Chinese Corner

Not Mandarin

An invitation to speak other Chineses – Will Sack

Imagine if all of Germany spoke Shanghainese. Or if a population bigger than Britain spoke Cantonese. Wouldn’t we treat them as more than just sideshows? With 80 and 70 million native speakers respectively, Shanghainese and Cantonese are massive in both use and importance. So why do we so seldom teach them or other non-Mandarin Chineses? Why aren’t we curious what one third of China – a politically and culturally marginalized, but not always economically marginalized, third – has to say and think on their own terms?

Chinese Corner

Smartphone Dialects

When tech meets heritage – William Sack

As a young Kentuckian, I once came home from kindergarten pronouncing my name, Will, as “Whee-y’all,” a three-syllable word – my mother was horrified. The correct pronunciation was learned before I left for school the next day. In China and the US alike, you speak your social role.

I recently went on a multi-month escapade to learn the Northeast dialect of Mandarin, also known as Dōngběihuà (东北话), literally the “speech” (huà) of the Northeast (Dōngběi). During that time I came across a surprising answer to a seemingly simple question: How are dialects passed on in China?