7.1200, Disc: Guanhua

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Mon Aug 26 21:26:42 UTC 1996

LINGUIST List:  Vol-7-1200. Mon Aug 26 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines:  100
Subject: 7.1200, Disc: Guanhua
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Date:  Sun, 25 Aug 1996 11:27:49 BST
From:  wcli at vax.ox.ac.uk
Subject:  Mandarin (guanhua)
Date:  Sun, 25 Aug 1996 11:27:49 BST
From:  wcli at vax.ox.ac.uk
Subject:  Mandarin (guanhua)
With regard to the discussion on Guanhua (Mandarin), I think the
picture is somewhat confusing because the term has multiple meanings.
I know of at least three:
First, as Wendan Li and Hua Lin rightly pointed out, "guanhua"
(literally "official talk", hence "Mandarin") originated as a form of
common language between speakers of different Chinese dialects,
loosely based on some form of northern Chinese -- the precise locale
of this prestige northern dialect is not clear, but Beijing, Nanjing
and Luoyang have all been suggested as likely candidates.  In a way,
the status of "guanhua" is similar to that of the "cultivated
pronunciation" of the American Atlantic states existing alongside the
local vernacular, with each state/province having their own version --
what is probably their best approximation of the prestige dialect.
The second meaning of "guanhua" focuses on the Beijing area -- the
Chinese capital for the past 500 years.  Beijing being the capital,
its local speech presumably had some kind of prestige -- the prestige
conflicted with the prestige status of the "guanhua" lingua franca.
Eventually, the lingua franca was drawn closer and closer to the
vernacular speech of Beijing, but by the end of the 19th century, the
two were extremely similar, but still not quite the same.  The remnant
of "guanhua" became known as the "literary stratum" of Beijing
Mandarin, and the original vernacular as the "colloquial stratum".
There are minute phonological differences between the two, and
differences in vocabulary -- "guanhua" leaning towards classical
Chinese, and colloquial Beijing more abundant in localisms.  The
"literary stratum" later became the standard language of the new
republic, although to this day the tug-of-war between vernacular
Beijing (the "colloquial stratum") and the descendant of the original
"guanhua" (the "literary stratum") is still going on -- the standard
"putonghua" of mainland China contains more of the "colloquial
stratum", while that of Taiwan favours the "literary stratum".  But my
point is, at this stage the meaning of "guanhua" changed from a kind
of pidgin-northern Chinese used as a lingua franca between officials
from different provinces, to something more specific, i.e., the type
of officialese spoken in the capital Beijing.
Finally, there is a third use of "guanhua", which is purely academic.
Because the original "guanhua" was based on the dialects of northern
China, in Chinese dialectology "guanhua" is now used as a cover term
for the Mandarin dialects, most of which are located to the north of
the country.  In other words, "guanhua" now refers to an entire
dialect family, in fact, the largest family in the Chinese branch of
Sino-Tibetan.  This sense of the word can be rather different from
"guanhua" as the literary substratum of the dialect of Beijing, both
senses of which are still in common usage.
So, in my attempt to disambiguate the term "guanhua", I believe I
might just have made things even worse.  ;-) But having said that what
I have given here is but a gross simplification of the actual state of
affairs -- Beijing Mandarin, for example, has more than two strata,
and there are more theories of the basis of the original "guanhua"
than Beijing, Nanjing and Luoyang.  There is also a lack of consensus
when it comes to exactly which dialects the "guanhua" family covers.
I shall leave it at that, but will be happy to discuss the topic
further if anyone is interested.
				Wen-Chao Li
				  Lady Margaret Hall
				    Oxford University
				             <wcli at vax.ox.ac.uk>
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