à côté du mandarin : les langues de Chine

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à côté du mandarin : les langues de Chine

Messagepar laoshi » 26 Déc 2016, 17:16

Si le mandarin est la langue de l'Etat chinois, il n'est pas la seule langue reconnue en Chine ; il coexiste avec 54 autres idiomes propres aux minorités sans compter les innombrables dialectes locaux; voici la carte des langues officiellement parlées en Chine :

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La Babel chinoise

Messagepar laoshi » 24 Fév 2017, 16:20

Désolée de ne pas traduire l'article, je n'ai vraiment pas le temps mais... il vaut la peine d'être lu !

Peter Neville-Hadley reviews, commentant “A Billion Voices”de David Moser dans le Wall Street Journal. a écrit:China: A Modern Babel

“I speak Chinese” is a statement with little meaning: Linguists have identified seven mutually incomprehensible Chinese languages. Peter Neville-Hadley reviews “A Billion Voices” by David Moser.

The oft-repeated claim that we must all learn Mandarin Chinese, the better to trade with our future masters, is one that readers of David Moser’s “A Billion Voices” will rapidly end up re-evaluating. In fact, many Chinese don’t speak it: Even Chinese authorities quietly admit that only about 70% of the population speaks Mandarin, and merely one in 10 of those speak it fluently. In a little over 100 pages, Mr. Moser presents a history of what is more properly called Putonghua, or “common speech,” along with a clear, concise and often amusing introduction to the limits of its spoken and written forms.

As Mr. Moser explains, what Chinese schoolchildren are encouraged to think of as the longstanding natural speech of the common people is in fact an artificial hybrid, only a few decades old, although it shares a name—Mandarin—with the language of administration from imperial times. It’s a designed-by-committee camel of a language that has largely lost track of its past.


“I speak Chinese” remains a claim with little meaning since linguists have identified seven mutually incomprehensible Chinese language groups. The idea of a national Chinese language began with the realization by the accidentally successful revolutionaries of 1911 that retaining control over a country speaking multiple languages and myriad dialects would necessitate reform. Long-term unification and the introduction of mass education would require a common language.

Whatever the province they originated from, the administrators of the now-toppled Great Qing Empire had all learned to communicate with one another in a second common language—Guanhua, China’s equivalent, in practical terms, of medieval Latin. To understand this highly compressed idiom required a considerable knowledge of the Chinese classics. Early Jesuit missionaries had labeled it Mandarin, “from the Portugese mandarim, meaning ‘minister’ or ‘official.’ ”

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PHOTO: WSJ
A BILLION VOICES

By David Moser
Penguin China, 120 pages, $9.95

With the Qing abdication of 1912, Mr. Moser writes, “the national networks of businessmen, bureaucrats and military personnel were quite often—quite literally—not speaking the same language, and the risk of disastrous miscommunication was quite real.”

Within a year, the newly formed government of the Republic of China convened a Conference on the Unification of Pronunciation. Mr. Moser brings a light and occasionally comical touch to his description of the committee’s dry proceedings. The debate was heated—particularly between those from the north and the south of the country. An example of the problem of “disastrous miscommunication” arose when a remark in Shanghainese by one delegate was misunderstood by another as a curse in a northern dialect. Punches were thrown, and the speaker was ejected, thus increasing the majority of northerners on the committee by one.

All versions of Chinese are tonal, and each of a rather limited range of sounds carries a different meaning according to how it is pitched. The committee decided that the four-tone dialect of the capital would be the base for a new national language but added a fifth tone whose use had lapsed in the north but not in southern dialects. The result was a language that no one actually spoke.


The sounds of 6,500 basic characters were eventually recorded in 1921 by Zhao Yuanren, a man famed for his translation into Chinese of the works of Lewis Carroll. The authorities, however, had neglected to make any provision for the language to be taught, and civil war turned attentions elsewhere. “Decades later,” Mr. Moser tells us, “Zhao would jokingly remark, ‘For thirteen years I was the sole speaker of this idiolect, meant to be the national language of 4, 5 or 600 million speakers.’ ”

After the Communist victory of 1949, the process began all over again with fresh conferences, leading finally to the decision to use Beijing sounds, northern dialects and modern literature in the vernacular (of which there was very little) as a source of grammar. This new spoken form is what is now loosely labeled Mandarin, still as alien to most Chinese as all the other Chinese languages.

Mao Zedong vowed to banish Chinese characters altogether in order to reduce rote learning and increase literacy, and he instinctively rejected the Latin alphabet for use in any phonetic system, much as he repudiated anything else foreign, demanding instead a system based on newly invented Chinese symbols. Later he claimed that only academics were clinging to the use of the Latin alphabet—and for once was ignored. The characters remained but went through a ham-fisted and patchily implemented simplification process that divorced them even further from any connection with their pronunciation. A Latin alphabet system called Pinyin was introduced to help children learn to pronounce Chinese characters, but today it is usually abandoned after the first few years of elementary school.

The view that Mandarin is too difficult for mere foreigners to learn is essential to Chinese amour propre. But it is belied by the number of foreign high-school students who now learn the language by using Pinyin as a key to pronunciation —and who bask in the admiration they receive as a result.

Since 1949, the Chinese government, obsessed with promoting the image of a nation completely united in its love of the Communist Party, has decided that the Chinese people speak not several different languages but the same one in a variety of dialects. To say otherwise is to suggest, dangerously, that China is not one nation.

Yet on Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic in a Hunan accent so thick that members of his audience subsequently differed about what he had said. He never mastered the Beijing sounds on which Putonghua is based, nor did Sichuanese-speaking Deng Xiaoping or most of his successors. When Xi Jinping took power in 2012, many online commentators rejoiced. “At last! A Chinese leader who can speak Putonghua!” One leader down, only 400 million more common people to go.

Mr. Neville-Hadley is a Vancouver-based writer.
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