[lg policy] Move to Limit Cantonese on Chinese TV Is Assailed

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 27 14:32:18 UTC 2010

Move to Limit Cantonese on Chinese TV Is Assailed

Published: July 26, 2010

 BEIJING — Protests over land grabs, industrial pollution and poor
work conditions often rattle the Chinese authorities. Now add to that
outrage over language policy.
More than 1,000 people gathered Sunday in Guangzhou, in southern
China, to demonstrate against a local politician’s proposal to force a
major local television network to stop broadcasting in Cantonese and
switch to the country’s official language, Mandarin. The protest,
which was raucous and impassioned, ended peacefully after the police
broke up the crowd. But any mention of the demonstration was wiped
from many Internet forums on Monday, and only one national newspaper
carried a detailed report, indicating that the pro-Cantonese
groundswell had become a politically delicate matter.

Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong, Guangdong Province — whose
capital is Guangzhou — and neighboring areas. Some call it a dialect
of Mandarin, a language spoken commonly in the north, but a growing
number of linguists say Cantonese is a separate language. Northerners
generally do not understand it, but are used to its strongly pitched
sounds because of the ubiquity of Hong Kong movies and Cantonese pop
songs. Concern over the loss of languages and dialects in China is
growing. In Tibet and Xinjiang, some ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs say
the use of Mandarin as the official teaching language in schools has
weakened the fluency of the local languages among many young people.
Officials say mastering Mandarin is important for students to compete
for jobs and university slots.

Two weeks ago, notices began popping up online telling people to
gather at 5:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Jiangnanxi subway station in
Guangzhou to oppose a proposal that was presented this month by the
local politician, Ji Kekuang. Mr. Ji, a member of the local committee
of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, suggested
that the programs on Guangzhou Television’s news and satellite
channels start using Mandarin instead of Cantonese. He said the change
would help accommodate tourists and athletes visiting for the Asian
Games in November.  The protesters on Sunday gave passionate speeches
to cheering crowds about the worth of Cantonese and sang Cantonese
songs, one news report said. Young people wore T-shirts with “I Love
Guangzhou” written in characters common to Cantonese script but absent
from Mandarin script. (Most characters overlap between the languages,
but there are notable exceptions.)

The English-language edition of Global Times, aimed at foreigners
living in China, carried the one detailed report. It quoted Su Zhijia,
a deputy party secretary of Guangzhou, as he rebutted rumors that the
government planned to completely reject the use of Cantonese. “The
city government has never had such a plan to abandon or weaken
Cantonese,” Mr. Su said.  Most of the protesters appeared to be in
their 20s or 30s. The owner of a restaurant by the demonstration site
said in a telephone interview that the protesters had yelled out
“Support Cantonese!” and “Protest!” The protesters clogged the roads
and stopped traffic, said the restaurant owner, who gave his name only
as Mr. Liao because of sensitivities about discussing protests in
China. “I couldn’t do business at all,” he said. “They all blocked up
my door.”

Lines of police officers formed human barricades to try to keep the
crowd from swelling, witnesses said. The Cantonese-versus-Mandarin
debate is fierce even in Chinatowns in the United States, where many
residents traditionally spoke Cantonese or a related dialect,
Taishanese, because their families came from Guangdong Province. But
in recent years, the number of immigrants from other parts of China
has grown, and Mandarin is now becoming the dominant language.

Xiyun Yang contributed reporting.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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