Should Stu­dents Be En­cour­aged to Speak Indige­nous Di­alects In­stead of Man­darin?

ChinAfrica - - PROS AND CONS -

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.

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