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Say It Right Series

Chinese "Dialects"

Posted by darkstar94 January 27, 2013 in the Group General Discussion.

Ever since I started learning a bit of Cantonese I have noticed that the word 方言 is used a lot when talking about Cantonese, a quote from a article I was reading:

粤语又称广东话是汉语方言之一

I've heard John say in the 手语 lesson "topolect" when talking about 方言.  Okay so the point I am getting to is that people say that Cantonese is a 方言 of Mandarin (汉语) which I find interesting.  Reason being is that this assumes that all of the 方言  in China came from Mandarin if this is said about the other 方言 in China, which I find hard to believe.  I would assume that the 方言 of China all were based on 中古汉语 or something similar.

Another thing that is interesting is that the linguistic definition of a dialect says that if two people speaking different languages can communicate, then their relation isn't two different languages but rather they are dialects to each other.  For example, American English and British English are dialects to each other.  On the other hand, I've asked Chinese people who can only speak Mandarin whether or not they can understand Cantonese and they say they can't.  So in theory, they are two different languages.  But when I try to explain this to Chinese people, they will stand by the fact that these are all just 方言.  The problem is just in the translation I think, because 方言 is basically just made up of 方 place and 言 language, and by this definition they ARE language from places, but then again, what language isn't?

I don't assume anyone else has had the same thoughts?

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