18 January 2021

Chinese Is Not One Language, Even In Writing

This phenomenon — the opacity of Sinographically written expressions across topolects — puts the lie to the widespread assertion that "Chinese 'dialects' are all the same when written down in characters". From numerous Language Log posts, we already know for sure this is not true for Cantonese, Taiwanese, and other Sinitic tongues. The current post demonstrates that it is also not true for Shanghainese.

From here

1 comment:

Guy said...


It may not be one written and spoken language today, but in another generation it will be. And it's hard to say that the state is wrong for promoting that trend. The advantages of all Chinese speaking the same language in leveling the playing field and reducing transaction costs are probably larger than the negative of losing language diversity.
Academics that mourn the loss of the small languages don't count the cost to individuals in preserving those languages, costs with respect to less economic opportunity and a smaller mate selection pool. For these academics (speaking very very broadly) the important unit to study and preserve is the society, the culture. Imposing some small cost on the individuals is minor compared to the benefit to all of us that is brought by diversity.
But the future is like the tide coming in, and the individuals making decisions based on their perceived best advantage will eventually wash all of this away. (Obviously this is heavily influenced by Larry Nivens flatlanders.)