Changing China

Giant on the move

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Dialect fun

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There is a common myth perpetrated about China — that everyone speaks “Chinese”.

There is in fact no single “Chinese” language.

There is an official language, Mandarin, taught at schools and used on the airwaves, yet even the government admits that only about half the country’s 1.3 billion population speak it fluently.

But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other Chinese languages spoken in the country. The government calls them dialects, but linguistically the likes of Cantonese, Hokkien and Shanghainese are as distinct and mutually unintelligable as French, Spanish, German and English.

Linguists consider them separate languages, though many others are genuinely dialects. Mandarin has been promoted as a single unifying tongue by the Communists, and the Nationalists before them, as otherwise somebody from Guangzhou would find it impossible to speak to somebody from Beijing or Shanghai.

Chinese … it’s easy

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It’s a piece of cake. In fact, China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi says Chinese is one of the easiest languages in the world to learn.

“Otherwise,” Yang reasoned at today’s National People’s Congress, “it’s hard to explain why 1.3 billion have chosen it as their mother tongue.” (Thanks to Danwei for the Xinhua link.)

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