Chinese language explained

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Saim
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby Saim » Wed Dec 06, 2023 9:35 am

L, Simon wrote:As a matter of fact, my mother tongue is a living example of a dialect continuum between Mandarin and Wu. The first thing to be clarified though is that the Mandarin group can be divided into 8 subgroups, and the Mandarin as most commonly known belongs to Beijing (北京) Mandarin subgroup, while my mother tongue is closer to Jianghuai (江淮, between downstream of Yangtze River and Huai River) Mandarin. I have been born and raised in Nanjing. The urban tongue of the city is one of Jianghuai Mandarin, while the tongues of peripheral rural areas belong to Wu. I grew up in the central rural area, where we speech with a tongue with features of both Jianghuai Mandarin and Wu. Usually, my mother tongue is considered a Jianghuai Mandarin, but we do have, for instance, most of the voiced onset consonants from Late Middle Chinese (although they are gradually lost among young speakers), preservation of many velar onset consonants which are now alveolo-palatal affricates in Jianghuai Mandarin, and complete reduction of the rime structures (in Pinyin) "<ian>" , "<uan>" and "<üan>" into "/iː /", "/uː /" and "/yː /", which are clearly features of Wu. This is due to the fact that Nanjing shifted from Wu-speaking area to contemporary Mandarin-speaking area during Ming Dynasty, being Ming's capital.


Interesting, thanks for sharing!

Gan, Yue, Min, Hakka and to some extend, even Wu, are closely related dialect groups, belonging to a historical ethnic family known as 越 (or 百越) lived in what is now South of China.


I've always understood Min to be quite divergent, with many (most?) linguists considering it to form its own first-level branch within Sinitic.

I am not sure if I understand this one correctly, but I gather that you have implied that different waves of migration has led to cultural diversity in the same region, bringing in different languages and creating language barrier (thus clear boundaries) between the old and new settlers. I would argue that migration merely brings different dialects rather than languages into contact, since you said migration of Han people (not other nationality), and by the time of first contact there surely were boundaries (until they began to merge with each other and the boundaries blurred), but it does not disprove the fact that those dialects derive from the same ancestor thus forming a continuum.


It's simply a fact that migration often leads to the breaking of continuums or the formation of hard linguistic borders, which you can see among the Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula (in the north there is a gradual continuum; in the south there is almost none, except for some minor contact phenomena including some Murcian and Extremaduran varieties) or the Slavic speech of the western Balkans (there is no continuum between Shtokavian and the other languages, but there is between Slovene, Kajkavian and Chakavian).

It is also however true that there are two different kinds of continua: ones that arose out of a language group spreading out of a core area, and another that is the result of two previously distinct blocs ending up in contact with each other. Nanjing Mandarin seems to be an example of the latter, like Murcian.

There's also the fact that a continuum with regards to features does not necessarily reflect a continuum when it comes to intelligibility, as is again the case of Murcian, which is more readily intelligible with Standard Spanish than with Catalan, despite its clear Catalan substrate.

but it does not make them different languages


I don't take a position on whether any two varieties "are the same language" or not, as I consider this to be categorisation for the sake of categorisation. I use "language" and "dialect bloc" largely interchangeably.
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby Deinonysus » Thu Dec 07, 2023 6:29 pm

Thank you for posting this fascinating log, L, Simon!

Regarding Min Chinese being a language vs. a dialect, my impression is that it actually diverged before Middle Chinese and is lacking some Middle Chinese innovations (for example, it keeps the Old Chinese six vowel system), so I think there's a strong argument for being its own language(s) or dialect continuum.

I also have a question for you about reconstructions of Middle and Old Chinese pronunciation. I've heard that Baxter-Sagart is highly regarded in Western academia. Are there other reconstructions that are preferred in Chinese-speaking academia, or is there not much focus on reconstructed pronunciation in general?
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lichtrausch
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby lichtrausch » Tue Dec 12, 2023 2:55 am

I have a question. Mandarin is gradually replacing other Sinitic varieties in locations such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. What is the general sentiment of the speakers of the Sinitic varieties that are under pressure from Mandarin? Do they view the process as inevitable? Desirable? Reverseable?
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby L, Simon » Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:02 am

Deinonysus wrote:Regarding Min Chinese being a language vs. a dialect, my impression is that it actually diverged before Middle Chinese and is lacking some Middle Chinese innovations (for example, it keeps the Old Chinese six vowel system), so I think there's a strong argument for being its own language(s) or dialect continuum.

Sorry for the much belated reply since my last update from last year, since when I have been otherwise occupied by agonous affairs. :(

It is true that Min have diverged rather early and manifests as rather distinctive, but it did not just keep on its own way towards a totally different direction away from the Chinese language. Despite being marginal, geographically or politically, the speakers in Min regions have been living on the land and under the administration of the political entity they identify both as "China" (although by different historical names); meanwhile, for most Chinese, language is an identifying feature of a country (i.e. political) rather than an ethnic group (i.e. cultural). In fact, I have once seen people here mistakenly assuming Tibetan or Zhuang as Chinese dialects. Therefore, identifying one's language (in broader sense) as a language (in narrower sense) necessarily comes with political implications, which is why the speakers themselves usually would not consider them speaking a different language.

Dividing dialects from languages is far from a technical problem, and can often become a handful. It is totally reasonable to view Chinese as a language family instead of a single language, but for me, Min is surely distinctive but still a branch of Chinese dialects.

Deinonysus wrote:I also have a question for you about reconstructions of Middle and Old Chinese pronunciation. I've heard that Baxter-Sagart is highly regarded in Western academia. Are there other reconstructions that are preferred in Chinese-speaking academia, or is there not much focus on reconstructed pronunciation in general?

Baxtar-Sagart (白一平-沙加爾/沙加尔 in Chinese) is also quite popular here. The other influential one I know is ZhengZhang-Pan (鄭張/郑张-潘). Karlgren (高本漢/高本汉 in Chinese) and Wang Li (王力) are still credited for their foundational work.

I like to use this site (in Chinese) for reference, which lists many major reconstructions.
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby L, Simon » Wed Feb 07, 2024 1:06 pm

lichtrausch wrote:I have a question. Mandarin is gradually replacing other Sinitic varieties in locations such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. What is the general sentiment of the speakers of the Sinitic varieties that are under pressure from Mandarin? Do they view the process as inevitable? Desirable? Reverseable?

Thank you for your interest, and sorry for the late reply. This is actually a very interesting but a rather socio-political topic. If this bothers you, just ignore my words below.

There have been slogans promoting the use of Mandarin all over the places, and the third week of September is the annual 全国推广普通话宣传周 (national publicity week on Mandarin promotion). There surely are many people feeling "pressured". I myself have actually once made a speech back in high school on preservation of dialects; but I want to make it clear that Mandarin is in no way "pressing" other dialects, even though it is true that not enough attentions are paid for dialect preservation and promotion.

The two cities you mentioned, namely Shanghai (Municipality) and Guangzhou (City), are actually very special cases, and Mandarin opponents are more seen there. Pre-knowledge is that Chinese view language as some identifying symbol for a nation/country. Probably due to much more foreign/international exposure, citizens in Shanghai and Guangzhou are generally more socio-psychologically distant and exclusive from those from inner land, and often refer to them by "内地人" (inlanders; mainlanders) in a pejorative sense. Some are even hostile towards the CCP, and claim that Mandarin promotion to be political propaganda. Same is more common in Hong Kong (SAR), but rarely in Macau (SAR). It is not unusually for a Yue speaker to consider Yue to be a distinct language from Chinese, implying in some sense some kind of identification of independence, cultural or social. Native citizens from Shanghai also take special pride about Shanghainese Wu, even looking down on other subbranches of Wu. Specifically, many native citizens in Shanghai, especially the elder ones, call citizens from northern Jiangsu, also Wu speakers, by "蘇北人/苏北人" (northern-Jiangsu-nese) in a pejorative sense.

More often, people are somewhat indifferent about Mandarin promotion; neither would they generally feel "inevitable" nor "desirable" for it. Dialects are in much more common use than what you might have assume: they are even commonly used in classrooms by teachers and students, whenever they do not feel like speaking Mandarin. Most people still speak their own dialect except in public and formal occasions, unless their parent have chosen to raised them speaking Mandarin only. However, there is indeed a tendency that only Mandarin are spoken at school and taught to kid by young parents, but this is due to their objective decisions, considering speaking Mandarin as more educated, rather than policy pressure.
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Re: Chinese language explained

Postby L, Simon » Tue Apr 16, 2024 2:08 pm

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[Resource] National Language Resource Platform

Long time no see, 好久不見/见.

I came across this amazing platform that I can not believe I have not heard of before, and I decide to share with whoever takes a interest.

I would like to introduce to you the National Language Resource Platform (国家语言资源服务平台) officially released by the National Language Commission (国家语言文字工作委员会, officially abbr. 国家语委, commonly abbr. 国语委) affiliated to the PRC Ministry of Education (中华人民共和国教育部). It is by far the most integrated publicly open online language resource platform released in Mainland China, and there are not only Chinese but also minority language resources recorded from all over both Mainland China and Taiwan.

It has two major boards, Language Service and Language Resource, each divided in to many sections, covering all sorts of functions you may find helpful. For example, you can use the Orthography Service (语言规范服务) section to learn about the national standards for Pinyin (拼音) of general lexicon, place and personal names and book names, as well as punctuation usage, especially when the Chinese text contains English text within. With Chinese Character Information Service (汉字信息服务), you can access the Holographic Resource Application System of Chinese Characters (汉字全息资源应用系统, abbr. 全息库) where you can look up all the information you may want for a single Chinese Character, including its phonetics, its structure analysis, extensive facsimiles, entries from major ancient dictionaries, citation from ancient literatures, etc.

It also documents languages policies in Mainland China, which you can find in all 6 sections of the Language Resource (语言资源) board. I would like to highlight the Language Preservation (语保资源) subsection of the Language Culture Resource (语言文化资源) section which archives the most recent efforts carried out by the PRC government for language preservation, both Chinese and minority languages, with multimedia records. If you consider that a 'linguicide' is on-going in Mainland China, giving this section (and other sections on this board) a look will not hurt.

Educational materials for Chinese sign language and Chinese braille are also available in the Sign Language and Braille Service (手语盲文服务) section, if you are curious.

You can also find in the Top Quality Font Service (精品字体服务) section many downloadable Chinese fonts, both traditional and simplified, and both historical and modern, based off some important and influential facsimiles and calligraphers' handwriting, that are freely available for non-commercial personal usage, provided by FounderType (方正字库).

Although open and free, accessing certain resource may require registration with email or phone number. If you find difficulty to this or simply feel reluctant to give away your personal information, feel free to reach out to me for help.

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