Chinese dialects, Hanyu fangyan 汉语方言, topolects, regionalects

Chinese Dialects/Dialects of Chinese: Lack of Standard English Terminology in Chinese Linguistics

Mannoni Michele


Chinese dialects, Hanyu fangyan 汉语方言, topolects, regionalects
Fangyan 方言 are usually referred to as “Chinese dialects”, a phrase generally intended as “dialect of Chinese” and thus “varieties of Chinese”. This has been leading a number of specialists and non-specialists alike to treat the Chinese language as a special language, including in it imaginary and not mutually intelligible varieties such as the so called Yue dialect, the Southern Min, the Wu, and even Old Chinese, Classical Chinese, Middle Chinese and Vernacular Chinese. To face this synonymy, unnecessary new translations such as “topolects” and “regionalects” have also been suggested by important scholars such as Mair and Defrancis, respectively. This paper aims at reaching the goal of a standardised terminology among Chinese linguists by underlining the meaning of the words «fangyan 方言», «dialect», «language», «variety», and «accent» with reference to the Chinese world, and demonstrates how “groups” such as the Southern Min, the Wu, and the Yue are not dialect nor groups, but branches of languages, containing languages not to be referred to as Chinese dialects / dialects of Chinese in English.
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