Whale Oil language gaff

Whale Oil frequently blasts other media when they make mistakes, especially NZ Herald. Missy pointed out:

I was having a brief look over at Whale Oil today, and I noticed a post Cam Slater has done on NZ Children learning languages, specifically Chinese, what struck me is that before posting a regurgitation of the article he put the following line in.

“Really? They don’t choose to learn Swiss or Brazilian?”

Now, since I thought it was common knowledge that Brazilian and Swiss are nationalities not languages – Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, and French, German, Italian and Romansh is spoken in Switzerland – I would have expected someone who seems to be picky about journalists in the MSM getting their facts straight would not have made such a stupid error.


To be fair Cameron Slater may have been trying to be cute with his opening comment – surely he wouldn’t pick two countries like Brazil and Switzerland in total ignorance, and he makes a dig at ‘Chinese’ versus ‘Mandarin’ – but Missy is right, that’s the sort of apparent ignorance he would blast the Herald for.

It looks dumb, especially on a post about language.

Also, to be fair to language correctness, Standard Mandarin is also referred to as Standard Chinese (as well as Putonghua and Guoyu) so ‘Chinese’ is as correct as ‘Mandarin’.

And if you want to be nit-picky about ‘Chinese’ versus ‘Mandarin’ then perhaps it should be pointed out that “there are as many as 292 living languages in China.”

The languages most commonly spoken belong to the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which contains Mandarin (spoken natively by 70% of the population), and other Chinese languages: 

While 70% speaking Mandarin is a significant majority 30% of the Chinese population is over 400 million people.

The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, a variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect.

Mandarin is also known as Standard Chinese (so ‘Chinese is a correct-ish variant) and also as Putonghua and Guoyu


Leave a comment


  1. Missy

     /  28th April 2015

    Pete, one thing I have noticed in Beijing (not sure if it goes for the rest of the country), but they all refer to the language as Chinese, the dialects are referred to as if a separate language (ie: Cantonese). The local Chinese people I work with don’t refer to it as Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, but rather just as Chinese. So calling it Chinese instead of Standard Chinese or Mandarin, so in my experience Chinese is the correct term for Madarin as we know it. Just a note, officials I have dealt with also refer to it as Chinese, not Standard Chinese or Mandarin.

  2. kittycatkin

     /  28th April 2015

    Oh, why didn’t you ask CS where to find Swiss and Brazilian language textbooks ? Is it too late ? Please, Pete, please, do this for us XXX

    • Missy

       /  28th April 2015

      I don’t post there, and only have a look now and then, but if I did post there I certainly would ask, as I would love to know where to find Brazilian and Swiss textbooks too. 🙂 I think my Portuguese speaking Brazilian friend would also love to know where to find the textbooks so she knows what language she should be speaking! 🙂


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