Using Putonghua

Mandarin’s status as China’s standard language has been further enhanced as nearly 53 percent of the 1.3 billion Chinese in the country can communicate with others via Mandarin, said a national survey released here Sunday.

That’s just about half, which is a long way from what has been the standard line: that just about everyone in China — barring a few old folk living in isolation on the tops of mountains — can speak Mandarin. I’m glad Beijing is finally allowing a bit more honesty about this, though of course the much more limited claim is still being touted as an advancement (“further enhanced”).

The survey shows there are huge gaps in the number of Mandarin-speaking people if different resident localities, age groups, and educational background are taken into account.

Two thirds of the citizens in China’s cities and towns speak Mandarin, 21 percent higher than that in the rural areas.

The proportion of Mandarin-speakers decreases as the age group rises, with more than two thirds of people aged between 15 and 29 and less than one third of those aged between 60 and 69 can speak the standard language.

The spread of education also helped to break down linguistic barriers, the survey said.

Only ten percent of the Chinese who have never gone to school speak Mandarin, while the proportion rockets to nearly 87 percent as for those with at least two-year college education.

This is strange. One would think that native speakers of Mandarin — even decades ago — would comprise more than 10 percent of the population. Was education really so much better in the north?

Mandarin, known in China as “putonghua” or “common tongue”, has been promoted as the standard pronunciation of Chinese language for more than fifty years.

More of the usual nonsense, stemming from the notion that the written form is the “real” language.

I can’t help but think of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau getting a puzzled look in response to his request for a “rhoom.”

The survey also shows 86 percent of the population can speak regional Chinese dialects, and nearly 5 percent use the languages of China’s 55 ethnic minority groups to communicate.

Use of dialects is most common in China’s families, while in offices, people tend to communicate in Mandarin more frequently, said Tong Lequan, official with the Institute of Applied Linguistics, when referring to the survey.

Half of the respondents attributed lack of opportunity to speakas the most tricky problem when learning Mandarin, while 43 percent said getting rid of their regional accents is the most difficult.

The standard line of calling everything a “dialect” makes it really hard to tell just what is being talked about here: language, a real dialect, or a regional accent within a dialect.

Note that with Pinyin, there are fewer pronunciation problems because Pinyin, unlike characters, makes the standard pronunciation clear.

Launched in the autumn of 1998, the survey is sponsored by the State Language Commission of China, and was the first national survey on language use since the founding of the New China in 1949,said Yang Guang, director with the language usage administration bureau under China’s Ministry of Education.

The survey covered more than 160,000 households and 470,000 people in China’s 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

Here’s a different version of the same story:

中国语言文字使用调查 能用普通话人口比例53% 2004年12月26日17:20 中国广播网


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  调查还显示:全国95%以上的人平时书写时使用规范字,会汉语拼音的人口比例达到了 68%。“中国语言文字使用情况调查”范围涉及除港澳台外的全国31个省、区、市以及新疆生产建设兵团,调查样本量达16万多户,47万多人。如此大规模的语言调查在我国还是第一次,调查结果将对国家语言文字工作部门和其他相关部门具有重要参考价值。