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Bekka Lazo

Waitress/Interpreter, Chinese Buffet

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Are China's linguistic dialects endangered?

In a world of globalization and a growing uniformity of language, are China's native dialects endangered? Mandarin becoming the national standard has definitely improved literacy and communication among Chinas indigenous people, but with 96 different ethnic groups, each having at least a few dialects of it's own, I have to wonder if we aren't overlooking something important.
All Chinese languages use the same form of written characters, which is a true blessing when one is having a hard time, or maybe an impossible time, understanding someone's dialect. But if all Chinese is written the same, how are we to preserve knowledge of the hundreds of individual spoken languages?
The one that has touched me personally is FuZhou's language. My bosses are FuZhounese. Their grandparents are fluent in FuZhou Hua, but only know enough standard Mandarin to get by in a simple conversation. Their parents as well as themselves are fluent in both Mandarin and FuZhou Hua, but their children are only picking up on FuZhou Hua through conversation and are being taught only Mandarin and English. I have to assume that the likelihood of their grandchildren learning all three languages is be pretty slim.
Most people think of a dialect as sort of just an accent, but in Chinese many of these "dialects" are actually completely different languages. I've searched for a FuZhou Hua - English dictionary and found only two FuZhou Hua - Mandarin dictionaries, both of which were published over 30 years ago.
As an American, it's hard to speculate just how much effort the Chinese government is putting into preserving the country's ancient and diverse languages while it is cultivating Mandarin Chinese as the country's national tongue. Is this sense of urgency I feel for the preservation of the Chinese languages of the previous generations founded in fact, or exaggerated, and what can we do from afar to aid in the preservation of these many languages?

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    Mar 10 2012: I have many doubts on Chinese "progress". Progress in China, is about what American NON-unionized workers tolerated in 1900. When feasible I'll pay double or triple for a shirt made by European, Canadian or Union labor. Their policies on the mandirinization of the country are no better. To the Chinese government's virtue, they occasionally support the logical, easy, neutral language, Esperanto, which I support as a second language for Americans, French, Germans, Brazilians etc.