Beijing released China's first survey on the healthiness of the capital's dialect in late May, revealing that students in middle schools know less and less about it. Therefore, Beijing has begun to try to open courses on this and related cultural activities on campus, with a view to protecting and spreading the local tongue.
With the influx of people from all over the country, standard Putonghua is now the dominant language among Beijing's residents, so they can communicate more successfully. The decline of dialects is not a problem unique to Beijing; all dialects across the country are being squeezed out by Putonghua.
Will the rise of Putonghua inevitably lead to the demise of local dialects? Is it possible to push forward dialect education in primary and middle schools? The significance of Putonghua is undeniable, as it makes communication among people from around China easy and efficient. If people all speak their local dialects, they'll find it almost impossible to understand each other. However, the importance of dialects is also clear. They are the carriers of local culture and history, and their disappearance will diminish the exclusive characteristics of local societies.
Preserving cultural heritage
Xie Dan (People's Daily): Beijing's dialect is of historical and cultural significance. This dialect represents its unique culture as an ancient capital. The dialect still preserves some words from Mongolian and Manchu languages—Beijing was the capital of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which were respectively established by Mongolians and Manchu people.
Beijing's dialect also has value in literature. A lot of great literary works were written by renowned local writers, reflecting the colorful daily life of local people. To prevent the disappearance of the Beijing dialect is to save cultures related to this language.
However, in reality most young people, even born in Beijing, know little about this dialect. They tend to speak Putonghua instead. The main reason why the dialect is so seriously marginalized is the influx of people from other parts of the country, which has diluted the "intensity" of the language. You rarely hear someone speak the dialect on the streets or at public events.
The Beijing dialect as a kind of cultural resource is non-renewable. To protect it and other dialects is a mission for this generation, so that future generations can still reap the benefits.
Zhou Guoliang (www.chinaedu.edu.cn): In recent years, Putonghua has spread smoothly across the country. A substantial number of middle and primary schools stipulate that students should not speak dialects within schools. Some schools even demand that students speak Putonghua at home, so that they can help their parents to do so too. In the past decades, due to urbanization and migration, Putonghua has been accepted by a vast majority of Chinese people.
However, dialects are on the wane, while Putonghua rises. A lot of young people who migrate with their parents do not or don't try to speak their home dialects. Some even consider dialects as inferior.
On the one hand, the spread of Putonghua helps people from different regions to understand each other better, promoting cultural and economic exchange. On the other hand, dialects, which risk disappearing, are carriers of China's rich and diverse cultures in different regions. It's no exaggeration to suggest that dialects are the bonds that help to connect families and strengthen cohesion.
The wisdom and unique local cultural features contained in some proverbs and folk rhymes are beyond the reach of Putonghua. This is also true for art. For example, Shaoxing Opera in Shengzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, is made possible only by performances in the local language. Without the Shengzhou dialect, Shaoxing Opera will cease to exist.
Will the protection of dialects challenge the status of Putonghua? The reality is clear that nowadays Putonghua dominates schools across the country, while dialects are being discarded. China's law encourages the use of Putonghua but never quells dialects. In protecting dialects, we are preserving the roots of local cultures.
Tangjiweide (Xinjiang Daily): In an environment where Putonghua is generally used as a tool of communication, dialects are an obstacle to successful communication between people from different places. Thus, the protection of dialects is not favored by all.
However, dialects are stirring on the whole around the country. If the languages of ethnic minorities are also seen as dialects, their protection is more urgent. Many of China's ethnic minorities do not have written characters, and due to the lack of effective protection, some of their languages are vanishing.
Actually, dialects are not only communication tools, but also play a very important role in preserving intangible cultural heritage. Some dialects are crucial for the study of the ancient Chinese language. Also, it is dialects that contribute to the diversity of cultures in different regions. In this sense, it is important to protect dialects.
However, the current protection of dialects is concerning. Particularly, there is not enough consensus on the urgency and importance of doing so. Thus, it's imperative to protect dialects from the perspective of cultural preservation.
Dialects preservation has already drawn a lot of attention. Shanghai takes the lead in this, and Beijing has produced the first report on its local dialect. It's expected that the capital will take measures to do more to shore up the local language based on its condition. Maybe, teaching Beijing's dialect at primary schools is something worth trying.
Zu Changyun (opinion.newssc.org): The Beijing dialect can help us to know better about the city's history and culture. However, the reality is, while the old generation is familiar with how to speak the language, the young are not. Gradually, Beijing's dialect is retreating, as fewer and fewer people know how to use it. It's worrying that this will eventually lead to the disappearance of language-related cultures.
Putonghua has long been diminishing the space for the local dialect in Beijing. Also, much greater effort has been made to push forward Putonghua than to promote Beijing's dialect, and people feel dialects will hinder smooth communication. As a result, Beijing's dialect and related cultures are further debilitated.
To open classes on the dialect will help young students know more about this language and will increase expectations on them to use it more often than before. This plan should encourage the young to carry forward Beijing's dialect. Dialect classes should be started by more schools across the country.
Striking a balance
Yang Peng (Huashang Daily): Undoubtedly, it's necessary and also crucial to push forward Putonghua, as it is playing an increasingly important role in communication. Official statistics released in 2014 show that about 400 million people are unable to communicate in Putonghua, which reveals that although Putonghua has already been used by many people on many occasions, there is still a long way to go before the whole country can communicate in this language. Despite the fact that it is still not strong enough, the rise of Putonghua is weakening dialects, something we didn't expect to see.
The official plan is not to promote Putonghua at the expense of dialects, but to encourage people to use Putonghua naturally when necessary. China's law also permits the use of dialects on specific occasions. Putonghua and dialects are supposed to coexist instead of rivaling each other. Dialects are seen as "living dinosaurs," carrying forward local cultures and customs and preserving local historical information. To protect dialects is to enhance the preservation of local cultures. Thus, the disappearance of dialects is never a good thing.
The calls to better protect dialects have risen in recent years amidst the continued expansion of Putonghua. For example, Shanghai once attempted to encourage the use of its dialect in schools, and Beijing is prepared to learn from Shanghai's experience in this.
It's great to see many places beginning to explore ways to keep a balance between the promotion of Putonghua and the protection of local dialects. The work is still at the initial stage. It's not easy to internalize dialects into education in schools that focus on examinations. However, we still believe that effective methods can be found to sustain dialects so that they can be heard for many generations to come.
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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