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Re: Chinese "languages"

From:DOUGLAS KOLLER <laokou@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 10, 2000, 1:31
From: "Jonathan Chang"

> (She jokes that Cantonese is like the German of China according to > some... or at least some think Cantonese is the ugliest, shrillest
> dialect in China... others think Hakka is. To some, Shanghai dialect has a > reputation of being very much in being "sing-song-y like Italian").
From: "Barry Garcia"
> I have a friend whos family is from Taiwan, and she speaks fluent Mandarin > (she helped me with the tones once, which I have now forgotten how to do). > Anyway, she says that Cantonese sounds harsh and ugly to her, but Mandarin > is softer. She thinks is may be due to the higher number of tones in > Cantonese than in Mandarin.
Okay, I'll trot out the old saw: It sounds nicer to listen to two beggars wrangle over a piece of fish in Suzhou dialect than it is to listen to two lovers bill and coo in Cantonese. And again from Jonathan Chang:
> while the Mandarins have traditionally seen the Cantonese as voracious
> ["Ah! Those rascaly Cantonese will eat anything not moving!!"] and as
being a
> lil too smart(ass) for their own good.)
I've normally heard this aimed at Chinese (even by Chinese) in general: The Chinese will eat anything on four legs except a table. The Chinese will eat anything that flies except an airplane. The Chinese will eat anything that has its back to heaven (which explains why no one kowtows for too long). etc., etc. As for the dialect/language discussion, we could dispute this for eons and not reach agreement. DeFrancis in his book _The Chinese Language_, and Ramsey in his book _The Languages of China_ address this topic, and we could still draw our own conclusions on the subject. And from Leo Moser:
> There is by no means total unity in written form. A TV > "soap opera" in Taiwanese will have a script -- handwritten > in characters that may or may not appear in Standard > Chinese (Mandarin). That script could not be read at all > by a Cantonese or an inhabitant of Beijing.
> The characters for things as basic as pronouns and the > common "prepositions" in written Cantonese are in > many cases completely unknown to those who use only > the Standard (Mandarin) language.
I did not mean to imply *total* unity. Cantonese seems to have standardized its local characters fairly well. Taiwanese now has a budding local literature, but nothing approaching that sort of standardization; giving a Taiwanese a text in Taiwanese sometimes results in major delays in comprehension until the reader gets a firmer grounding in what the writer is doing (and to reading characters in the Taiwanese way, period). Characters for Taiwanese songs at karaoké clubs can be widely divergent (not that it really matters in that context as most singers are only using the words as an aide-memoire). I could imagine that in the TV biz, there's a bit more (tacit?) regularity with regard to the local characters since it's sort of a monde clos. Shanghai characters were out there in texts from Shanghai operas ten years ago, but were hardly widespread or standardized; don't know if there is a greater move toward local literature there now... Kou