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Archive for January, 2012

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Earlier this year, there was a fascinating article from the BBC about a new joint dictionary being developed by China and Taiwan, aimed at alleviating language discrepancies. Up until reading that article, I had just assumed that Mandarin Chinese was the same in both places!

And thus was born round 2 of the Friday Match.

The odd similarity between the language situations in China and Taiwan are two-fold. Both governments have made recent attempts to standardize which language is used, but also have seen the creation of variations of Mandarin that are influenced by local regional dialects (or in Taiwan’s case, completely different languages).

The Chinese word for  

Mandarin Chinese is called guóyŭ or “National Language” in Taiwan and is based off of the Beijing Dialect. The Taiwanese government started advocating for a uniform language in the 1950s, but as time has gone on (and with political differences that have affected the meanings of some words) changes have been made in Taiwan that have not been made in China. [1]

One of the big differences is that in China, the use of simplified Chinese characters has been used as a method of raising the literacy rates. In contrast, Taiwan still maintains the traditional characters due to their significance culturally. [2] Further details about the debate of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters is described very well in the BBC article attached below.
The other difficulty between Taiwanese and mainland Chinese use of Mandarin comes into play when speaking. The pronunciation of words varies depending on which region you live in – you call your spouse “ai ren” in China, but that means your lover in Taiwan. A bit of a difference.[3]

It’ll be interesting to see how this new dictionary affects the language divide between Taiwan and China.

Another player in this situation is the Taiwan government’s latest initiative. They are now focusing on mother-tongue education (aka, all the languages of native populations in Taiwan that were superseded between the 1950s and 1980s when Mandarin was being promoted). This newest policy has been geared towards elementary schools and providing teaching in the mother-tongue languages there. If you have access to the Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, there is a case study about this new policy by Todd Sandel, Wen-Yu Chao, and Chung-Hui Liang that tries to see the changes in Mandarin and family interaction with the reintroduction of mother-tongues.

Well, I think that’s all that I have for you guys today. Hopefully you learned something!


[1] Li, Charles N. and Sandra A. Thompson. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, Ltd., 1989.

[2] Sui, Cindy. (2011, May 21).  “China and Taiwan ‘first dictionary’.” BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13467598.

[3] Sui, Cindy. (2011, May 21).  “China and Taiwan ‘first dictionary’.” BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13467598.

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