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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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8 What Can We Expect for the Chinese Language?



What Can We Expect for the Chinese Language?

Let us consider what the future may have in store for the Chinese language. Nobody can predict the future, and so what I will envisage will necessarily be speculative. But it is possible to make some predictions by reflecting on the structure of the language, which we have done, by looking at how it is currently being used, which we have also taken stock of, and then considering the changes that have taken place over the past 1000 years or so, which we have also reflected upon. The most straightforward prediction may be for one of the best-known features of Chinese—its regionalects.

Chinese Regionalects

The status of Mandarin is expected to consolidate as China’s lingua franca, perhaps at the expense of other regionalects, which may weaken and become more endangered as a result. In Shanghai, for example, the status of the Shanghai dialect of the Wu regionalect may lose much of its prestige and become supplanted by Mandarin more and more in the coming years.1 On the other hand, the Yue regionalect in the form of Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong may be an exception to this generalization. Cantonese is expected to maintain its popularity in Hong Kong, as it is used by over 90% of the population there, and support for Cantonese as the city’s main form of speech remains strong.2

Chinese Writing

The use of Chinese...

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