I am fully cognizant of the fact that the proposals set forth in this article have potential political implications. It is for this reason that I wish to state most emphatically that my suggestions apply only to English usage. Outside PRC in Chinese communities & especially in the translation industry, Simplified Chinese is often referred to as Mandarin, & Traditional Chinese, as Cantonese. Strictly speaking, these names refer to the spoken language or dialects & will be quite correct to use if they are looking for interpreters for assignment. If Chinese scholars wish to classify them as fangyan ("topolects"), that is their prerogative, & Western linguists should not interfere. So long as fangyan & "dialect" are decoupled, there is no reason that the proposed English usage should cause any disturbance among speakers of Chinese language(s).
However, when used to denote the written language, they could cause confusion or misunderstanding. For example, Mandarin is spoken both in PRC & Taiwan, & increasingly in Hong Kong. A lot of people in the US Chinese community also speak Mandarin. Of these, over a thousand are North, Central, & South American Indian languages whose speakers number but a few thousand or even just a few hundred. Another five hundred or so languages are spoken by African tribes & nearly five hundred more by the natives of Australia, New Guinea, & the islands of the Pacific. Several hundred others are the by & large poorly studied tongues of scattered groups in Asia (e.g. Siberia, the Himalayan region, etc.) .

Thoughts in language business

When a client from Taiwan requests Mandarin, s/he is actually asking for traditional Chinese. Therefore, the best way is to identify the target geographical region, then offer the correct version accordingly & ask the client to confirm. This way, they will never end up with a wrong version.

The number of different living languages (Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM] yuyan) is variously estimated to be between about 2,111 & 7,111.*2 If we take as a conservative approximation the arithmetic mean of these two figures, we may say that there are roughly 5,111 languages still being spoken in the world today.

This plethora of tongues can be broken down, first, into major "families" (MSM yuxi) that are presumed to have derived from the same "parent" language. Thus we have the Indo-European, Semito-Hamitic, Ural-Altaic, Sino-Tibetan, Dravidian, Malayo-Polynesian, African, American Indian, & other families.If we call Swedish & German or Marathi & Bengali separate languages, then I believe that we have no choice but to refer to Mandarin & Cantonese as two different languages. At the very least, if diplomatic or other considerations prevent us from making such an overt statement, we should refer to the major fangyan as "forms" or "varieties" of Chinese instead of as "dialects". I am making no claim about how the Chinese government or Chinese scholars should classify the a lot of languages & dialects of their country. My only plea is for consistency in English linguistic usage.


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