Do You Speak Chinese, Mandarin, or Cantonese? An Explanation Based on a Native Chinese Speaker’s Early Experience

Cheng Li

Abstract


This article reports on my early experiences with learning and speaking varieties of Chinese, responding to the curious questions on the power relationship between Mandarin and other dialects in China today. A series of important life events and experiences are presented and discussed with regard to the historical and cultural context within which I learned Mandarin, Cantonese and other dialects at an early age. I argue that different varieties of Chinese are not only integral to Chinese history and culture, but also constituent of my identity as a native Chinese speaker. This study emphasizes that the dominance of Mandarin in contemporary China needs to be discussed under the umbrella of Chinese civilization and in consideration of rural-urban migrants’ benefits.

Keywords: Native Chinese speaker; Mandarin; Cantonese; language policy; dialect


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