https://www.duolingo.com/CapCrimson483

Why are Chinese dialects called dialects if they're not mutally understanable?

As in the title says. I don't really get why the Chinese "dialects" are referred to as such since they don't fall under the definition of a dialect. They're more like a language family than seperate dialects.

2 weeks ago

8 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Andrew-Jiangnan

Politics, pure and simple.

Sun Yat-sen once complained that the Chinese people had no sense of a national self, "as loose as the sand of the sea." The "language/dialect" distinction is drawn in a way to reinforce shared culture in a period of heavy nation-building that continues to this day.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fedes16
fedes16
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This is the real answer. Also seems to be the case with the myth that all Chinese are Han.

In normal use, the distinction between language and dialect is political/historic. Urdu and Hindi are the opposite case, an arbitrary distancing.

There are also countries that used "language" to refer to the official standard dialect/language, and "dialect" for the unofficial ones (in ex Spanish colonies it was/is common to call native languages "dialects").

For contemporary linguistics it's much more nuanced, and there isn't a clear barrier or even definition. Mutual intelligibility is an important criterion, but there's asymmetric intelligibility and other factors that make it a complex issue.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DragonPolyglot
DragonPolyglot
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Some people consider the Chinese languages to be dialects because they use the same writing system. A Mandarin speaker in Taiwan (assuming they grew up reading Traditional Chinese) can read Hong Kong Cantonese and Taiwanese Hokkien (both usually written with traditional characters) fine, but they might not understand the spoken language. And that's only when not accounting for the two types of writing systems (Traditional and Simplified, which are similar but not quite the same), or how the writing might change to fit the way the speaker actually says the sentence.

Fun fact, my Kung Fu teacher said that if two people in China cannot understand each other when speaking, they can trace hanzi in the palms of their hands to get the point across (such as asking where the bathroom is). I think it's things like that that help foster the insistence that all Chinese languages are dialects of the same language (with Mandarin being the standard), which is enforced by the fact only a few of the Chinese languages are official in any country.

Despite the differences, the writing systems give the illusion that everyone in China speak a similar language (given that one is mostly a simplified version of the other), similar to the fact Yiddish being written in Hebrew letters gives the illusion to some that it's more similar to Hebrew than German but Yiddish is in fact mutually intelligible with German when spoken. I refuse to say that the Chinese languages are dialects of one another because they are only mutually intelligible in writing because they use the same symbols for the same meanings, which is like using emojis to make a sentence that both English and Japanese people would understand. It doesn't mean they are the same language spoken differently, but they are different languages with a common ancestor (like the Romance languages and Latin)

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/merkavar

Is mutually understandable part of the definition of a dialect?

Isn’t it just a form of a language spoken by a particular group of people or in a specific region, with its own pronociation or words?

There are many English dialects that I have found are nearly impossible to understand or require effort.

I think scouse(uk) is the one that comes to mind and the people from shows like swamp loggers(us).

They are speaking English but more often than not require English subtitles too.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
chilvence
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It's pretty easy really, it's a different definition of the word 'dialect'

For example you might describe someone from up the river as having a completely different dialect of English even though you can perfectly understand each other after a couple of pints, whereas in China, the word 'dialect' is used a lot more reservedly, to denote a form of speech that one really should be able to understand, but just can't quite.

Still, nothing that 啤酒 isn't able to remedy :)

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Horace0714

I am a native Mandarin speaker. Mandarin, Shanghainese and Cantonese are basically in the same writing system, and the grammar are almost the same (although I do not speak Cantonese and there are many special grammar rules in Cantonese). Some of the dialects are understandable, although they have different pronunciations. For example, I can understand Shaanxi and Sichuan dialects pretty well, though I do not speak any.

Also a fun fact, the standard Chinese is an evolving language. It was said that Cantonese was the standard Chinese, but as Manchurians took over China, the pronunciation they adopted as they were learning Cantonese became the standard. The current standard Chinese is a mixture of Northeastern, Beijing and Northern China dialects and was designed after Communists won the civil war.

Few could speak perfect standard Chinese, as people (even they have a close to standard accent) mispronounce some words in their own ways. Special training and tests are required to have a standard Chinese speaking certificate.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Gary329920

I think it is also a question of degree. As most know, they speak English in Ireland. I once went to a cattle auction with my brother-in-law from County Cavan. We drove about 30 miles to the auction in County Leitrim. When we were driving back he asked me "if I heard the queer way that they were speaking". To my native American ears, I could not hear any difference. In China, I think it could also be a matter of degree. A native Chinese speaker may be able to understand people from any provence near him, but when traveling further and especially into rural areas, it may be difficult or impossible to understand others.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/merkavar

Like how it seems that Americans think Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans sound the same.

Since when ever a character is one of these, they seem to get the actor to put on either of these three accents, or all three at once.

:D

2 weeks ago
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