Chinese is a Single Language

I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Zhu Xiaonong’s book A Grammar of Shanghai Wu today. I was not thrilled with how it began. Below is the first paragraph in full:

Whether Chinese is a single language or a group of languages depends on the judgment criteria applied. The view that Chinese is a single language is reflected in Chinese linguistic literature. In the Western literature, however, Chinese is often regarded as a language sub- family containing separate languages like Wú 吴语, Mandarin 官话, Xiāng 湘语, Gàn 赣语, Kèjiā 客家话 (Hakka), Yuè 粤语 (Cantonese 广东话), Mǐn 闽语 (Hokien 福建话), etc. The linguistic differences between them are admittedly as large as those between, say, English and German or even larger. However, the shared culture, the uniform writing system, the same linguistic norm, and especially the common psychological identification by the speakers of these varieties make the identifying task relatively simple: Chinese is a single language with arguably the greatest linguistic diversity among languages.


Observations on discounts and predictiveness

I was remembering something from my trip to Seoul in October, which then got me on to other things. The word for woman, or at least the important syllable when it comes to choosing the right bathroom (i.e. not the one that says ‘woman’ in my case) is 야 (ya). I thought of this because a friend who is studying hanja asked about 肉 which is 욕 (yok) in Korean (as far as the hanja is pronounced) but nyo’ in Wu, yuk in Cantonese and にく (niku) in Japanese¹. So basically I figured Mandarin r- becomes Korean hanja y-, though it’s ny- in Wu and Cantonese. Turns out I stopped one step too soon. the y- in Korean is actually only half the story. If the syllable is the first in the phrase, then it is in fact y-. Beyond that, however, it picks up an n-, making ny-. So the 肉 in 鸡肉 would actually be closer to nyok, bringing it almost perfectly in line with many Wu dialects.


Fishcakes and 7up

The following is from the Twitter stream of @newsshanghai and it was too interesting to pass up. I’ve added spaces between the characters to keep it from triggering the NetNanny.

The tweets are in regards to some flowers left at the site of the recent fire in Shanghai that cost the lives of many of its residents. It’s been said that the fire was preventable, and many are pointing fingers in a specific direction, which we’ll see below.


Want to publicize lesser-known Chinese?

Deerawn asked, in the “learning Chinese” article linked to yesterday:

Why does it seem to be completely taboo to teach a language like Wu, Hakka, Min?

Maybe it was rhetorical. But Kellen takes it beyond rhetoric in Annals of Wu :

I was poking around my long-dormant CouchSurfing profile last week when I realised Wu isn’t an option for languages on one’s profile, though Cantonese is and of course Mandarin as well. So I sent them an email. They asked for the ISO code (”wuu” in this case), a link to the Wikipedia article on the missing language and maybe an explanation beyond that. So I sent it all in, and sure enough a few days later, Wu is now available.

There you have it. Spread the word, drop-down box by drop-down box.