Diversity and Chinese Language Week

This week is ‘New Zealand Chinese Language Week’:

New Zealand Chinese Language Week  (16-22 October) is a Kiwi-led initiative aimed at encouraging New Zealanders to discover Chinese language and culture. 

Be inspired by our supporters and meet our  “Mandarin Superstars” as they share their exciting experiences.

Check out what events are taking place in your region 16-22 October.

Find out how you can get “Asia ready” in 2017 by checking out our language learning resources.

But ‘Chinese language’ is not one thing, it is a diverse range of languages and dialects.

We don’t often refer to Romance languages, but instead to Italian, Spanish, French, plus the language that’s a derivative of these and has become widespread, English.

And some dialects of English can be nearly or wholly unintelligible to other English speaking people.

Bevan Chuang points out Chinese Language is more diverse than Mandarin

Chinese Language Week is the one week that I get very patriotic about how unilineal and narrow focus this week is.

Chuang details a number of reasons why she is frustrated that people ask her to write something in Mandarin – she is a native Cantonese speaker.


1. Mandarin is only one of many Chinese languages

The Chinese language we know are associated with ethnic Han Chinese. Within the Chinese community there are more than one ethnic group though Han Chinese make up 92% of Chinese in China and 97% in Taiwan.

Linguists note that the Chinese language is as diverse as a language family, like those of Romance languages.

There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese, with majority speaking Mandarin (including Standard Chinese, Pekinese, Suchuanese, Dungan) but followed by Wu (including Shanghainese, Suzhounese, Wenzhounese), Min (inlcuding Fuzhounese, Hainese, Hokkien, Taiwanese, Teochew), Yue (including Cantonese and Taishanese), Gan, Xiang and Hakka.

Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible though they may share common terms. They also varies in tone and anaytic.

The Mandarin that we now know in the Western society is the Standard Chinese, which is derived from the term guānhuà (官话/官話), or “official speech”, to refer to the speech used at the Court. The term “Mandarin” is borrowed directy from Portuguese, mandarim, which is derived from the Sanskrit word mantrin, Conselor or Minister.

Before the 19th century, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialects, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, and with the dying of Qing dynasty, Beijing dialect was established as guóyǔ (国语/國語), or the “national language”.

With the Communist-ruled country, Mandarin became increasingly influential because it is seen as the standardised language, and people seems to only identify Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

2. Disrespectful to the Chinese forbearers to New Zealand

Early Chinese immigrants to New Zealand are Cantonese speakers from South China. They came from the Pearl River delta area in Guangdong province. Most (67%) were from Panyu county; the rest were from Siyi, Zengcheng, Dongguan and Zhongshan. These counties are located around the city of Canton (Guangzhou).

New Zealand was one of the three countries that place a poll tax on the Chinese immigrants. In 2002, former Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to the Chinese Poll Tax descendents and subsequently the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust was formed.

One of the key focus of the Trust is to promote learning and the use of the Cantonese language, the language of the forbearers. Supporting the descendents to hold on to their language and culture of their ancestors.

Very different to the many Language Weeks we have in New Zealand, the Chinese Language Week is not about ensuring the language of our ancestors will live on, but this is purely about increasing trade.

3. Not celebrating diversity

Chinese, both the language and the people, are very diverse. We are not able to address and celebrate the diversity and yet lumped together as one. This also helps support the Chinese government’s plan to diminish dialects by only promoting Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

The United Nations have acknowledged that the Chinese language is becoming less diverse, and over 100 languages are in danger of dying out. Even Shanghainese, one of the many “Mandarin” dialects, is in fear of dying out. Just Google “Dying Chinese Language” and you will find pages of search results related to the concern that the Mandarin policy is killing the other languages. The killing of these languages are more than just a language, but the culture and history.

What can we do

One day, I hope, that the Chinese Language Week actually celebrates the history and diversity of all Chinese language and promote the use of Chinese as a whole, not focusing only in Mandarin. Even here in New Zealand, there are two main dialects.

According to the last Census, 52,263 people spoke Northern Chinese which includes Mandarin, 44,625 spoke Yue that includes Cantonese and 42,750 spoke a “Sinitic” language.


New Zealand is becoming increasingly diverse, and ethnic Chinese are becoming a larger part of our mix.

And within the ethnic Chinese population there is also diversity beyond simply immigrants and those born here and with as long a connection to New Zealand as many of us.

We are familiar with recognising distinct differences between English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish even though they share a common language.

In New Zealand they share many things in common, while some retain some cultural practices as well. That is usually celebrated.

Ethnicity, culture and language have never been simple and separable.

The same should apply to the diversity of ethnic Chinese now living here. They accept aspects of our culture (actually cultures) while retaining some of there own if they wish. Language is one part of that.

Food is another – Chinese options have become much more diverse here in my lifetime. I don’t know where I could still find chicken, rice and mixed vegetables – with buttered bread soaked in Worcester Sauce for an entree.

We may have no interest in learning one of the Chinese languages, that’s a lot more challenging than scoffing sweet and sour wantons or egg foo young, but we can at least recognise the diversity of Chinese language as well as cuisine.

 

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.

This refers to the post SCHOOLCHILDREN PICK “CHINESE” AS THE LANGUAGE TO LEARN.

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China#Languages