linguists in past decades

During the past several decades, a lot of linguists, both in PRC & abroad, have considered Cantonese to be a “fangyan”of Modern Sinitic (Xiandai Hanyu). This is especially true of linguists within PRC who are in virtually unanimous agreement on this point.


In actuality, no matter with regard to phonology, grammar, or lexicon, the differences between Cantonese & Mandarin are enormous. Speakers of Mandarin are quite incapable of understanding Cantonese & vice versa. This is a fact of which everyone is fully aware. Nonetheless, although it is obvious that speakers of Mandarin & Cantonese cannot converse with each other, why is there this insistence that Cantonese is a ifungyan” of Modern Sinitic? To my mind, there are but two reasons: 2. the influence of Stalin’s discussions on “language” & “dialect”; 2. the imperceptible psychological pressure of “politicolinguistics”.

Paying heed neither to Stalin nor the heavy hand of politics, Li forges ahead to provide clear statistical proof of the tremendous gap between Cantonese & Mandarin. (S)He even puts forth his/her own classification scheme for the Sinitic group of languages, which I reproduce here:


There are, of course, a lot of difficulties & anomalies in this scheme (e.g., Sinitic is both the group name & the name of one of what Li presumably views as the functional equivalent of branches, the Cantonese branch appears to be more finely analyzed than the other branches, fangyan is used both to signify languages & dialects, & so forth), but it represents the beginning of a classification scheme for Sinitic that is potentially compatible with linguistic usage universally employed in the study of other language groups.

Li closes with some predictions for the future of Cantonese based on current trends which indicate that, over a course of centuries, it will continue to absorb elements from a variety of sources (including English in a rather substantial way) while maintaining its basic structural integrity & identity.

Almost as important as the content of Li Jingzhong’s article is the fact that (s)he is Associate Professor at the Kwangtung Nationalities Institute (Guangdong Minzu Xueyuan). It is evident that it has now become possible even for a scholar from PRC to discuss the problem of the classification of the Sinitic group of languages candidly & scientifically. Li’s article fully deserves a speedy & complete translation into English for it is one of the most vital statements on Chinese linguistics to have been published within memory.


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