The Chinese Language: The Wily Tiger That Cannot Be Tamed

Putonghua is the official version of Mandarin which the Communist government determined was to be the official language of the nation. It was created in 1949 and modeled mostly but not entirely on the variety spoken in Beijing.

Although Putonghua seems to be killing off a lot of dialects or even microlanguages, I have a feeling that this is mandatory. Nevertheless the process of accelerated language change in China (Why?) seems to be even catching up with Putonghua. For instance, Putonghua of course was modeled on the Beijing language. However, this was Beijing Mandarin of 1949, and it was also the language of the suburbs, not to the city.

Since then, Putonghua has taken off on its own and so has Beijing Mandarin with the strange result that the hard Beijing Mandarin of hutongs in the center of the city is now often unintelligible to Putonghua speakers! So this is a case of a standard language and the lect it was modeled off taking off via independent evolution such that 70 years later, the original lect is no longer intelligible with the Standard that was modeled on that very lect!

Chinese lects are wildly different, and tones adds another mess into the matter. This has shown up even in Putonghua, where some Putonghua varieties are now unintelligible with the rest of Putonghua due to severe influence of the local lects on the standard and possibly regional evolution of the standard! Hence even Putonghua seems to have split off into several languages itself! Thus Guangdong Putonghua, Anhui Putonghua, Shanghai Putonghua, Jianghuai Putonghua and Zhengcao Putonghua are no longer fully intelligible to Putonghua speakers outside the region!

In addition, Taiwan Mandarin, Tibetan Mandarin and Malay Mandarin have all taken off on their own independent evolutionary tracks such that these are no longer fully intelligible to Standard speakers either! So since 1949, Putonghua has split into at least 8 different languages that lack full intelligibility with each other!

It seems the Chinese tried to lasso that wily creature called the Chinese language to rein it in and domesticate it somehow, but the wily creature keeps slipping away due to its endlessly morphing patter.

37 Comments

Filed under Asia, China, Chinese language, Dialectology, Government, Language Families, Left, Linguistics, Maoism, Marxism, Politics, Regional, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics

37 responses to “The Chinese Language: The Wily Tiger That Cannot Be Tamed

  1. Lin

    The observation of yours might be partly true but the conclusion is outdated:
    1)Almost all school kids learn the standard Putonghua at schools
    2)Look,we live in an ‘information rich’ age.
    Two extra thing, not exactly related, you might not know,:
    a)I’m a southern ‘cantonese’ speaker; Chinese historians would tell you the original Chinese pronunciation/phonetics was much closer to Cantonese than to Putonghua which was under Mongolian/Turkic influence. But its much easier for me to learn Putonghua(I bet I can do it in 2 weeks if I put my mind to it)but it’ll take a northerner much longer to learn Cantonese(which to non-Asians probably sound like Vietnamese)
    b)Among ancient civilisation with relatively well recorded history, Chinese can usually ‘communicate’ with the ancient past most readily. The average high school graduates can read classical text(albeitly with some difficulty). That explain why Chinese don’t need to institutionalize ideology like confucism because its defused and is always there. Neither there’s any need to invent the past like the hindu Aryan-invasion vs out-of-india stuff

  2. Lin

    …not the least, Chinese all know there’s a number of variation of the northern dialects, even before the Chinese govt tried to standardize

  3. Manchurians are Soviets or Siberians or wherever they come from and Uigurs are Turks….Of course these folks speak different dialects from Han Chinese. They are a different race.

    I’d say a Han Chinese is closer to a Thai than to a Manchurian Chinese.

    • Lin

      Manchurians are quite small in numbers and they’re quite well assimulated. Some years ago,the Chinese govt found that only 8 manchus could speak the Manchu language and tried to save the language. The number of irish gaelic speakers is definitely a lot larger than Manchurian speakers)
      Han Chinese is a lot broader based than you think. One good example is most of the top political leaders(like Mao from Hunan and Sun Yat-sin from Guangtong) yet political centre is in the north. The issue of regionality never arised whenever I communicate with Chinese from more northern province(Yes, it did exist some 50 yrs ago. There was a HK movie that jested on the topic, if I remember right, it was called Nan Bei Wo or ‘North-South Harmony’. HK has quite a % of people of out-of-province origin)

  4. All Mandarin speakers are mutually intelligible and most Chinese give up their lect, though reluctantly, and non are willing to die for protecting their own vernacular.

    The lect of Mandarin and my mother tongue Taiwanese is further than Dutch and German.

    If Vietnam, Korea and Japan were to be absorbed into China, same thing will happen. Their lect will become vernacular and slowly they learn just forgo it, following Manchus, and Mongols before.

    Aliens often puzzle at such things.

    The strength of Chinese civilization is a strong central states unlike USA. Chinese are willing to submit to a strong central states never mind how corrupt it is — so long the state is able to provide security.

    In comparison, USA appears never to be a centralized state and is now becoming even worse than India, and probably USA is always a Venetian merchant state x 100.

    • Central Planning has done no favors for the Chinese economy and that is why everyone was making The Great Leap Forward to British Hong Kong or eating their children during the Famine. Mao was both an idiot and a sadistic tyrant.

      True enough that China has found a form of government binding Soviet-blood Manchurian Eurasians, Uighur Turks and Tibet people into a large infrastructure.

      Han Chinese seem to have born the brunt of their leaders incompetent Central Planning, Great Leaps Forward, Intellectual purges during the Blue Kite horrors etc.

      • You are wrong about that. Chinese state is always centralized and always identify capitalist as enemies of state.

        We last 2300 years and keep growing, and no one come close.

        • England, Spain and many other countries got through 2,300 years of existence without the madness of your dynasties.

          I’d compare your dynasties to Caligula in Rome-some were quite intelligent, some criminally insane.

          Mongols, Manchus and every other group not only entered China but sometimes culturally dominated Han Chinese. Then there is the rape of Nanking.

        • If you define continuity of European states by existence of population, then the entire world is continuous.

          The Chinese civilization and states lasted 2300 years.

          Britain institution today and lect got nothing to do with Rome, dark ages..etc.

          British today cannot read their ancestors text.

    • All Mandarin speakers are mutually intelligible and most Chinese give up their lect, though reluctantly, and non are willing to die for protecting their own vernacular.

      Not true! I have had Mandarin speakers in Henan tell me that they can more or less understand the next city over, but once you get two cities away, you cannot understand each other. For instance, a woman in Nanyang told me she spoke Luoyang Mandarin, which is not intelligible to Putonghua speakers. She told me the Luoyang speakers could not even understand Nanyang Mandarin, which is only about 100 miles away but still in Henan Province. So there you have two cities in Henan Province alone where even Mandarin speakers cannot understand each other, and they are not even very far away from each other!

      • Intelligibility of Mandarin is an issue before proliferation of mass media. I remember when I was very small I need to get use to Shannxi lect when I watch news interviewing farmers on Terricotta Warriors.

        I would say I understand 60% even though Mandarin is not my mother tongue.

        Right now, people in China can speak in the way that you can understand them or tone it in the way you need them to speak slowly for mutual intelligibility.

        Robert, your sources could be refering that when he tone himself in his vernacular.

        I been many place I have no problem in Putonghua.

        But whether this verncular Putonghua can survive is questionable. Mandarin lect speakers give up their lect probably even faster than Taiwanese speaker.

  5. Chinese languages come embedded with moral values and centralization, in forms of colorful idioms and clever historical references.

    Chinese state can do things that no others can. For example, resources are transferred from the South to the poorer North like Beijing, or even Tibet. Not only on one cares, but the South support the idea.

    The Chinese civilization has a tenet of right or wrong which the moral degraded West can never comprehend.

    For example, there is no public discussion when Muslims suicide attack against others. That is wrong. In USA, your elites will guide you guys to believe that White are racist against Muslims, and MSM require white to repent.

    Similarly homosexual, feminist, promiscuous are all deem undesirable, tolerated but they are expected to moderate themselves. The West elites embark a campaign to make good people feel they are guilty against the degenerates.

    There is nothing of political correctness in China, and Chinese MSM often seen cursing these undesirables.

    • CREADERS So many people swam to Hong Kong before 1997 when it was still British that your post explains everything.

      You can go back further to when the Han were killing Fuji people which kicked off the mass migration of these folks to the Philippines when Philippines was still an American colony.

      How about the Blue Kite horrors, the Famine, the Great Leaps Forward?

      Are these other examples of the Confucius umbrella.

      I think the U.S. and Canada and Australia probably have less disparity and more security that Chinese do-there’s no struggle for autonomy in our countries like there is in Western China.

      • HK as a gateway of Chinese after 1949 will go into demise after China opens up. HK is just a perversion.

        The mass emigration of Chinese is not due to failure of states but over success of Chinese civilization in fertility and longevity which creates a Mathulsian pressure on the population — unfortunately.

        The savage SE Asia never able to reach the height of civilization is relatively unpolulated despite having the most fertile land in earth with most abundant rainfall.

        The diaspora Chinese raise the civilization level of SE Asia, which some parts still practice human sacrifice and cannibalism in 1900.

        • Duterte himself would disagree with you and is courting foreign investment to off-set Chinese-Filipino and Spanish family cartels.

          Backwater Fuji peasants are more like Central American political refugees swimming from Cuba to Florida as oppose to great economic planners and Thais (Themselves some mix of Yunnan Chinese and Malay) would certainly laugh at the idea of needing Chinese to run their economy.

          Indonesia and Malaysia seem to despise Fuji Chinese and Singaporean Indians would probably be running a country with the same standard of living with or without Chinese.

          Now of course Duterte is a stupid policeman who is biting the only hand that ever fed the Malays in the Philippines by telling Americans to leave so he won’t get any investment from the U.S. (Or Japan). Most likely the Spanish and Chinese will continue controlling the economy.

        • Like it or not, Chinese state is going to lay accomplished facts on everyone face. She is already the world most industrialized nation and biggest trading nations — 27 years after 1979 when Deng Xiaoping opened up.

          Stay tune for more miracle.

          USA is deindustrialized.

        • CREADERS

          Raising civilization level of Malays??? Now I see why they are always seeking foreign investment to break your sweatshop strangulation of their economies by pleading for European and American companies to come.

          No quarrel that Malays do not have their act together socially or intellectually even to the level of the average Chinese Mestizo. Spanish half-breeds in the Philippines are a rather low breed of cattle themselves and simply happy to get by as rent-seekers.

          I’d agree about fertility. Chinese were late in the game to grasp birth control policies and like everything else good sense had to be legislated

          Myanmar will be the next slaughter-ground between Indian Muslims and Chinese Buddhists in the next few years. Let’s face it, nowhere you go in Southeast Asia does anyone really want you.

          Hong Kong like Singapore is a former British colony and Chinese have more or less stuck to its framework so they are 50 years ahead of the mainland.

          Southeast Asians do not entirely like the fact that a load of coarse Fuji peasants seized control of their economy and are to inept to let the trickle-down results reach the Malays and this is why you sometimes see an Indonesian or Malaysian genocide against the Chinese who live there-in fact Malays hate you from Kuala up to Taiwan…but you had gunpowder and you killed most of them.

        • No matter what, Malacca Sultanate is a vassal state of China and SE Asian culture has natural affinity to China. There is no coincidence every USA ally went into Islamofascism.

          Some Malay are waken to fact that following USA will bring them to morontocracy.

          Malaysia PM Najib pivoting to China see USA waging color revolution on him.

    • Beijing is not poorer than Boten on the Laos border in the South. Not to my way of thinking. I’ve been to both places.

      • The wealth and talent of Beijing is gain through transfusion from the South.

        No one care. Everyone support the idea.

        • Beijing and especially Manchuria benefit from the Soviet infusion of genes and culture in my opinion. Especially the Manchurian.

          As you pointed out, Fuji Chinese themselves may carry Malay genes and tendencies towards gambling, alcoholism, concubinage (This is the source of your fertility problems, the lack of a nuclear family because Fuji Chinese are lecherous).

        • Chinese civilization are not unlike Islam, people believe in virtue like Confucucian and the convert to Chinese race. No way we can get that big as a homogeneous race.

          Say whatever lie you want say.

  6. USA is only one white country of hundreds but if it were to re-industrialize the coastal cities that support your entire country would collapse entirely. I’d say American and Western companies pulling out their manufacturing would lead China into famine while Americans would simply not be able to purchase as much at Wal-Mart.

    Overseas Chinese shopkeepers rely on an Anglo-Saxon or American framework of laws in the Philippines or Singapore or Hong Kong. So presumably they’ll get by no matter what.

    Chinese in the Philippines have already taken a hit economically because their methamphetamine/heroin factories are being raided and supply base killed off by Duterte and 25% of their economy is a front of some sort around the drug trade in the Philippines (And yes, Malays are a dim lot who easily get addicted to drugs, Majong games, liquor or any other vice Chinese mass-market).

    If Philippines lost the support of the U.S. (Which is possible because it is really a worthless and ungrateful subsidy) and Chinese invaded it or Vietnam over South China Seas it would be the Fuji peasant merchant class that got it the worst both from Natives who privately hate working for them for pennies AND Chinese mainland Communists who distrust the children or grandchildren of dissident refugees.

    • USA to re-industrialized? USA cannot even build a single HSR line or add another runway to your airport.

      Everytime someone tries to good, moron NGO with anti-development agenda, backed by elites will spring up and tell peasants development is bad.

      FYI, now many NGO are discredited in China.

      I am surprise why white man are so stupid to believe in these NGO.

      • Until America and Canada built the first railroads and Chinese peasants swarmed into America in the late 19th century you had never HEARD of mass transportation.

        Chinese do not want to lift Southeast Asians out of poverty, laziness, addiction or mindless overpopulation because they can keep wages down if poor people make poor people quickly enough.

        Chinese NEED NGO’S from 250 year old countries after 5,000 years since the Na dynasty. That says something about the stagnation of a civilization. European ones do tend to collapse and rebuild more often, but this is progressive.

        USA has an airport at every city because of course Americans can afford to use them. Then there is Canada, Australia, New Zealand…well, whites have built countries all over the world.

      • That was the past. Everyone has its time. London never existed when Xian was world biggest capital.

        I just came back from USA, and I would never want to migrate there.

        In China, I can walk safely in every city at night.

        There are so few rape cases.

        The police are far more gentle.

        China already have the NGO she need. NGO serve the Chinese states unlike in west, NGO serve the capitals.

        • CREADERS When you hear that 10 Chinese in Vancouver or L.A. Chinatown were found dead in a gambling or heroin den you know it was Chinese-on-Chinese violence with some Chinese-American gangsters trying a robbery.

          Chinese-Americans thankfully are only victimizing other Chinese and not whites so it does not really concern us.

        • You find more Chinese in Silicon valley and in labs. Chinese dont commit crime, no more than white. Chinese have high IQ, ace in exams.

          Chinese is no 1 model citizen.

        • Chinese social problems like gambling or having three children with mistresses are not harmful to whites, this is true.

          Whites don’t care if gambling junkies in LA Chinatown get their legs broken by some other Chinese loan shark over a Majong game.

          True enough that Chinese function at a higher level than Africans, American Indians (Their dumb cousins, more or less) or Latin Americans (Same as American Indian).

          No quarrel that if every immigrant to America was Chinese and not a Mestizo, East Los Angeles would be safer.

        • Chinese function at the highest level in terms of civilization, commit least crime, ace in exams…etc.

          Please indict everyone else first before coming to us.

  7. CREADERS Confucianism is not even an organized religion. Its what some guy who lived 5,000 years wrote down as a philosophy: look after your parents, see society as a family. Some of it justified the mass-murder and some of it was useful if basic.

    Your version of Communism or Socialism did not work as well as it did in Finland or say, Estonia, because it was simplified from Marxist principles to fit a 5,000 year old philosophy. But Buddhism made such inroads into China from India and the Southeast that hard-core Confucius followers are really only Han Chinese.

    • You are dead wrong about Chinese culture.

      Confucianism offers a basis for all subset of Chinese religion, never mind Buddhist, Taoist, Islam or Christianity- mind you Christianity is going to be biggest.

      Confucian is a glue and with this glue, you never see Chinese fought over religion to the extend elsewhere.

      That is why Chinese Muslims are so unlike others and Chinese Muslims fought Uighur independence. They dont side with Saudi or Jihadist.

      The Xinjiang 1st Turkestan republic was massacre by Chinese Hui Muslims, who are half Turks as well, and Han Chinese sit by and claim, Muslims fought to make Xinjiang become China.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_East_Turkestan_Republic

  8. CREADERS Uighur provinces would accept independence tomorrow if you China granted it to them. So would Tibet, which would actually rather be Indian if it had to belong to any other country.

    Malays would throw out every single Chinese-Filipino, Chinese-Malaysian and Chinese-Indonesian in the country if they had the opportunity too. Sometimes they simply kill the Chinese as they did after Suharto.

    You’re not as well-loved as you think you are.

    I’ve lived all over Asia for 20 years doing business or sometimes running bars, even though I’m a white German-American.

    • Sunni Islam will throw out everyone and rape your stink ass.

      China, Putin, Assad and Stalin are prophet of modern Muslims. Every USA ally state have Islam problem. USA is the creator of Islamofascism and tagteam with Muslims to kill their own citizen.

      China Putin and Assad will bail out everyone.

  9. CREADERS

    White North Americans would care less if toilet bowl Third World hellholes like South Philippines, Yemen or China’s Turkic Uighur province went the way of Saudi Arabia or converted to Judaism. It would make ZERO difference to anybody but handful of minor rubber factory owners because as you stated the Chinese Overseas Community owns Southeast Asia’s economy, not the Americans. We simply would not care.

    P.S. Try to ease off the childish cursing, you are learning the true opinions of every single white man in Asia here. If you do not like it, perhaps another forum would be better suited to you.

    I think Muslims in Malaysia would start with Singaporean Chinese because Tamils, Sikhs and Muslim Indians would happily join in (As they did in Indonesia).

    If Islam did seize hold of Southeast Asia the Overseas Chinese Community would suffer much more than the West.

    Australia knows this and that is why they have put their foot down on re-settling refugees and immigrants.

  10. Malaysia economy now in shit as many Chinese left. There are so many people in SE Asia that think their land is el dorado and Chinese can live without them.

    Chinese are good and we dont force people.

    And Malay hate Indians worst, calling Indians “Keling”. Indians commit most crime in Malaysia.

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