Related News

Home » Feature

Mandarin becomes lingua franca

CHINA has been making efforts to promote the standard language, and officials say 54 percent of Chinese speak it.

Jiang Meiying, a woman from the Drung ethnic group in remote Yunnan Province, southwest China, not only speaks Drung and Lisu languages, but also Mandarin Chinese.

Born in Dulongjiang Village, she speaks the language of the Drung, one of China's smallest ethnic groups of only 8,000 people.

She considers herself luckier than her peers as she had the opportunity to attend junior middle school where she learned Mandarin.

After marrying a Lisu man, she moved with him to his village in Yunnan and learned to speak Lisu.

As her village became more open since the West Development campaign started 10 years ago, an increasing number of tourists visit and Jiang speaks to them in Mandarin to solicit business for her mini-van.

"Though my Mandarin is not very standard, speaking it is a much easier way to communicate with the outside world," Jiang says.

"My two children, who study in cities, can speak fluent Mandarin but at home we still speak the Lisu language," she adds.

Jiang says speaking Mandarin is necessary to adapt to a more modern and commercial society, while the Lisu language carries on family tradition.

Feng Yonghua, a 21-year-old Lisu woman living in the same village as Jiang, speaks fluent Mandarin since she once ran a small shop in Guangzhou in southern China's Guangdong Province.

"Without speaking Mandarin, it's very hard to find a job elsewhere," Feng says.

Yunnan Province alone has 25 ethnic minorities, each with a population of more than 5,000. About 15 million people in the province are ethnic minorities. Mountainous terrain and isolation of many areas have made promoting Mandarin hard.

China's 56 ethnic groups speak more than 80 languages. Even the Han language has seven major dialects. People speaking different languages or dialects find it difficult to communicate with each other.

China launched its Mandarin promotion campaign after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. China's Constitution stipulates that Mandarin should be promoted and used nationwide.

In 1998, the Chinese government launched National Mandarin Promotion Week, which falls in the third week of September. This year it ran from September 12 to 18.

The nationwide rate of Mandarin usage has reached 54 percent, according to Wang Dengfeng, director of the language use management department at the Ministry of Education.

"Promoting Mandarin has never meant eliminating dialects and languages of ethnic minorities," says Sun Haizun, director of the Anhui Provincial Language Work Committee.

"Usually, Mandarin is used in a person's public life, while dialects or languages of ethnic minorities are more frequently used in private life," Sun says.

Dialects and languages of ethnic minorities, usually with thousands of years of history, are important aspects of China's culture, says Wang Kaiyu, a renowned sociologist in Anhui Province. Ethnic languages and dialects carry on culture and are quite expressive among fellow speakers, Wang says.

"We are building a harmonious linguistic environment in ethnic minority areas where promoting Mandarin and protecting ethnic minorities' languages are equally important," says Jin Cheng, director of the Yunnan Provincial Language Work Committee.

The Yunnan Provincial Government allocates 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) every year to save, protect and preserve the languages of ethnic minorities.

To promote bilingual teaching, Yunnan has stepped up efforts to compile bilingual textbooks.

The province has published more than 200 types of textbooks in 18 minority languages and given them to students. It has also trained around 5,000 bilingual teachers to improve the quality of teaching. Jin says most minority students could be trained to be bilingual when they leave primary school.

"Today, an increasing number of ethnic minorities prefer to be bilingual," says Xiong Yuyou, deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial Ethnic Minority Language Direction Committee.

In the Miao ethnic minority, except for pre-school children and people over 70, the majority has become bilingual, he says.

However, issues emerge as the minority languages cannot adapt to social changes as fast as Mandarin. New words such as "instant message," "spaceflight," "AIDS" and "bird flu" have no equivalents in many ethnic languages, says Xiong.

Yunnan plans to update and standardize minorities' languages to make them more flexible and adaptable, he says.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend