Most linguistics students trained in Hong Kong have actually attended courses which focus on the comparikid of Mandarin and Cantonese. While courses of this kind deserve to aid us appreciate the fascinating diversity of the Chinese language(s), they might also produce or reinpressure the widespread impression that Mandarin, despite its size, is an astoundingly unicreate language which barely leaves any room for inner variation. Pretty quickly I realized that tbelow need to be somepoint wrong via this notion—when pointing out syntaxation inquiries, “native speakers” of Mandarin regularly had substantial arguments over the acceptcapability (or grammaticality) of specific Mandarin sentences, a phenomenon seldom observed in other languperiods (consisting of Cantonese).

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Afterwards, I was blessed through the opportunity to acquire exposed to Jianghuai Mandarin and also Southwest Mandarin, which offered me a brand-new, wider perspective on Mandarin, and also the Chinese language(s) in its entirety.

‘I didn’t tell him.’ (adapted from Dwyer 1995)

‘The dog ate the meat.’ (adapted from Dede 2007a)

Do you sheight Mandarin? If your answer is yes, you might uncover the over sentences pretty weird. While you are most likely to acknowledge each and also eexceptionally word, they show up to be in a chaotic order; you may even uncover it challenging to understand the interpretation of the sentences without looking at the translations. What’s even more, if you came throughout these sentences in real-life scenarios (through no Chinese characters or glosses provided), you’d probably battle to make any type of sense of them considering that the words would be pronounced rather differently from the Mandarin language you’re acquainted with.

What about the adhering to sentence?

‘Do you recognize when he’ll come back?’ (adapted from Li 2002)

In this case, while tbelow may be nothing unusual around its sentence framework, you might still have actually difficulty knowledge the sentence because the actual interpretation of some seemingly familiar words is more than likely quite various from what you expected. You might well be surprised to learn that all the examples portrayed over are in truth grammatical sentences of some varieties of Mandarin.

Yes, Mandarin deserve to be rather various from what we learn and understand from Mandarin Chinese textbooks and also dictionaries.

Mandarin?! Seriously?

Spoken by over 900 million human being as their mom tongue, Mandarin is not just the biggest language in the people by variety of native speakers (Simons & Fennig 2018), yet additionally an progressively well-known alternative among foreign language learners. When we talk around Mandarin, what concerns mind is commonly a significant lingua franca rising to worldwide prestige, or a monolithic linguistic superpower displacing Chinese “dialects” prefer Cantonese, Hokkien, and Hakka in miscellaneous domain names, driving some much less well-establimelted ones favor Minjiang, Weitou, and Shehua to the verge of endangerment or even extinction. Naturally, few would suppose to view such a leading, popular, and well-stupassed away language in the Language Profiles section.

A lesser-well-known truth around Mandarin is that it is a polysemous term. In widespread usage, Mandarin generally describes a standardized develop of the Chinese language spoken as a nationwide and/or intra-ethnic lingua franca in Mainland also China (as Putonghua 普通话), Taiwan (as Guoyu 國語), Singapore and Malaysia (as Huayu 华语). Although the various national criteria differ from each other in a variety of methods (Bradley 1992), they still keep an extremely high level of mutual intelligibility and carry out not constitute the focus of this post.

Adopting Sanders’ (1987) terminology, the Standard Mandarin varieties belengthy to “Idealized Mandarin”, which was (artificially) built based on the Beijing language in the early 20th century to facilitate nationwide interaction (Moser 2016; Weng 2018). At the same time, in this article, my major focus is on the (naturalistic) regional vernaculars of Chinese which, in a linguistic sense, belong to a Chinese dialect group recognized as Mandarin, i.e. “Geographical Mandarin” according to Sanders’ (1987) terminology.

Mandarin as a Chinese language group

Although regularly thought about a solitary language, Chinese dialects (aka Sinitic languages) lug a degree of internal diversity on a par through that of the Romance (e.g. Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Romansh, Italian, Romanian) or Germanic (e.g. English, Germale, Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic) languperiods within the Indo-European household (Norman 1988 Chappell 2001). In modern-day Chinese dialectology, Chinese is classified right into 10 major language teams, namely Mandarin 官话, Jin 晋语, Wu 吴语, Hui 徽语, Gan 赣语, Xiang 湘语, Min 闽语, Hakka 客家话, Yue 粤语, Pinghua 平话 and Tuhua 土话 (Zhang 2012).

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Northern Sinitic mirrors indications of typological convergence towards Altaic langueras (Hashimoto 1976) and also Southern Sinitic in the direction of Tai languages (Bennett 1979). For instance, the north arrays tend to have a smaller sized number of character classifiers, monosyllabic words, tones and codas, and also a stronger tendency to head-last structures, to be exemplified below.

Transcfinishing the Qinling Mountain-Huaihe River Line, the Mandarin dialect team additionally display screens a north-southern divide in typological features. The adjective-last comparative constructions (e.g. Standard Mandarin ) represent a typical instance of head-final frameworks, wright here the “head” of the expression in question (e.g. the adjective in an adjective phrase, or the noun in a noun phrase) is at the end of the expression.

‘I’m taller than him.’

While this sentence might look perfectly herbal to Mandarin speakers, cross-linguistically speaking, the head-final adjective phrase actually correlates via SOV languages (Dryer 1992), which typically have the parts of the sentence structured in the order of subject-object-verb. It is in truth unusual for an SVO language like Mandarin to possess such a word order. Unsurprisingly, the adjective-last comparative constructions are even more prevalent in Northern China, wright here affect from the SOV Altaic langueras is relatively prouncovered. Meanwhile, the surpass comparatives (where a verb meaning ‘to cross/surpass’ has actually occurred right into a comparative marker) preconquer in Southern China, and Mainland also Southeastern Asia (Ansalperform 2010).

‘I’m taller than him.’

Anvarious other instance of head-final frameworks widespread in Chinese is the Adjective-Noun order (e.g. 小狗 xiǎo-gǒu “small-dog”, 高山 gāo-shān “high-mountain”, 白衣 bái-yī “white-clothes”). Although Adjective-Noun is the leading order in all recognized Chinese dialects, the Noun-Adjective order (which is widespread in Mainland Southeast Asia), is uncovered in a little subcollection of nominal constructions in Southern Chinese dialects, as in the animal sex constructions. For example, in Northern Chinese dialects, the word for ‘rooster’ is the cognate create of the Standard Mandarin 公鸡 gōng-jī “male-chicken”; in many type of Southern Chinese dialects, however, 鸡公 “chicken-male” is the even more common word order, as in the Cantonese gai5-gung1, Hokkien kue˩-kak˩, Wuhan Mandarin tɕi˥-koŋ˥, Chengdu Mandarin tɕi˥-koŋ˥, and Liuzhou Mandarin ki˦-koŋ˦.

The Amperform Sprachbund

The above examples may not look especially remarkable to speakers of Southern Sinitic ranges prefer Cantonese and also Hokkien—after all, as those word order functions are typical of Southern Sinitic, their presence in Southern Mandarin dialects may not come as a surpclimb. The fact is that the most interesting Mandarin dialects are not discovered in Southern China.

In Northwestern China, tright here is a linguistic location in the Southeastern Qinghai-Gansu border region well-known as the Amdo Sprachbund (Janhunen 2012; Sandmale & Simon 2016). Compclimbing approximately 15 language ranges, the Amdo Sprachbund is an area of excellent ethnic and also linguistic diversity, where Amperform Tibetan has actually offered as the lingua franca for centuries. Remember the first 2 examples in the beginning of the article?

‘I didn’t tell him.’ (adjusted from Dwyer 1995)

‘The dog ate the meat.’ (adapted from Dede 2007a)

These “exotic” sentences (from a Chinese allude of view) are examples of Mandarin dialects within the Amdo Sprachbund. Under intense affect of SOV langueras in the region prefer Amperform Tibetan and Monguor, the basic word order of these Mandarin dialects has shifted to SOV.

In addition, choose the majority of other SOV langueras, they have actually arisen a variety of situation suffixes. For circumstances, the in (2) features to mark grammatical relationships like patients, recipients, purposes, and also resources. Likewise, the in (6) marks the instrument associated in the action, while the in (7) expresses a movement amethod from something (what is otherwise known to linguists as the ablative case).

‘I am writing through an ink brush.’ (Li 2002: 86) (our glosses and translation)

‘He just came earlier from Beijing yesterday.’ (adapted from Dede 2007b)

Such attributes are plainly atypical of Chinese, however are indicative of the substantial degree of restructuring, which Mandarin dialects have undergone in call scenarios. There are plenty of other examples not discussed here however interested readers are welinvolved describe our paper on this topic (Szeto et al. 2018).

Concluding remarks

A quick recap of what we’ve gone through so far. What we generally learn around Mandarin is largely around its standardized develop (“Idealized Mandarin”). At the same time, tbelow are a large array of neighborhood vernaculars in Mainland China which belengthy to the Mandarin language group (“Geographical Mandarin”).

Like all various other organic langueras in the human being, Mandarin is at risk to influence from its bordering languages. Given their substantial geographical coverage, Mandarin in various regions of China are in call through langueras of various typological profiles. Unsurprisingly, Mandarin dialects display screen a substantial level of typological variation under such a setting. The variation within the Mandarin language team, but, is sevecount downplayed or underestimated by many Chinese dialectologists.

As language enthusiasts with great expertise around the language in question, we were not satisfied with the got wisdom. As discussed above, we conducted a research which came down on a totally various conclusion. The huge discrepancy between the got wisdom and our conclusion is specifically astonishing if we take into account the reality that our examine is generally based on the evaluation of etymological data publimelted in some significant works in Chinese dialectology. Apparently, we might reach radically different conclusions relying on how we analyze and also interpret the information in hand. We hope our examine can melted new light on the nature of Mandarin, paving the method for even more researches on this fascinating and also necessary language.


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