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History of Standard Mandarin
Chinese languages have always had dialects; hence prestige dialects have always existed, and linguae francae have always been needed. Confucius, for example, used yǎyán (雅言), or "elegant speech", rather than colloquial regional dialects; text during the Han Dynasty also referred to tōngyǔ (通语), or "common language". Rime books, which were written since the Southern and Northern Dynasties, may also have reflected one or more systems of standard pronunciation during those times. However, all of these standard dialects were probably unknown outside the educated elite; even among the elite, pronunciations may have been very different, as the unifying factor of all Chinese dialects, Classical Chinese, was a written standard, not a spoken one.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) began to use the term guānhuà (官话), or "official speech", to refer to the speech used at the courts. The term "Mandarin" comes directly from the Portuguese. The word mandarim was first used to name the Chinese bureaucratic officials (i.e., the mandarins), because the Portuguese, under the misapprehension that the Sanskrit word (mantri or mentri) that was used throughout Asia to denote "an official" had some connection with the Portuguese word mandar (to order somebody to do something), and having observed that these officials all "issued orders", chose to call them mandarins. From this, the Portuguese immediately started calling the special language that these officials spoke amongst themselves (i.e., "Guanhua") "the language of the mandarins", "the mandarin language" or, simply, "Mandarin". The fact that Guanhua was, to a certain extent, an artificial language, based upon a set of conventions (that is, the various Mandarin dialects for grammar and meaning, and the specific dialect of the Imperial Court's locale for its pronunciation), is precisely what makes it such an appropriate term for Modern Standard Chinese (also the various Mandarin dialects for grammar and meaning, and their dialect of Beijing for its pronunciation).
It seems that during the early part of this period, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, despite the mix of officials and commoners speaking various dialects in the capital, Beijing. In the 17th century, the Empire had set up Orthoepy Academies (正音書院 Zhèngyīn Shūyuàn) in an attempt to make pronunciation conform to the Beijing standard. But these attempts had little success since as late as the 19th century the emperor had difficulty understanding some of his own ministers in court, who did not always try to follow any standard pronunciation. Although by some account, as late as the early 20th century, the position of Nanjing Mandarin was considered to be higher than that of Beijing by some and the Chinese Postal Map Romanization standards set in 1906 included spellings with elements of Nanjing pronunciation. Nevertheless, by 1909, the dying Qing Dynasty had established the Beijing dialect as guóyǔ (国语), or the "national language".
After the Republic of China was established in 1912, there was more success in promoting a common national language. A Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation was convened with delegates from the entire country. At first there was an attempt to introduce a standard pronunciation with elements from regional dialects. But this was deemed too difficult to promote, and in 1924 this attempt was abandoned and the Beijing dialect became the major source of standard national pronunciation, due to the status of that dialect as a prestigious dialect since the Qing Dynasty. Elements from other dialects continue to exist in the standard language, but as exceptions rather than the rule.
The People's Republic of China, established in 1949, continued the effort. In 1955, the name guóyǔ was replaced by pǔtōnghuà (普通话), or "common speech". (By contrast, the name guóyǔ continued to be used by the Republic of China which, after the 1949 loss in the Chinese Civil War, had a territory consisting of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu Islands, and smaller islands) Since then, the standards used in mainland China and Taiwan have diverged somewhat, especially in newer vocabulary terms, and a little in pronunciation.
The advent of the 20th century has seen many profound changes in Standard Mandarin. Many formal, polite and humble words that were in use in imperial China have almost entirely disappeared in daily conversation in modern-day Standard Mandarin, such as jiàn (贱 "my humble") and guì (贵 "your honorable").
The word 'Putonghua' was defined in October 1955 by the Minister of Education Department in mainland China as follows: "Putonghua is the common spoken language of the modern Han group, the lingua franca of all ethnic groups in the country. The standard pronunciation of Putonghua is based on the Beijing dialect, Putonghua is based on the Northern dialects [i.e. the Mandarin dialects], and the grammar policy is modeled after the vernacular used in modern Chinese literary classics" .
In both mainland China and Taiwan, the use of Standard Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the educational system and in the media has contributed to the spread of Standard Mandarin. As a result, Standard Mandarin is now spoken fluently by most people in mainland China and Taiwan.
In Hong Kong and Macau, which are now special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China, Standard Cantonese has been the primary language spoken by the majority of the population, due to historical and linguistic reasons. After Hong Kong's handover from Britain and Macau's handover from Portugal, Standard Mandarin has become only slightly more understood (but still not widely spoken) and is used by the governments of the two territories to communicate with the Central People's Government of the PRC. Cantonese remains the official government language of Hong Kong and Macau when not communicating with mainland China.
Jun 08, 2009
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