Chinese dialects fight for survival

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-7-31 18:11:55

China's urbanization drive has meant huge numbers of people now live very far from where they were born and raised. Consequently, many local dialects are under threat.

A survey published Friday by China Youth Daily showed 22.1 percent of 2,003 respondents saying that they seldom used the vernacular in daily communications outside their hometown. Most respondents were between the ages of 16 and 25.

Putonghua, or Mandarin, serves as a lingua franca throughout the country, and it has many dialects. In addition, different ethnic groups use their own languages.

Shen Yuan, a student from east China's Zhejiang Province who attends university in Beijing, told the newspaper how difficult it is for him to find opportunities to use the language of his childhood in Beijing.

Worried that the everyday idiom of his ancestors could face extinction, he said, "Children in my hometown are required by teachers to speak Mandarin from kindergarten and young people tend to use Putonghua in communication."

Zhu Zhenmiao, who has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Shanghai University, told the newspaper that given China's great diversity of languages, a vast territory and many ethnic groups, Mandarin had been very successful in facilitating communication among all Chinese people without driving out regional dialects, argots or accents.

"There are around 6,500 languages in the world. Each and every one is a lens for us to look into the thoughts, ideologies and cultures of the people who speak it. China's dialects are a crucial part of our national heritage," said Zhu.

The Ministry of Education and state language commission began research on minority dialects and languages this year for the purpose of conserving and developing the nation's linguistic legacy. Unsurprisingly, both dialect speakers and linguistic experts are enthusiastic about the role the Internet could play in preserving these dwindling vernaculars.

"Articles, videos, music and almost anything related to language can be curated on the Internet and expand, or at least preserve, the value of dialects to their speakers and other interested people," said Shen.

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