If you ask Chinese who are over 25, what is your mother tongue, those Chinese from the mainland might pop up with the word ‘mandarin’; whereas, I bet the majority of them just like me whose mother tongue is actually the dialects rather than Mandarin.
Mandarin, as a matter of fact, was not a language at all, known as the standard Chinese in China as well. Accordingly, Mandarin is the language based on the Beijing dialect; though some people said it was based on a small town not far away from Beijing. Nevertheless, Mandarin has more commons with the other spoken dialects in northern of China.
Though Mandarin has been developed since the 1900s, dialects were still dominated in China. Until the 1980s, the Chinese government started to promote Mandarin at school, they even put ‘Please speak Mandarin’ in the Constitution of China and encourage people to speak Mandarin in public place.
Dialects in China, far more than just accents. Though dialects from the northern China could be similar, if we speak to locals with, it is still difficult to catch up; while the situation could be more ‘worse’ in the south of China. Cantonese, well-known around the world, developed as another language which is just the dialect in Guangdong province.
I was born and bred in a relatively small, but developed coast city in China; however, my parents cannot even communicate in Mandarin for a longer conversation, not even mention my grandparents. Therefore, my generation grew up with speaking dialects at home and Mandarin at school. I am not the single case, I spent four years with other five girls from different areas of China in the university, and all of us are able to switch the languages depends on whom we are talking to.
However, the younger generation in China seems only to know how to speak Mandarin, meanwhile, they spent a lot of time learning English or other foreign languages. Despite that English is the international communication language and a third language could be a benefit for the future, it is so pathic that the youngers know nothing about their own dialects.
A dialect could carry the local culture, history, tradition and things people won’t realised. Though I know my city was Germany’s colony before the First World War, before I went to the university, I had no idea that the ‘manhole cover’ in my dialect actually is the transliteration of German word ‘gully’.
I bet the similar thing is not only happening in China but all around the world, in every single country. Well, 21st of February is the ‘International Mother Language Day’ proclaimed by UNESCO, try to discover the unexpected of your own dialects, and be proud of it.