Victor Mair has a fascinating post at the Log about Dungan, a variety of Chinese (or Sinitic, if you prefer) spoken in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and written in Cyrillic:
Naturally, separated as they were from their homeland and its speech community, the language of the Dungans has undergone considerable change, especially through the borrowing of terms from Russian, Persian, Arabic, Turkic, and other languages. Even more radical was the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet for their writing system (nearly all of those who fled were illiterate in Chinese characters).
For a brief introduction to the Dungans and their language, see “Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet”.
For those who want to hear what Dungan sounds like, there is now an excellent opportunity, since the movie “Jesus” has been dubbed into Dungan. For someone who knows Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), it’s amazing to listen to — sometimes partially understandable, sometimes dramatically affected by Turkic and Russian.
He gives links to both the full movie and the movie broken into clips, and the reactions from commenters who know Chinese are very interesting. Here’s the first, from Natalia:
I am fluent in MSM, and Dungan sounds like someone is narrating or several persons are having a conversation in the next room just out of hearing range.
The rhythm and cadence of the speech is familiar, and I can catch specific words or phrases. However, the speaker will suddenly use an unfamiliar phrase in that same rhythm and I am once again wondering if my ears have stopped working.
And Matt Anderson writes:
That whole site is a great resource. I just watched the same 30 second clip in each of the Sinitic topolects, in rough order of intelligibility (from my perspective), starting with Mandarin varieties and moving on through Cantonese, Xiang, Shanghainese, Hakka, and Mindong & Minnan varieties, etc. Watching it over & over like that allowed me to pick out a lot more from some of the topolects than I would otherwise have been able to, but it really does reinforce how insane it is to consider all this diversity to be part of the same language.
I’ll be curious to know what Bathrobe makes of it!