dialects


dialects
Two levels of linguistic variation within Chinese are referred to as fangyan, usually translated ‘dialect’ but preferentially now following Victor Mair as ‘topolect’, ‘language of a place’. At one level, linguists identify eight—sometimes seven-historically related language groups: Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Gan, Xiang, Kejia and Northern and Southern Min (sometimes combined). Mandarin, also called Putonghua or ‘common speech’ in the PRC, is the official language and is spoken as a native language in north China. Shanghainese is said to be typical of the Wu dialects, which also include languages spoken in Suzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo and other smaller areas. Yue includes the Cantonese spoken in Canton and Hong Kong (and in many overseas Chinese Chinatowns). Southern Min is spoken in Fujian province and across the straits in Taiwan (where it is also called Taiwanese, Hokkien and Ho’lo). Hakka (Kejia) is spoken throughout southern China and Greater China. These eight fangyan are not usually mutually intelligible but may be represented by the single Chinese writing system (with some exceptions).
Within each of these fangyan groups, additional variation exists. Villages separated by mountains and rivers may speak varieties that are noticeably different, though they may be mutually intelligible.
The Mandarin fangyan are spoken as a mother tongue by approximately 70 per cent of the mainland population. Mandarin is increasingly regarded as the official language in Singapore, despite its residents being almost entirely speakers of southern dialects. Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, though five-sixths of its population also speaks Taiwanese. Some fangyan have more speakers than well-known European languages; three—Mandarin, Wu and Yue—rank first, tenth and sixteenth in number of native speakers among all world languages. See Table 1.
Table 1 Linguistic variation
Dialect / Representative city or area / Percentage of Han in PRC (est.) / Population
Mandarin Beijing 71.5 / 858,000,000
Wu / Shanghai / 8.5 / 102,000,000
Yue / Canton (Guangzhou) / 5 / 60,000,000
Xiang / Hunan / 4.8 / 57,600,000
Kejia (Hakka) / Scattered in southern China and overseas China / 3.7 / 44,400,000
Southern Min / Amoy, Taiwan / 2.8 / 33,600,000
Gan / Jiangxi / 2.4 / 28,800,000
Northern Min / Fuzhou / 1.3 / 15,600,000
Total / 100 / 1.2 billion Han (92% of PRC population
DeFrancis, John (1984). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Mair, Victor H. (1991). ‘What is a Chinese Dialect/Topolect? Reflections on Some Key Sino-English Linguistic Terms’. Sino-Platonic Papers 29 (September).
Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ramsey, S.Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
SUSAN D.BLUM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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