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The Beijing dialect was adopted as our national language after the Xinhai Revolution, that brought the Kuomintang to power and the establishment of the Republic of China. The adoption of the Beijing dialect was only a narrow victory, with Cantonese a close second – indeed Dr Sun Yet-San himself favoured Cantonese. Thankfully he did not have his wish on this occasion.|
The adoption of Beijing dialect, and the subsequent mandating of its teaching in schools now gives us a national language, but is this really where we want to be? Chinese languages have a basic flaw, caused by their simple pronunciation structure. Listen to people speaking Chinese and you will hear a continuous stream of handshaking back and forth, as the listener confirms with the speaker the specific character that the speaker is referring to. This may add 20% to 30% overhead to a conversation. Contrast that with other languages, such as English, where there are relatively few words where ambiguity is a potential problem.
Granted, the same sounding words for characters with different meanings can be used for fun and games, but communication is what the listener does, and anything that injects ambiguity and uncertainty reduces the effectiveness of communication.
Local languages are an enduring feature of China. These are the languages that are spoken at home and the adoption of Beijing dialect has done little to stop the use local languages. English has become the dominant language used for global communication. Perhaps it is time to drop Beijing dialect and adopt English as our national language. That will provide us with international access and help us to catch up to our Indian neighbours; for it is India that is our major competitive threat.
English is a living language, with words being added to the language as required. By contrast, no new Chinese characters are being added to our language. This causes a problem when new words are required, and we end up with the ridiculous situation of often making Chinese words, using characters that sound like the English word. It would be simpler to adopt English as our national language and leave local languages (including the Beijing dialect) for local people to use, as their preference warrants.