China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

who first ar­rive in Shang­hai and their frus­tra­tion in, say, ask­ing di­rec­tions. When I first heard Can­tonese men­tion “af­ter­noon”, I thought they were re­fer­ring to “next week”. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the closer a di­alect is toMan­darin, the eas­ier it is to grasp it. So, the most dif­fi­cult di­alects are all in south­ern parts of the coun­try as Man­darin is based on the Bei­jing di­alect. But that’s not tak­ing into ac­count eth­nic mi­nori­ties, many of whom have their own dis­tinct lan­guages.

It would be a chaotic and some­what lu­di­crous scene to have a room­ful of peo­ple talk­ing in his or her own di­alect and guess­ing what oth­ers are try­ing to get across. In the old rev­o­lu­tion­ary movies, all lead­ers would speak their own di­alect, but they seemed to get along fine, with­out miss­ing a sin­gle word mut­tered by oth­ers. Di­alect, as I sawit then, was a big bar­rier to mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. It seg­ments the coun­try into thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of small pieces where one’s iden­tity is pi­geon­holed and con­fined.

At that time, ev­ery child in China had to learn two lan­guages, or more ac­cu­rately, two spo­ken ver­sions of the same lan­guage, one ver­nac­u­lar and the oth­erMan­darin. Some were re­quired to speakMan­darin in school and would re­vert to the

With or with­out gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, most di­alects will van­ish. But there is no sense in has­ten­ing their demise. There is a need for di­alect pro­gram­ming on lo­cal ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions. It is the pro­por­tion that should be cal­i­brated.

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