My Mandarin isn’t great, but since being here for a few years there’s been one thing that noticed and it’s certainly something I love about being in China – the countless regional dialects.
From what I gather, they can be divided into several categories – Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghai area), Hakka, Taiwanese, Hui, Gan,Sichuanese, and of course Mandarin. Of course each city has its very take on the dialects, with people from Guangzhou perhaps speaking Cantonese differently to those in Hong Kong. Somewhere within these dialects and accents, there came to be born what we know as Putonghua, or standard Mandarin.
I think it’s incredible though that you can take a trip to a city down the road and here them speak a dialect almost mutually unintelligible to the other. Even in Beijing, I’ve heard rumours that the Haidian and Chaoyang accent are different, and I can certainly say that on my way up to the Great Wall I certainly encountered something which was completely different to the Mandarin I’d learnt in Beijing.
The unfortunate thing is that many of these dialects are slowly dying out, due to the spread of Mandarin and the use of it in all schools across the China. I hear reports of kids down in Guangzhou being punished if they speak Cantonese in class. I understand that it’s good for everyone to understand each other and that children in poor areas can have access to the language everyone knows, though for me, it’s one of the special things about living here.
Tags:Language & Culture
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