Chinese Whispers

Dialect and identity: is Mandarin bad for China?

44 min listen

In This Episode

Across the span of China, a country as big as Europe, there are countless regional dialects and accents – perhaps even languages. Often, they’re mutually unintelligible.

The Chinese call these ‘fangyan’, and each Chinese person will likely be able to speak at least one fangyan, while also understanding Standard Mandarin, the official language of the People’s Republic. It means that the Chinese are more multilingual than you might think.

But it also means that the question of language is inherently a political one. Standard Mandarin has a relatively short history, created by the country’s founding fathers to unify the spoken word in a huge country. But with the ubiquity of Standard Mandarin now, is fangyan at risk of dying out?

Joining the episode is Gina Tam, a historian and author of Dialect and Nationalism in China.

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