LANGUAGE ATLAS OF CHINA.

The Language Atlas of China (“Its aim has been the graphic presentation, on 36 large multi coloured maps, of the many languages and dialects spoken by the non-Han Chinese people in China who have largely been included in a number of National Minorities and of the numerous large and small dialects of Chinese itself”) was published two decades ago; I am pleased to discover that some of the most useful maps from it are online here: Languages in China, Chinese Dialects in China, Minority Languages in China, Chinese Dialects (Southeastern China), Chinese Dialects Overseas: Insular Southeast Asia, Chinese Dialects Overseas: Other Parts of the World, and Minority Languages in Southern China. I found it via an excellent MetaFilter post that focuses on linguistic change in Chinese communities abroad:

“Chinatown” communities across the United States (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco) are undergoing a shift in linguistic identity, as recent immigrants are more likely to natively speak Mandarin (the official spoken language of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) instead of Cantonese.

There are plenty of interesting links in the post and thread; one commenter links to Victor Mair’s recent Language Log post about the “injunction to speak Mandarin at the expense of the regional Sinitic languages,” with several long quotes from relevant articles in the South China Morning Post.

Comments

  1. Dan Milton says:

    There was a story in yesterday’s New York Times on Mandarin replacing Cantonese in Chinatown.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/nyregion/22chinese.html?scp=1&sq=chinatown&st=cse

  2. TV Chinese may be going Mandarin as well. Here is a translation page for Chinese dialog appearing in the TV series Firefly (they tend to curse in Chinese too). I haven’t seen all the episodes yet, but the series is set in the future when there two languages left on earth: English and Chinese.

  3. Thanks for the resources! I’ve been wondering about the Chinese communities here in Portland, Oregon — they’ve been here a long time, and the old establishments all have Cantonese names, but I was surprised to see that the public library here was making mostly Mandarin, and simplified character, resources available. Made me wonder if they knew something about our modern Chinese community that I didn’t.

  4. For what it’s worth, the Mandarin in Firefly is atrocious. You can really only understand what they’re trying to say if you already know what it’s supposed to be. I’ve watched Firefly/Serenity with a few people here in China and they just thought it was English slang.

  5. The older generation Chinese in Portland OR spoke a dialect of the Cantonese type, but not Hong Kong Cantonese. I think that it was the dialect called in Mandarin Chaozhou, which calls itself Teo-chew or the like. Link.
    As the links says, while there were cla associations too, Chinese in America tended to organize into place-of-origin associations which are effectively dialect associations too. In the 19th C. Teo-chew dialect seems to have been common up and down the West Coast.
    In “The Woman Warrior” Maxine Hong Kingston tells of finding out that her Chinese language skills were useless for job purposes.
    Most immigrants are Mandarin speakers, though I’d bet that Vancouver BC has a lot of Hong Kong Cantonese speakers.
    The Chinese “dialects” are really languages, as much as Spanish and Portuguese are languages, but only Hong Kong Cantonese has ever competed with Mandarin. Mandarin dominance isn’t a Western imposition at all, I don’t think — it’s a combination of state policy, Chinese culturalism, and parents’ ambitions for their children.

  6. Except “Mandarin” isn’t the official language of Hong Kong SAR (nor Macao SAR) — “Chinese” is. There is no specification of whether this means either Mandarin or Cantonese, but it is functionally Cantonese.
    Additionally, Wu (which includes Shanghainese) and Yue (which includes Cantonese) speakers will often say (here in China) that their native speakers number higher than those of Mandarin. Perhaps once upon a time….

  7. At least by recent counts Wu speakers number 70 million or so. That’s 20 million for the Shanghai municipality and then the rest spread through southern Jiangsu province and the whole of Zhejiang province, plus a few in Anhui. The geographic area may not be large in comparison to Min-nan or Hui, but that’s nothing that population density can’t take care of.
    Without checking wikipedia or similar sources to be sure, I believe Wu outnumbers Yue even, though just barely. Thing is, most Wu speakers seem to think they themselves just speak “bad Mandarin”.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    Additionally, Wu (which includes Shanghainese) and Yue (which includes Cantonese) speakers will often say (here in China) that their native speakers number higher than those of Mandarin.

    No way – unless maybe if they mean “CCTV accent” by Mandarin.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    What I really want to see is a map of tea prices.

  10. Wu extends into northern Jiangsu near the coast to some extent as well, up towards Nantong and Yancheng. Also Wu stops abruptly somewhere between Zhejiang’s Taizhou and nearby Wenzhou.
    I wonder what it sounds like in the very southwest of Zhejiang?

  11. For what it’s worth, the Mandarin in Firefly is atrocious.
    Disappointed but not surprised. There is a bar in Minneapolis that has a brownshirt night, everyone there knows the Chinese lines from the show by heart. I don’t suppose they would have to find out though…
    I’ve seen Pimsleur Mandarin in the bookstores, I suppose that would be best for someone who wanted to try to pick up some of the language. Of course they probably don’t teach quirky phrases like “We will enjoy your silence now!”, “the explosive diarrhea of an elephant”, and “motherless goats of all motherless goats.”

  12. I saw the movie “The Departed” in a theater in Hong Kong when it came out, and there’s one scene where the gangsters go to meet a Chinese intelligence agent who’s going to buy some technology from them. The Chinese agent opens his mouth and starts speaking _in Cantonese_, and everyone in the theater with me in Hong Kong started laughing so hard that it drowned out the rest of what he was saying.
    That’s my second-favorite language-related movie moment. My favorite is in “Saving Private Ryan,” when the American soldiers reach the top of the cliff and gun down some guys who are waving their arms and shouting something unintelligible. The Chinese subtitles at the bottom of the screen translated what they were saying (they were trying to surrender) and specified that they were saying it _in Czech_. The scene only lasted a few moments, and (if it weren’t for the odd subtitle conventions here) only a tiny fraction of the worldwide audience would ever be likely to notice it, but it struck me as a thoughtful gesture towards the sufferings of the laborers who were conscripted to build the Atlantic Wall. Unless I’m misremembering it, I don’t think there was anything in the movie itself to explain what it meant.

  13. @ Ken
    I was watching something recently but now forget what where one of the characters uttered “Kawabonga” and the Mandarin subtitles simply said “阿拉伯语”, i.e. “something in Arabic”.

  14. My favourite language-related moment from “Saving Private Ryan” is the scene where some of the American soldiers are listening to a record of an Edith Piaf song and their interpreter is translating it – only he must be psychic, because instead of translating what she has just sung, he is always translating the line she is just about to sing.

  15. Ken: I don’t get the joke. Why shouldn’t the guy speak Cantonese? The Departed is a remake of a HK movie anyhow, 無間道 (Infernal Affairs in the U.S. release) — I haven’t seen either of them.
    The great moment in botched subtitling is from the Sam Peckinpah movie Cross of Iron, in which a G.I. jumping into his foxhole screaming “Tanks! Tanks!” as the Panzers roll over him is duly subtitled “Merci! Merci!.
    The Hattics did subtitling two years ago, including this story but without giving the name of the film.

  16. great maps. i wish they could have scanned a better resolution so that the texts are more readable.

  17. “Additionally, Wu (which includes Shanghainese) and Yue (which includes Cantonese) speakers will often say (here in China) that their native speakers number higher than those of Mandarin.”
    Possibly true, if you consider only those in the northeast the native speakers of Mandarin. Wasn’t Putonghua developed from Beijing dialect? I’d be interested to know how many people in the rest of China speak only Mandarin and not a local tongue as well.

  18. I think that Putonghua was specifically developed to get rid of the specifically Beijing features (especially the elegant retroflex “r” they put on everything). Almost all Chinese felt it was just too hoity-toity, like the fruitiest upper class British accent.

  19. @john
    Chaozhou Hua is not a Cantonese dialect. It is not understandable to Cantonese speakers, even though in today’s PRC most Chaozhou speakers live in Eastern Guangdong.
    Chaohzhou Hua is a dialect much more closely related to Minnanyu, the Fukienese dialect spoken in southern Fujian, Xiamen and Taiwan.
    Variations on Chaozhou Hua are widely spoken in Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. A good two-thirds or so of the ethnic Chinese forced out of Vietnam as boat people in 1978-80 were Chaozhou speakers who lived in Saigon’s Cholon district.

  20. I agree with sunbin. The maps are unreadable.

  21. “Teo-chew dialect seems to have been common up and down the West Coast. ”
    That and Toisaan. I hadn’t heard about Chaozhou speakers so much in Cali, but it may still have been the case.
    BTW, anatagonism between taoisaan speakers (established0 and hong Kong speakers (immigrants in the 60s) were sever enouhg that the HK speakers formed gangs for self-protection, the “Wah Ching’ being the most famous.
    “I wonder what it sounds like in the very southwest of Zhejiang?”
    Well, Wenzhou is a dailect of Fuzhou, so presuambly that’s what peiople speak in the intervening territory.
    “Chaozhou Hua is not a Cantonese dialect.”
    I don’t think that’s what he was saying. I think he was just saying that immigrants from Guangdong were from Chaozhou. I am not sure that’s correct either.
    “There is a bar in Minneapolis that has a brownshirt night,”
    OK, Nijma, I just have to know what brownshirt night is. I hope to God it’s a lot more like yellow hankie night than some skinhead gathering.

  22. Wenzhou is classified as Wu not Min and is reputed to be “the least comprehensible dialect for an average Mandarin speaker” as well as incomprehensible to other Wu dialect speakers.
    Wikipedia goes on to claim there is a famous rhyme, for which I’ll give a more literal translation: “Don’t fear heaven, don’t fear earth, but fear a Wenzhou man talking Wenzhou talk.” (天不怕,地不怕,就怕温州人说温州话)
    Wenzhou is in the southeast of Zhejiang not the southwest though.

  23. OK, Nijma, I just have to know what brownshirt night is. I hope to God it’s a lot more like yellow hankie night than some skinhead gathering.
    Yellow hankie? Reminds me of the Amman nightclub scene, is it a hankie in the left rear pocket that signals…what?
    Brownshirts are a lot like trekkies only more recent. They’re fans of the short-lived TV series Firefly (wiki). According to the fan site,

    The Central Planets, them as formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule…. After the war, many of the Independents [who wore brown shirts] who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control.

    The protagonists are one such group who travel around in a Firefly class spaceship named Serenity. First five episodes of Firefly. More episodes of Firefly.

  24. China’s Instant Cities – National Geographic
    The Wenzhou airport bookstore stocks a volume titled, Actually, You Don’t Understand the Wenzhou People. It shares a shelf with The Feared Wenzhou People, The Collected Secrets of How Wenzhou People Make Money, and The Jews of the East: The Commercial Stories of Fifty Wenzhou Businessmen. For the Chinese, this part of Zhejiang Province has become a source of fascination, and the local press contributes to the legend. Recently, Wenzhou’s Fortune Weekly conducted a survey of local millionaires. One question was: If forced to choose between your business and your family, which would it be? Of the respondents, 60 percent chose business, and 20 percent chose family. The other 20 percent couldn’t make up their minds.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    I think that Putonghua was specifically developed to get rid of the specifically Beijing features (especially the elegant retroflex “r” they put on everything).

    That, yes, but the rest of the pronunciation is more or less the same. The grammar is more southern.

  26. Simon Wong says:

    Hi, if some of you have access to the e-copy of English version of “Language Atlas of China”, is it possible to share some maps with me, specifically 3 of them: “Chinese Dialects in China”, “Minority Languages in China”, “Chinese Dialects (Southeastern China)”? Thanks

Speak Your Mind

*