This is a map of the dialects speaking in china.
Language is unique in its continuity of evolving. The historical development of a language usually is always associated with power, control and assimilation. For example, English is wide speak in North America and Europe because Great Britain was the most powerful government in earlier century. When they explore, and claim sovereignty of a land, the native residents would have to adapt to English. The interaction with foreign language and the evolving social constructed patterns could be one of the factors that caused the death of a local dialect. In my own experience, the rise of mandarin caused the fades of my dialect.
You will hear a lot of people say they want to learn a certain language, but have you ever heard someone say they want to learn a certain dialect? Is that a social norm? Is languages a measurement of a person or a group of people? Is language comparable in terms of its value?
According to the patterns of the death of dialect, I would answer, “yes,” to the questions above. Languages indeed are weighted differently based on the social reputation and the economic status of the origins of the language. Although no one ever confessed that they think dialect is less than a language, but people do weight dialect less than a language whether consciously or unconsciously. Mandarin in chinese (国语) literately means “the language of this country”. It is no surprise to see mandarin everywhere, and in the operating system like education. In school, everything is taught in Mandarin unless you went to a school that has a separate international department, the significance and the importance of learning dialect is not being emphasis because the young generation couldn’t see the needs of learning them.
I speak the Min dialect, currently about 4% of the Chinese population speaks the dialect. Although the percentage of the people that speaks the Min dialect still sounds a lot of people. But it’s majorly the older generations that represents the 4%. I remember when I was little, there was a weekend TV program that teaches people the Min dialect by telling story in Min dialect. I usually watch the program with my grandparents because my pronunciation of some words are not quite right. With the program and close interaction with my grandparents, I was very fluent in Min dialect. As of now, the amount of words I can say in Min dialect in decreasing. When I talk to my grandparents and the elder relatives, I found myself substitute words that I don’t know how to say in the dialect with the mandarin pronunciation. They still understand me, but I feel guilty for loosing my dialect slowly. When I ask my friends that grew up in Shangshai if they know how to speak the Shangshai dialect, their answer is barely. They said, “We don’t really have the chance of learning or speaking shangshai dialect. Although we can still understand most of the words in our dialect, but we are not good at speaking the dialect other than some simple sentence like hello, how are you, what do you think… etc.”
Language is part of a person’s identity, I agree with that. But to me, so was the dialect. When I communicate with people in Min dialect, there is a lot of inside jokes that wouldn’t be funny if we translate to Mandarin. It also represents a form of exclusive identity, our dialect, a dialect with a long and beautiful history behind its formation.
If you want to learn more about China’s Main Dialects, please visit the following sites: