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April 25, 2016

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Xie’s tale another chapter in saving China’s dialects

SEATED in front of a recording device, 75-year-old Xie Liangcai clears his throat and begins to read a nursery rhyme in his local dialect.

Xie, a retired primary school teacher who lives in Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan Province, is taking part in a project to preserve the province’s native tongues.

“They want the quality of the recordings to be very good, and sometimes I get a bit tongue-tied,” he said.

With backing of around 4.65 million yuan (US$716,000), over the next five to 10 years the project will record the dialects spoken in 57 different parts of Hunan, and compile a report that will include audio and video material.

The project’s organizer, Hunan TV presenter Wang Han, said: “Our dialects are something that distinguishes us. They are unique to us and an essential part of our local culture. It is very important that we have a record of them all.”

Since July last year, when the project began, researchers have finished recording dialects in 15 sites and more than 60 Chinese and foreign scholars have taken part in the research.

China has numerous local dialects and they vary a lot from region to region.

With the country promoting Mandarin for decades and many people leaving the countryside to work in the city, some dialects are on the verge of extinction.

Besides Wang’s project, the province is also involved in a national dialect cataloging campaign. The national language resources protection project, which was launched in May 2015, has completed the recording of 81 ethnic minority languages and 53 local dialects of Han ethnicity, said Tian Lixin, a Ministry of Education official.

She said the dialects at 1,500 sites across the country will be investigated within five years.

With plans to collect local dialects and languages of ethnic minority groups, and construct a multi-media language database, the project will better protect the country’s rich and varied languages, she said.

Liu Danqing, director of the language research institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the diversity of languages is an important aspect of people’s social life.

Official and community-led language research programs are very important as they will not only protect the inheritance of dialects, but also help cultivate linguistic talent, Liu said.


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