Author: thestud

Changing China: the evolving Chinese dialects [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2004-9-28 15:31:57 |Display all floors

Cantonese standard

While there are many dialects within Yue Yu inside Guangdong
province, the variant spoken in Guangzhou and Hongkong has
been the standard for more than a hundred years.  It is the urban
and "intellectual" language, and all city dwellers and intellectuals
are expected to know it.  Anyone who does not know it is a "country-
bumpkin" speaking merely xiangxiahua.

It is uniform in HK, GZ and Macau.  At least I cannot detect any
perceptible difference.

Songs in Cantonese was mentioned.  There is a rather peculiar
property of (standard) Cantonese in connection with songs.  The
dialect has 9 tones but 3 are rusheng with the same tonal value,
and so it effectively has 6 distinct musical tonal values.  In singing,
the music is always exactly the same as the tonal values of the

If you forget the words, but hear the music, the tones of the music
will remind you what the words are.  Similarly, if you remember
the words, just pronouncing them will remind you what the music
is.  I do not know of any other language where this is the case.
Even within the Chinese dialects, there must be only very few with
this property, possibly some of the Guangdong dialects like Hakka.
I know definitely that Mandarin does not have this property.

Certain Chinese songs were originally written in Mandarin or some
other dialects.  If Cantonese people attempt to sing it in Cantonese,
they know immediately that it is not a native Cantonese song, because
the tonal values of the words do not agree with the music tonal values.
Thus, no one would sing the China national anthem in Cantonese,
it sounds very unnatural.

I have not seen any research as to whether ancient Chinese language
had this property.  It was said to have 4 tones, and 4 tones are probably
not enough to cover the spectrum of music tonal values.  The language
spoken during Tang dynasty is said to be very similar to modern
Cantonese.  If Tang is sufficiently similar to have this music-words
isomorphism, then the Tang "Ci", which was set to music that was
lost, may well be reconstructable if one knows the tonal values of
those words in the particular "Ci".  I do not know of any research to
recover the tonal values of the tones of ancient Chinese, without
which (and confirmation that Tang had this music-words similarity)
there is no hope of reconstructing the "Ci" music.

Big changes to the Chinese language occurred during Song and
Yuan, and all rusheng were lost.  Presumably the Song Ci and
Yuan Qu will not be reconstructable using this speculative method.


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Post time 2004-10-15 01:09:04 |Display all floors

Thank you wingcng...

... for your enlightening contribution!

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Post time 2004-10-20 00:42:42 |Display all floors

Discussion board devoted to Wuyu 清籁吴语论坛


Multi-language dialect maps can be found here (清籁方言地图册):

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Post time 2004-10-20 14:04:07 |Display all floors

The subdialect map of Wu Chinese


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Post time 2004-10-20 15:27:12 |Display all floors

Population breakdown of Wu speakers


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Post time 2004-10-21 00:29:17 |Display all floors

Dialect map of the Han Chinese


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Post time 2004-10-21 00:32:13 |Display all floors

Pronounciation Keys for some Wu Chinese subdialects

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