a year, and you'll be able to speak it, if you are there for about two or three years. I personally know of a number of people who have been able to "pick up" a new dialect well enough to socially function in a new location (i.e. a Mandarin speaker who goes to college in Shanghai or Guangzhou). I've also been told that it's total hell in the mean time.
P0M: It must be easier for a speaker of Mandarin to learn Taiwanese than it is for a speaker of English to learn Taiwanese. I learned a little German, and even when I didn't understand it I still had the feeling that I was on the verge of understanding it, that I should understand it, that it was "right" somehow.
P0M:I bumped into an Australian once when I was in Japan and he would make sentences from which I could not extract one word. I would ask him to repeat, and he would repeat it in exactly the same way. But I've been assured that he was speaking English. (Actually, some of the things he said were fairly clear to me.) Two of my roommates were born in and spent their childhoods in Sichuan. One day they wanted to have a private conversation so they spoke to each other in Sichuan hua. I understood them perfectly and chipped in a remark, which created some consternation -- especially since I got a couple of tones wrong and sounded to them like I knew that dialect.

Anyway, I think the public school system teaching Mandarin as the language of instruction probably accounts for the "under 30" phenomenon.

P0M: I know what you mean about people who are 60 and older. Taiwanese people in Taiwan who were born before the end of World War II generally have very non-standard Mandarin. They think they are speaking perfect Mandarin, and other Chinese who have grown up listening to their version of Mandarin can deal with it, but they pity me for my poor comprehension (I guess).
Roadrunner It is probably the same phenomenon that I mentioned earlier. They think they are speaking perfect Mandarin, and everyone who is listening to them thinks that they are speaking perfect Mandarin. Curiously, there is an interesting phenomenon that I can sort of understand Taiwanese when it is spoken by someone who is in their 30's, but I can't understand Taiwanese at all when it is spoken by someone in their 70's.
P0M: That is interesting. I wonder what the elders think about the Taiwanese spoken by their grandchildren. The children in the Fuzhou household really could not speak Fuzhou hua. Their mother used to try to get them to speak it, but they all kind of laughed about it and went back to speaking in Mandarin. When they got to Taiwan the family evidently decided that they would speak Mandarin at home so their kids could do well at school.

People who were educated after the Japanese were sent away have an accent, but it is not very much of a problem. Which reminds me that when I was first there one of my old Chinese teachers (who came originally from Beijing) came to Taiwan and had to take one of her American students with her to translate when she bought shoes because she couldn't hack the local version of Mandarin. If she'd stayed around a few weeks I'm sure she could have done better with it than any of us students.


One final point. Even though translating 'fang yan' as dialect leads to a set of problems and misconceptions, translating 'fang yan' as language also leads to problems and misconceptions. For example, one would expect that two people speaking Mandarin or Wu can communicate with each other which is not always the case (and for Wu and Min intercommunication is more the exception than the rule.)

It's just different, and the important thing is to let the reader know that things are different and their preconceptions are likely to be wrong. User:Roadrunner

P0M: I wonder whether there are tapes of typical speakers of Mandarin in the various areas. It would be a good thing to have examples of various Mandarin speakers reading the same little story.
Roadrunner I'd imagine this sort of field work would be rather difficult. One big problem is that I think that when someone recites something, there is a tendency (which I think is unconscious) to "standardize" their Mandarin.
P0M: I actually tried it with five or six speakers, but they all spoke pretty good Mandarin to start with. They didn't seem to me to have noticeably improved their pronunciations on tape. But, on the other hand, I know I lose my Midwestern accent when I am being careful about my speech. I think that getting a good recording is probably a result of getting people to relax.