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Greater numbers speak Mandarin
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-26 22:56

More and more Chinese nowadays are able to communicate with Chinese Mandarin, says a survey that indicates that 53 per cent of the population can communicate with the language known as putonghua.

Conducted by the State Working Committee of Chinese Language, a nationwide survey on the use of the principal Chinese language was released yesterday in Beijing after six years of hard work.

Over 470,000 people in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities across the country responded to the survey, which is "the first of its kind in the history," said Tong Lequan, head of the survey group.

The coexistence and different uses of Mandarin and dialects are a unique proclivity of the current Chinese language, said Tong.

As a standard language, Mandarin is widely used as the communication medium during public activities while people use the dialect native to their area or province when communicating within their family or with other native speakers.

Only 18 per cent of those surveyed speak Mandarin while talking to the family members, while 42 per cent speak at school, work or play.

Sixty-six per cent of the urban residents speak Mandarin, a 21 per cent higher rate than rural residents.

The survey also showed that the young have better Mandarin fluency, with just 31 per cent of those aged 60 to 69 able to speak the language,while the figure has more than doubled among those younger than 29.

Among many Chinese, speaking Mandarin is perceived as a sign of good breeding. The survey showed only 10 per cent of the illiterate can speak Mandarin while those with 87 per cent with college degrees are fluent.

Tong said with the change of generations and the spread of the education, Mandarin will gain more ground.

Hu Hongguang, a middle school teacher who speaks Mandarin in class in Central China's Hubei Province said there are three criteria to judge the popularization of the language: how it is used in schools and whether it is used as a working language and as the mainstream tongue on social occasions.

The main difficulties about speaking putonghua, the answer "no situation the putonghua is used" and "hard to change the accent" came out as the main obstacles.

Many parts of China are now seeing a situation of what linguists call diglossia, where there is one public language and one local language that is used among friends and family.

"I never speak Mandarin at home though I speak it all day in the office," said Yin Yu, 25. "It is so strange when you speak Mandarin while everybody else is speaking a dialect."

Moreover, Yin said her dialect gives her a feeling of home, however, she said the use of dialects will not decrease the influence and popularity of Mandarin. "It is a complementary to Mandarin," she said.

Use of dialects may even be strengthening in some areas, said Wang Chengxi, 27.

As a boy grew up in the northern part of the country, Wang speaks wonderful Mandarin but he began to learn the Cantonese when he started to work in Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province in 2001..

He said the prevalence of the local dialect have excluded outsiders from social networks. "I am learning Cantonese because I want to better integrate into local society," he said.

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