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Chinese Language vs. Dialects

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37 messages over 5 pages: 13 4 5  Next >>
Journeyer
Triglot
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United States
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 Message 9 of 37
08 February 2007 at 2:39am | IP Logged 
With such gaps in comprehension, it makes me wonder what is a language and what is a dialect. As an American, we certainly have dialects, but our English is not as varied in our country, as say, English within the British Isles. But it is still considered English.

The numerous dialects of German can be difficult to understand, Swiss German being the prime example in my mind, yet somehow they are still grouped in the same language. Why? To ask a perhaps silly question, if comprehension is very difficult or even practically impossible on a regular basis between any two given speakers of Hochdeutch vs. Swiss German, Mandarin vs. Cantonese, American vs. Scots, or whatever, is it really worth saying the do speak one common language?
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maxb
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 Message 10 of 37
08 February 2007 at 2:55am | IP Logged 
Journeyer wrote:
To ask a perhaps silly question, if comprehension is very difficult or even practically impossible on a regular basis between any two given speakers of Hochdeutch vs. Swiss German, Mandarin vs. Cantonese, American vs. Scots, or whatever, is it really worth saying the do speak one common language?


Strictly linguistically speaking Mandarin and Cantonese are certainly different languages. They are more different from each other than Norwegian and Swedish which are considered different languages. The distinction between language and dialect is more of a political and historical issue than a strictly linguistic one. If Norway and Sweden was one country Norwegian and Swedish would probably be considered to be dialects of a common language. There is also a dialect in Sweden called "Ă„lvdalska" which is actually more different from Swedish than Norwegian but is still considered a dialect.
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solidsnake
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China
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 Message 11 of 37
08 February 2007 at 3:13am | IP Logged 
how's the cantonese coming max?
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Andy_Liu
Triglot
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Hong Kong
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Speaks: Mandarin, Cantonese*, EnglishC2
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 Message 12 of 37
08 February 2007 at 3:59am | IP Logged 
"Dialect" doesn't have much to do with politics. The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese (two concepts), for example, is far less than English and French (two languages).

In the Chinese academic world, dialects are dialects, but they are languages in the Western sense. When I study Teochew, I also have to treat it as a new language. The viewpoint is different: for Chinese speakers, studying another dialect requires half the efforts non-Chinese speakers do. IMO, the distinction is so vague partly because Chinese language (Hanyu) can refer to any kind of spoken Chinese - that is, the Chinese think they all speak Chinese, but when it comes to distinguishing fellow Chinese by language, they think of "dialects".

When I see texts of Wu, Teochew and Taiwan Minnan, I understand half of the text (I don't know grammar but I know most characters) and half of the dialect (I don't know how to speak but I can read the text in, say, Mandarin and Cantonese).

Similarly, it's interesting to see in written Chinese, every foreign language has two names. Take a less common example. German is deyu (German speak) or dewen (German text). "Language" is yuyan (language & speak) or yuwen (language & text). Among Hongkongers, "German text" is overwhelmingly common. People would think you speak "too literally" (or don't understand) if you say deyu. But in Guangzhou, people don't say "German text" because "German speak" is more common in publications. Even for Chinese itself, we also have two names: hanyu (Han Chinese speak) and zhongwen (Middle text). And, as a joke, English's names (yingyu and yingwen) are both common and popular among Hongkongers because English is so popular.

Edited by Andy_Liu on 08 February 2007 at 4:01am

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japkorengchi
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 Message 13 of 37
08 February 2007 at 6:11am | IP Logged 
For the issue of Cantonese, it has been noted that there are actually four different forms of Cantonese in use:

(1) written Cantonese which is close to Mandarin.
(2) written Cantonese which is close to vernacular Cantonese
(3) spoken Cantonese which is close to (1)
(4) spoken Cantonese which is close to (2)

Personally, I name (1) as "High Cantonese". "High Cantonese" is used in news and formal occasions. They are based on the ideas of Mandarin. Basically, most of the lexical items in (1) are the same in Mandarin. It can be said as a form of Mandarin with Cantonese readings of the characters.

For (2) the lexical items used are drastically different from Mandarin. It's used among Cantonese people on ICQ,MSN or other informal occasions. I call it "low Cantonese".

For (3) and (4), as they are the spoken forms of Cantonese, they are not intellgible to Mandarin speakers without training.





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glossika
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China
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Speaks: Mandarin, English*, German, Italian, Russian, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, Tok Pisin, Malay, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Croatian, Serbian, Icelandic, Georgian, Indonesian
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 Message 14 of 37
13 February 2007 at 12:39pm | IP Logged 
I've been trying to get Wu, Southern Min, Gan, and Hakka listed to my profile as languages I speak or am learning. Please check the entries I have written under my "Cantonese" and "Mandarin" profile.

Here is a previous post I wrote elsewhere, but I believe it belongs in this forum:

"
I don't think it's a matter of what's a dialect and what's language here.

Put it this way. If you consider Russian, Polish, Italian, French, English, etc. as dialects of each other, then so should Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Xiang, Gan, Hakka, N. Min, S. Min, Pinghua, Jin and Hui be considered.

Since Southern Min and Mandarin have less lexical similarity between each other than Russian and English, then how can it be an argument about language and dialect? Especially since some claim that Czech and Slovak are separate languages (or others like them). If they are separate languages, then S. Min should be broken up into several languages itself. Considering English and Russian have 24% lexical similarity, but S. Min and Mandarin only have 15% lexical similarity, not to mention only 9% similarity with neighboring language, Wu.

All I was doing in my initial entry was asking why I can't choose Wu, Cantonese, Mandarin, Southern Min, Gan separately as languages that I speak/study, like others can add any and all European languages separately.

According to this website of the 50 most widely spoken languages (one of the few that actually list the ones in China), Mandarin has 1120 million (Rank 1), Wu has 77.2 million (this is an old figure, it is now 92 million, Rank 11--just one below German), Yue has 66 million (Rank 18), Southern Min has 49 million (Rank 23), Jin has 45 million (Rank 24), Xiang has 36 million (Rank 29), Hakka has 34 million (Rank 31), Gan has 20 million (Rank 45).
"

Zia-zia daka ge' lingqing. (-Wu)

Edited by glossika on 13 February 2007 at 12:57pm

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sumabeast
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 Message 15 of 37
13 February 2007 at 4:47pm | IP Logged 
Dialect or separate language?

when asking this question, I find it very important to be aware of who you ask. If this person has a real sense of national or ethnic pride, then they are likely to play up the differences and insist that the languages in question are separate and mutually unintelligible.
the Hindi/ Urdu example is a good one, setting aside the different scripts used to write the 2, the spoken speech is basically the same, and speakers readily understand each other.

Spanish/ Portuguese is another, as well it could be said that Spanish/ Italian are dialects of each other.

But of course any sovereign nation wants a language of its own, not a dialect. It's political.

the case with chinese is that the political forces within China do not at all want to give rise to further ethnic separateness that comes with a separate language, so they go on inisting that Mandarin, and Cantonese, and the others are merely dialects of a single language to preserve the single Chinese identity.
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Andy_Liu
Triglot
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Hong Kong
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Speaks: Mandarin, Cantonese*, EnglishC2
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 Message 16 of 37
14 February 2007 at 6:09am | IP Logged 
But this distinction is still vague. After all, these dialects/languages all use the same script, the same phonetic rationales... You may treat them as "Latin" (Old, Middle Chinese, whatever) and "Romance languages" (Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Minnan...etc).

The crux is always - the script. Had the Chinese characters not been "united" since 2000 years ago, the "Chinese Latin" would break into several, say, languages that use different sets of pictograms as characters. That is why I said I can read half of a Minnan text though I can't speak a single word of it.


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