Chinese dialects vanishing in China

Mandarin threatening even native tongues as major as Cantonese

Tongue-tied
  • BEIJINGHUA
    While similar to Mandarin, this dialect is distinguished by a strong accent and unique vocabulary that can be unintelligible to non-native ears. A growing cosmopolitan mix and the influx of rural migrants have diluted the dialect in the capital.
  • CANTONESE
    Over 1,000 residents staged a rare demonstration in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, after officials proposed switching TV programming from Cantonese to Putonghua in July. Parents in Guangdong have been abandoning Cantonese in favour of Putonghua in the belief that Mandarin will help their children achieve better grades in school and also get better jobs.
  • MANCHURIAN
    It used to be the language of the Manchus, China’s rulers for more than 200 years from 1644. Sinicisation of the Manchus led to a decline of their language, with Beijinghua and then Mandarin taking its place. Fewer than 100 people speak the language today.
  • TIBETAN
    Thousands of Tibetan students in western China protested against proposals to curb or eliminate the use of the language in local schools in October. It was the largest demonstration since the March 2008 riots.
  • TUJIA
    The sixth largest ethnic group in China, with a population of more than eight million, mostly in central Hubei and Hunan provinces. Most, however, prefer to use Mandarin today, leading a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar to predict earlier this week that the Tujia language could become extinct in just 10 years.
  • BEIJING – CHINA’S numerous native tongues are slowly vanishing, with even major dialects spoken by tens of millions under threat from Mandarin.
    The country’s three biggest cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – are seeing their mother tongues increasingly being drowned out, a trend experts believe may not be reversible.
    shpeh@sph.com.sg
    Additional reporting by Lina Miao
    Read the full story in Saturday’s edition of the Straits Times.