Chinese: 7 languages and 49 dialects?
UPDATE: Thanks to ahbin in the comments, I’ve added “Ping Speech” (平话) as a dialect of Cantonese. Its omission was an oversight for which I owe maybe 2 million people an apology. That brings us to 50 “sub-fangyan” (次方言) under the original 7 fangyan. This makes the title of my post obsolete, but what the heck. The sub-fangyan vs fangyan decision follows the basic scheme of the Chinese Language Atlas (中国语言地图集)
How should Chinese be categorized, linguistically?
Fundamentals of Chinese Dialect Studies (《汉语方言学基础教程》：李小凡，项梦冰) describes how in the first half of the 20th century, the proposed divisions of Chinese increased from four in early scholarship, up to eleven in one scheme. Now most scholars are back down to seven or eight. But between language change and debates about definition, it’s a question that guarantees academic employment for years to come.
7/49 is the plan I’ve just posted on the Phonemica blog. I’m pasting the chart below.
For Phonemica, in a certain way, it doesn’t matter. Since the goal there is to collect recordings from speakers of every variety of Chinese, you can take a strictly empirical approach to judging whether recording A is “the same dialect” as recording B. Heck, if “mutual intelligibility” is your criterion, we’ve already got one recording that is nominally Mandarin (Lower Yangtze Mandarin) but seems to stump most fluent speakers of putonghua.
Still, we need an organizational scheme as a starting point, and for now, this is it. There’s plenty to debate, from high-level categories to mere names. I’m looking forward to your thoughts.