The South China Morning Post reports on China’s Ministry of Education’s (教育部)’s statement that a third of the country’s population (roughly 400 million people) does not speak putonghua: “Thirty per cent of our nation’s population does not speak Putonghua, and out of the 70 per cent of population who possess Putonghua skills, only one in ten can speak Putonghua articulately and fluently”.
The statement comes as part of the 17th Mandarin Awareness Week (推普周), a national event that promotes the use of language based on the Beijing dialect that was standardized by the National language Unification Commission (国语推行委员会 / 國語推行委員會) in 1932 and implemented as the national language in 1949. Baike calls education and use of putonghua an inevitable trend and requirement of the times and every educator’s and citizen’s duty. Events around the country such as Zhuzhou, Hunan (株洲, 湖南), Hohhot, Inner Mongolia (呼和浩特市), Luanping, Hebei (滦平县 / 灤平縣), and Urumuqi, Xinjiang (乌鲁木齐市 / 烏魯木齊市, 新疆) promote this year’s theme 说好普通话，圆梦你我他 / 說好普通話，圓夢你我他, which translates to “Speak Mandarin well, and your dreams will come true.”
According to Ethnologue, there are 292 living languages in China spoken by the 56 recognized ethnic groups. The Sino-Tibetan family of languages, spoken by 19 ethnicities (such as Han), includes the dialect groups of Mandarin, Wu (吴语 / 吳語), Gan (赣语 / 贛語) , Xiang (湘语 / 湘語), Min ( 闽语 / 閩語), Hakka (客家语 / 客家語, Yue (粤语 / 粵語), Jin (晋语 / 晉語) , Huizhou (徽州话 / 徽州話, and Pinghua (平话 / 平話).
Not everybody is happy about the push to promote Mandarin. Language is a contentious topic for the Uyghur and Tibetan peoples who feel that the rise in the use of Mandarin represent Han dominance over their culture. The concern is not just limited to groups who do not primarily identify as Chinese. In 2010, Cantonese speakers in Guangzhou successfully stopped the local government’s proposal to increase Mandarin programming on Guangzhou Television station (广州市广播电视台 / 廣州市廣播電視台). However, this year, Guangdong TV (广东电视台 / 廣東電視台), the province’s oldest television station, switched its news broadcast from Cantonese to Mandarin.
Fortunately, as Mandarin becomes more widespread, groups like Phonemica are there to preserve the heritage and diversity of the countless local vernacular tongues.
The Ministry of Education’s promotional video:
Image: “Speak Mandarin!” by JB via Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons