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Definition of Putonghua

In China, Mandarin is the common language of people. As learners, we must understand the Mandarin definition, so that we can decide whether to learn Putonghua or other Chinese dialects.

The definition is “the common language of modern Han nationality, with Beijing pronunciation as the standard pronunciation. Northern dialect as the basic dialect, and typical modern vernacular writings as the grammatical norm.” The definition was ratified and determined in 1955, at the National Conference on Character Reform, and the Academic Conference on the Standardization of Modern Chinese. This definition essentially puts forward the Mandarin definition from three aspects: pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. So how do you understand these standards?

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Beijing Dialect

“Taking Beijing dialect as the standard pronunciation” refers to the phonetic system of Beijing dialect as the standard. It makes the Beijing enunciation as the central metric for measuring Putonghua fluency. This is much more efficient for it introduces universality in the language. So it has a standard for pronunciation, instead of copying all the pronunciations of the Beijing dialect. Putonghua is not equal to the Beijing dialect. After all, there are many local accents in the Beijing dialect. For example, the old Beijingers refer to the conjunction “和he (hé)” as “hàn”, “蝴蝶butterfly (húdié)” as “húdiěr” and “告诉tell (gàosu)” as “gàosong”. These local accents make it difficult for people in other dialect areas to accept.

In addition, there are different pronunciations in the Beijing dialect, such as the word “侵略aggression”. Some people pronounce “qǐn lüè”, and others pronounce it “qīn lüè”. The word “附近nearby” is pronounced by some people as “fùjìn”, and others pronounce it “fǔjìn”. Since 1956, the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect has been revised many times. Consequently, they formulated the standard pronunciation of Putonghua for practical reasons. Therefore, the phonetic standard of Putonghua should be based on the Pronunciation List of Putonghua Variants published in 1985, and the Modern Chinese Dictionary published in 1996.

Dialect Based on Northern Dialect

As far as vocabulary standards are concerned, Putonghua’s “dialect based on Northern dialect” refers to the prevailing sayings in the vast northern dialect areas. However, it concedes that it is necessary to learn the required words from other dialects. There are also many local dialects in northern dialect words, such as Beijing people who refer to “evening” as “a long time late”, and “reprimand” as “babble”. In many northern areas, corn is called “stick”, soap is called “pancreas”, and steamed bread is called “steamed bun”. Therefore, we can’t take all the words of the Northern dialect as the standard words of Putonghua. Instead, we must adopt different dialects.

Some dialect words in non-Northern dialect areas have special meaning and expressive power, There are no corresponding synonyms in the northern dialect, and such words can be absorbed into the Putonghua vocabulary. For example, words such as “垃圾 rubbish”, “尴尬 embarrassment”, and “噱头 gimmick” have often appeared in written language.

Consequently, they adopted and included these words in the Putonghua vocabulary. Generally, the words chosen in Putonghua are popular and have long been used in writing. In recent years, the State Language Committee is organizing manpower to compile the Modern Chinese Standard Dictionary, which will further standardize the vocabulary of Putonghua.

Grammatical Standard of Putonghua

The grammatical standard of Putonghua is: “Taking exemplary modern vernacular writings as grammatical norms.” Each word in this statement has its corresponding meaning. “Exemplary” means excluding non-exemplary modern vernacular writings as grammatical norms. “Vernacular” is to exclude classical Chinese and focuses on contemporary writing. “Modern vernacular” means excluding the early vernacular before the May 4th Movement. “Works” refer to the written form of Putonghua. They based this on spoken language, but it is not equal to generally spoken language, but a processed and refined language.”

Having a standardized language is an identity. Consequently, it necessitates the creation of a language that unites the people. As the Russian language experts said, “A country needs a common language to unite its people. That is why Russian people are  responsible for this task.” Ukrainian linguists solidified this principle by saying, “A country must have its territory, population, and national language. Without national language, there will be no country.”

 Zhou Youguang, a famous master of Chinese philology stated, “If the languages don’t understand each other, it’s fragmented, not a modern country.” Standardization of a language goes beyond mere technicalities. Language is an identity. That is why Mandarin definition in China has great significance.

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