National Language Planning In China Cultural Studies Essay

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"A language is a dialect with an army and navy" is a famous saying that describing the distinction between dialect and language, which was popularized by Weinreich in 1945.

"Language, sooner or later, proves to be a thorn in the flesh of all who govern, whether at national or local level. Different social groups wish to see their linguistic identities and interests maintained, and may actively - and often violently - campaign for recognition." (Crystal, 1997)

Recently a proposal, which is using Putonghua instead of Cantonese on the city's TV news programs, was put forth at the City Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference July 5th. Zhang (2010) noticed that the proposal "has been strongly opposed by local residents." "Hundreds of people in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou rallied Sunday, calling on authorities to preserve their local dialect, Cantonese.", as Han (2010) reported.

As a result, the Guangzhou municipal government confirmed that "local authorities would not abolish use of the Cantonese dialect." (Han, 2010)

Cooper's Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

Local Government Committee

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Domains (The Media on Usage); Corpus; Level of Adoption

Of which people

Directly: Groups (Broadcast)

Indirectly: Every Individuals

For what ends

Suppression

Under what conditions

Political; Historical; Economic

By what means

Coercive

Through what decision-making processes

Top-down

With what effect

Failure

This is a nightmare for a government. The Language Planning this time is a total failure. There are several cases of Language Planning, successful and failed, in China's modern history. Let's look through the history of the language planning specifically Mandarin Language Planning in China.

History of Language Planning in China

The language planning of Mandarin can trace far back to the 18th century.

In 1728, Emperor Yongzheng issued a decree ordering the officials in two southern provinces to conduct business in Guanhua. Guanhua is the language spoken by upper classes or officers who serving in Beijing. (Chen, 2010) That is also the reason how the name Mandarin came from. (Mandarin is the transliteration of "man da ren 满大人",which means Qing officials)

In addition, the Qing Empire had set up orthoepy academies (Zheng yin shu yuan正音书院) to make the officials who come from other provinces' pronunciation conform to the Qing's capital Beijing's standard, but had little success. (Norman, 1991)

Cooper's Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

The Emperor

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Status/Corpus; Level of Adoption; Domains: working in government

Of which people

Qing Officials; Elites

For what ends

Assimilation

Under what conditions

Geographical; Cultural; Political; Attitudinal

By what means

Rational (Setting up specialized academies)

Through what decision-making processes

Individual; Top-down

With what effect

Failure

A scholar, Wu Rulun, returned from a study trip to Japan and deeply impressed by the potential of standardizing pronunciation. So he wrote a letter to the Director of Studies Zhang Baixi in 1902. In his letter, he mentioned Japan's national language policy - the first appearance of the term "guoyu" (national language) in an official Chinese source - and expected his hope that Mandarin could be applied in a similar manner as the Japanese kana. (Kaske, 2008)

"But even until Qing dynasty fell, there was no standard Chinese language that everyone could speak; rather, everyone just used their own regional dialects." (Chen, 1999) That is to say, the official language of Mandarin Chinese did not really come into being until the Republic of China was created in 1912.

"Language planning work resumed right after the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, pursuing the agenda set in the act adopted at the 1911 conference with great enthusiasm." (Chen, 1999)

During the conference, the term "Guoyu" was revived because of Sun Yat Sen's founding of Kuomingtang (Chinese KMT party), and any form of country's tag tends to be associated with "Guo" (national) such as Guo Yu (National Language), Guo Xue (National Study), Guo Xiao (national primary school), "Guo Shu" (national martial arts) etc.

The recognition of Beijing dialect based Mandarin as a national standard "took a very convoluted route" (Li, 2002). Essentially, Kuomingtang had its roots originating from Canton (due to Sun Yat Sen). Guangdong was a strong base of Kuomingtang and Cantonese language tends to be quite influential among the Kuomingtang even though Sun Yat Sen favoured to using Mandarin as the national language of China in fact. So in 1913, Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation held an election of adopting which language as the official tongue of China. Cantonese lost one vote to Mandarin, leading to the fact that Mandarin became the Guoyu (national language) of China. (Li, 2007)

But this result led a heated argument among the officials from north and south. Eventually, an artificial language, incorporating the maximum number of distinctions found in the major dialects glide, envisaged as a compromise between north and south. (Chen, 1999)

Cooper's Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

Ministry Officials

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Status/Corpus; Level of Adoption; Domains(work, school, media)

Of which people

Individuals but especially Educated People; Elites

For what ends

Assimilation

Under what conditions

Political; Geographical; Cultural; Historical; Attitudinal

By what means

Rational (Promotional)

Through what decision-making processes

Collaborative

With what effect

Failure

However, "it soon became clear that no one, not even the linguists themselves, were capable of speaking this linguistic Frankenstein, and the first Guoyu movement failed miserably". (Li, 2002) In 1926, when Chiang Kai-shek ruled China, the national language was revised, which pronunciations were largely based on the literary readings of Beijing. The original artificial national language was abandoned and re-labeled as "Lao Guoyin" (old national accent) while the revised Beijing dialect based Mandarin was chosen as Guoyu, and still goes by this name in Taiwan today. (Chen, 1999)

Cooper's Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

Ministry officials, curriculum advisers

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Status/Corpus; Level of Adoption; Domains (work, school, media)

Of which people

Individuals but especially Elites

For what ends

Purification

Under what conditions

Political, Attitudinal

By what means

Rational (Promotional)

Through what decision-making processes

Bottom-up and Top-down

With what effect

Only success mostly for the elites, not for individuals

After the Chinese civil war, on the mainland, the national language underwent a second revision in 1955, and switched to a new label Putonghua (common language). The differences between Putonghua and Guoyu are few, "mainly in the adoption of colloquial pronunciations in the case of Putonghua where Guoyu retains the 1926 literary norms." (Li, 2002) But what the 1955 revision managed to do, and successfully so, is to define the nature of the national language, which, according to the 1955 National Language Reform Committee, "bases its pronunciation on the speech of Beijing, its lexicon on the core vocabulary of Northern Chinese, and its syntax on the norms of exemplary vernacular literature". (Li, 2002)

From 1956, Putonghua is required to be the medium of instruction in all schools nationwide and a policy of promoting its use began. (Zhou E.L, 1956) Hundreds of millions of people were affected by this policy.

So during the 1950s there were certainly some activities surrounding the promotion of Putonghua. However, by the end of the decade attention had shifted to other political issues and as a consequence in the 1960s and 1970s not much was done to promote Putonghua due to the Culture Revolution. (Li, 2002)

Cooper's Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

Ministry officials, curriculum advisers

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Status/Corpus; Level of Adoption; Domains (school especially, work, media)

Of which people

Students, military, the youth corps, newspapers, news agencies, public health agencies and transport, communications and entertainment organizations

For what ends

Assimilation

Under what conditions

Political; Cultural; Educational

By what means

Coercive

Through what decision-making processes

Top-down

With what effect

Somewhat Success But Stopped from 1960s to 1970s

Until the very end of 1970s, reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution were abandoned. The efforts to promote Putonghua were renewed. Several goals were set and supposed to be achieved by the end of 20th century.

"1. Putonghua is to become the language of instruction in all schools

2. Putonghua is to become the working language in government at all levels

3. Putonghua is to be the language used in radio and television broadcasting and in cinemas and theatres

4. Putonghua is to become the lingua franca among speakers of various local dialects" (Chen, 1999)

Framework of Planning

Elements

Examples

What actors

Ministry officials, curriculum advisers

Attempt to influence which behaviours

Status/Corpus; Level of Adoption; Domains (school especially, work, media)

Of which people

Students, military, the youth corps, newspapers, news agencies, public health agencies and transport, communications and entertainment organizations

For what ends

Advancement

Under what conditions

Political; Cultural; Educational

By what means

Coercive

Through what decision-making processes

Top-down

With what effect

Success

Why Language Planning in Guangzhou cannot work this time? Conclusion?

Historically, in Guangdong Province and surrounding areas Putonghua has not become the language of communication between speakers of different dialects because Cantonese already fills that role. (Chen, 1999) There is less need for people to acquire Putonghua in order to communicate.

Politically, Putonghua certainly has official support but this does not mean that Putonghua needs to be taking over.

Economically, It is true that is becoming easier for people in geographically remote areas to have access to all types of mass media, and using Putonghua in broadcast is better in theory. But why not adding another Putonghua-speaking channel rather than force all the broadcasting then the ones for the local people have to use Putonghua? Besides, Guangdong is an economically special zone since it is close to Hong Kong. Cantonese have its special status.

Culturally, Many years ago historian Edward Rhoads observed that, "every Chinese province has a sense of its own uniqueness, Kwangtung (Guangdong) has been perhaps more self-conscious than most about it. (Peterson, 1997) Plus, as Ewing (2010) believed, that "China's linguistic and cultural diversity is surely a strength, not a weakness."

Nevertheless, Language Planning is helpful for a multilingual society like China. But it has to be aware that "many linguists have held the view that language change is a natural, spontaneous phenomenon, the result of underlying social and / or linguistics forces that it is not easy or undesirable to tamper with." (Crystal, 1997)

So whatever their intended outcomes, language planning should not be pushing too hard. Historical, political, economic, and cultural factors have to be considered in the process.

Since most people learn Putonghua in schools, it is more likely that Putonghua will be used among most of our generation with higher the level of education.

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