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Old 05-29-2014, 10:20 AM
 
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Middle Chinese was like Latin in the East. It was most influential in the Tang Dynasty when the capital was in Xi'an. During that time, the Min languages and another one spoken in Sichuan (now extinct) already diverged from it. Mandarin as it is spoken now is a bit like French. It became the most important form but it is not the one that most closely resembled the ancestral language. You can check the borrowed Chinese vocabulary in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese and most words are actually pronounced closer to Minnan, Cantonese or Hakka compared to the modern Mandarin form. Tang poetry rhymes less when read in Mandarin compared to the other "dialects".

Modern Mandarin is a fairly recent creation. Before the 1920s, most literature were written in Classical Chinese. How to read this aloud varied from dynasty to dynasty, region to region. I believe the four ancient Chinese capitals of Xi'an, Luoyang, Beijing and Nanjing have always had mutually intelligible spoken forms and pronunciations of Classical Chinese while those south of the Yangtze were already unintelligible since the Yuan dynasty.

Chinese semantics is very different from English. Wu, Yue, Minnan, Hakka, etc. are indeed languages rather than dialects when you are talking about them in ENGLISH. However, it is not as clear when you speak in any of the Chinese languages. Talking about language vs dialect in Chinese is as futile as talking about alligator vs crocodile or hare vs rabbit in Chinese. There is just no distinction as there are in English.

 
Old 05-29-2014, 11:04 AM
 
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldenTiger View Post
Middle Chinese was like Latin in the East. It was most influential in the Tang Dynasty when the capital was in Xi'an. During that time, the Min languages and another one spoken in Sichuan (now extinct) already diverged from it. Mandarin as it is spoken now is a bit like French. It became the most important form but it is not the one that most closely resembled the ancestral language. You can check the borrowed Chinese vocabulary in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese and most words are actually pronounced closer to Minnan, Cantonese or Hakka compared to the modern Mandarin form. Tang poetry rhymes less when read in Mandarin compared to the other "dialects".

Modern Mandarin is a fairly recent creation. Before the 1920s, most literature were written in Classical Chinese. How to read this aloud varied from dynasty to dynasty, region to region. I believe the four ancient Chinese capitals of Xi'an, Luoyang, Beijing and Nanjing have always had mutually intelligible spoken forms and pronunciations of Classical Chinese while those south of the Yangtze were already unintelligible since the Yuan dynasty.

Chinese semantics is very different from English. Wu, Yue, Minnan, Hakka, etc. are indeed languages rather than dialects when you are talking about them in ENGLISH. However, it is not as clear when you speak in any of the Chinese languages. Talking about language vs dialect in Chinese is as futile as talking about alligator vs crocodile or hare vs rabbit in Chinese. There is just no distinction as there are in English.
Yes, Han China is often compared to the Roman Empire so that would make sense. Indeed, those three languages have borrowed words from Middle Chinese that no longer exist in Mandarin, or have changed.

Well that's from a Chinese point of view. The concept of languages and dialects is of course a construction in a way, a western method of classification, but by that criteria they'd still be languages.
 
Old 05-29-2014, 06:12 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greysholic View Post
The Minnan spoken in Taiwan is quite different from the one spoken in Fujian in China because the former has been greatly influenced by the Japanese language because of the colonization.
unlikely. Taiwanese might have borrowed some words but it still has almost nothing in common with Japanese.

Minnan in Taiwan and Fujian are 98% mutually intelligible, like the variation between any dialects. For example, Shanghai and Suzhou dialects are quite different although the two cities are like an hour apart.
 
Old 05-29-2014, 06:23 PM
 
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Originally Posted by botticelli View Post
There is some major confusion about mandarin among western countries.

The standard mandarin putonghua, lingua franca in China, is the native language of very very few Chinese. People throughout China speak all sorts of different dialects. Cantonese, the one foreigners are most familiar with, is simply one of them. So are Wu, minnan etc.

Northern dialects are more similar to Mandarin because Mandarin was created based on them. But that doesn't mean they are the same, or northern Chinese simply speak Mandarin. They speak their own languages with families and friends, which still can be quiet different from Mandarin. Even Beijing dialect can be so different from Mandarin that people from other regions have trouble understanding them when they talk. Northern dialects =/= mandarin (putonghua)

Mandarin is simply the language people from different areas use when communicating with each other. Northern dialects, including southwestern are more similar in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, but they are different enough. I was in Chengdu and trust me, you won't understand more than 70% of local dialect if you are from Beijing.

Here in Canada people often ask the stupid question "do you speak Cantonese or Mandarin" as if they are two parallele and mutually exclusive languages, as if there is a either Cantonese or Mandarin thing in China. This stems from the fact that there is disproportionately number of Cantonese speakers overseas. However, it is rapidly changing.

What is one supposed to answer if he is from Jiangxi or Hunan? He speaks the local language but Mandarin as well. Usually they say I speak Mandarin and therefore become part of "mandarin speakers" in the census, but that's just wrong. Most Cantonese speakers speak good mandarine too. Very few people outside Guangdong in China speak Cantonese because ... why the hell do you speak a dialect from a different region? There is really nothing special about Cantonese among China's hunreds of languages.
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Thank you, Boticelli...for an excellent lesson on Chinese languages. Not even in my 52 weeks of Chinese-Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) was the subject of languages and dialects of China covered as comprehensive as you did...on one page! And you made a good point...that even in "mandarin" speaking regions, there are differences among speakers of supposedly the same language..or dialect. That's why when I was a student at DLI...we had about five teachers from different mandarin speaking regions of China alternating every hour or so..to afford us the opportunity to hear and become accustomed to the different sounds of the same language. I had a chance to listen in on a group of students (at DLI) learning Cantonese. Even with an extensive mandarin vocabulary I had by then...I couldn't understand a word they were saying.
China has long been trying to unify the country by trying to get everyone to be able to communicate in one, standard language...and, correct me if I'm wrong, the reason for pushing Mandarin as the standard gwoyu...or national language, I suppose. When I was at DLI...we were still learning the old-style character writing...but they also tried to teach us the simplified version. I suppose Mao was the one who pushed to get the writing system simplified to make it easier for everyone to learn to read and write a bit faster. But when I was in Taiwan...(they have their own dialect...but everyone speaks standard C. Mandarin as well)...I noticed they don't use the simplified version very much. Not sure if that has changed. I suppose, getting everyone to communicate in the standard national language has been somewhat successful. Seems that everywhere I meet Chinese folks (particularly in restaurants)...I am able to communicate with them in C. Mandarin...even though they speak a different dialect.
You referred to the standard mandarin as putonghua...or is that really the same as gwoyu?
Again, thank you for an excellent post.

Last edited by FCStraight; 05-29-2014 at 06:26 PM.. Reason: Add a word.
 
Old 05-29-2014, 06:59 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FCStraight View Post
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You referred to the standard mandarin as putonghua...or is that really the same as gwoyu?
Yes, it is the same thing. It is called putonghua (literally means "common language") in Mainland China, but Guoyu in Taiwan, Hong Kong and maybe Singapore.

I myself am of the opinion that China made a very wise decision in making people around the massive country to adopt the same language, although at the expense of some regional culture. Multi-cultural nations are very different to govern and language effectively creates a cultural identity.

Before 200BC China was never a united country and it was as separated as Europe today. If it were not united at that time, each small kingdoms could have developed different languages just like French, German, Spanish etc. Language represents cultural identity and sometimes determines which country one wants to be in (A good case in today's Ukraine). By creating and promoting the use of putonghua, the Chinese government essentially mitigated the risk that the country might separate sometime in the future.
 
Old 05-29-2014, 07:06 PM
 
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Quote:
Originally Posted by botticelli View Post
Yes, it is the same thing. It is called putonghua (literally means "common language") in Mainland China, but Guoyu in Taiwan, Hong Kong and maybe Singapore.

I myself am of the opinion that China made a very wise decision in making people around the massive country to adopt the same language, although at the expense of some regional culture. Multi-cultural nations are very different to govern and language effectively creates a cultural identity.

Before 200BC China was never a united country and it was as separated as Europe today. If it were not united at that time, each small kingdoms could have developed different languages just like French, German, Spanish etc. Language represents cultural identity and sometimes determines which country one wants to be in (A good case in today's Ukraine). By creating and promoting the use of putonghua, the Chinese government essentially mitigated the risk that the country might separate sometime in the future.
Yes, the situation is really no different to a lot of countries. Parisian French in France led to the decline of Occitan in southern France, for instance.
 
Old 05-29-2014, 10:24 PM
 
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Let me put it this way. The word "Mandarin" has at least three levels of meanings:

(1) The standard/official language used in Mainland China, Taiwan and some other Chinese communities.
(2) The dialects spoken in North China, especially in places near Beijing and northeast China.
(3) The dialects spoken in North China, Southwest China, and part of East China.

(1) is the most commonly used meaning and the Chinese word is 普通話 'common speech'. In this sense, Mandarin is more or less an artificial language and very few people speak it as a native language.
(2) makes sense, because the dialects in North China are very similar to standard Chinese. The Chinese term is 北方話 'north speech', or 北方官話 'North office speech'.
(3) is more academic and is not widely known by ordinary people. However, The dialects spoken in Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing, Guilin and so on are still close enough to northern dialects so they can also be "Mandarin". The Chinese term here is 官話 (office speech)。

普通話,北方話 and 官話 can all be translated as "Mandarin".
 
Old 05-29-2014, 10:33 PM
 
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It is not accurate to say Cantonese or Minnan retains more ancient/archaic features of old Chinese. In fact Mandarin also retains many old features (which southern dialects do not have) but people tend to ignore it when talking about this issue.

For example, the particle that roughly means "of" in Mandarin is 的, which derives from the archaic form 之. (In old days, 之 sounds like 'di'). In southern dialects, the word is usually something like ke/ko/e/o etc. It is believed they derive from archaic Kam-Tai languages.

All dialects/languages are children of older Chinese, so each of them keeps some unique feature of it.
 
Old 05-30-2014, 08:47 PM
 
Location: Liberal Coast
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Originally Posted by The Postman View Post
I've always wondered about this: was/is Mandarin just the 'standard Chinese' or most common form of Chinese spoken through most of China, in the area in which Mandarin is the sole lingua franca today, standardised by the Mandarins in Beijing? Or did say, the peoples of Sichuan speak another language until recently? Are say Yue, Wu, Min really any closer to 'Middle Chinese' as some claim? I mean they SOUND pretty damn different to Mandarin if you ask me.
Mandarin Chinese itself wouldn't be enough to be called "standard" Chinese. When most people say "standard Chinese" they are referring to the Beijing accent specifically. I am learning Mandarin and have more of a Taiwanese accent by choice, so I will never really speak "standard Chinese."

The "dialects" are very different from "standard" Chinese, as well. I know that "Taiwanese" and Cantonese sound nothing at all like Mandarin.
 
Old 05-31-2014, 12:03 AM
 
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Originally Posted by psr13 View Post
Mandarin Chinese itself wouldn't be enough to be called "standard" Chinese. When most people say "standard Chinese" they are referring to the Beijing accent specifically. I am learning Mandarin and have more of a Taiwanese accent by choice, so I will never really speak "standard Chinese."

The "dialects" are very different from "standard" Chinese, as well. I know that "Taiwanese" and Cantonese sound nothing at all like Mandarin.
If your purpose is just to hold conversation in "standard Chinese", then whether you have a Beijing or Taiwanese accent shouldn't matter. You are capable of communicating in putonghua or guoyu. Taiwanese Mandarin is easily recognizable as having a different accent and have some vocabulary and tone differences, but it can be easily understood by people in Beijing most of the time. That qualifies as "standard Chinese" for most purposes. Just like an American who goes to London may not speak in Received Pronunciation, but he can be easily understood and it would be odd if people claim he does not speak "standard English". Yeah, the standard is the Beijing accent, but unless you aspire to be a CCTV reporter, you should be able to claim you speak putonghua to most people.
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