uh, right, whatever….

May 23rd, 2007

So some bright spark has designed a computer programme to test people’s Mandarin proficiency. Apparently the results of the programme agree with linguists 98% of the time. Right, whatever.

But a large part of the article consists of this:

Although Chinese share a similar written language — Chinese ideograms or characters, which has been in use for three thousand years — the pronunciation of identical characters differs widely from region to region. This means people who can’t communicate verbally can often communicate by writing Chinese characters that are pronounced differently but have the same meaning.


Mandarin, which in Chinese is called Putonghua and literally means “common talk”, is taught in every school in the country and is China’s standard lingua franca.


Most Chinese are verbally bilingual, speaking not only Mandarin, which has many regional accents, but a completely different sounding dialect of Chinese.


A recent survey by the Ministry of Education showed that more than half of all Chinese people can speak standard Mandarin Chinese.

Alright, linguists and sinologues, do your work.

2 Responses to “uh, right, whatever….”

  1. John Says:

    That’s definitely a 4/10-see-me-after-class article. I thought there were at least three levels: standard Mandarin (newsreaders and probably no one else); Mandarin in its local pronunciation with various regional accretions; and the local language which is quite distinct from Mandarin and at best a cousin.

    Also, “standard lingua franca”? Does that mean there’s a non-standard one?

    I can’t help but feel that the claim that half the country speaks standard Mandarin is a little hopeful. The locals here may speak putongfa (i.e., putonghua with a local pronunciation), but dump them in central Beijing and wonder how far either side would get, Beijingers with their rather high-pitched accents and the Fujianese with their low-pitched ones.

  2. wangbo Says:

    4/10? You’re kind.