Should Students Be Encouraged to Speak Indigenous Dialects Instead of Mandarin?
Recently, a change in the Chinese textbooks used in Shanghai’s primary schools triggered a buzz on the Internet. In the second-grade Chinese textbook published by Shanghai Educational Publishing House, “waipo” was changed to “laolao.” These two terms have the same meaning, both referring to one’s maternal grandmother. In most regions of south China, including Shanghai, grandmothers are mostly addressed “waipo” while people in the north call their grandmothers “laolao.” However, after due investigation, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission decided that the characteristics of local dialect should be put into consideration and restored the usage of “waipo.” This has once again ignited the debate about whether students should learn and speak indigenous dialects.
Mandarin, based on dialects in north China, is the legitimate common language in China, which was offically endorsed by the Constitution. But China is a country with a vast territory and various dialects. Academic classes are carried out in Mandarin in most regions. In this case, Mandarin has become the daily language of communication for most students. Nanjing issued a regulation in 2017 to add oral Mandarin to primary and secondary school curricula. Some schools in Shanghai and Guangzhou even discouraged students from using indigenous dialects for daily communication.
There are also schools which support students learning indigenous dialects. Some primary and secondary schools in Suzhou in east China’s Jiangsu Province have set up Suzhou dialect courses to “inspire the young learners’ love for Suzhou dialect and Suzhou culture.”
Supporters agree that students learning and speaking these dialects could help preserve local traditional culture and enhance self-confidence in local people. But opponents suggest that Mandarin education could facilitate communication among students as a large number of students who come from outside the region are also enrolled in local schools.