Decades ago, a stroll around Beijing’s hutong would have meant overhearing chatting locals adding “r” to the end of *syllables.
This sound is a major characteristic of the Beijing dialect, except “swallowing” *consonants–just think of “zhuangdianrtai” in Beijing dialect compared to China Central Television in Putonghua, also kown as Modern Standard Mandarin. However, none of these features can be heard that often among today’s Beijing dwellers. A recent report by the Ministry of Education shows that the Beijing dialect is declining among the younger generation.
这种“儿化音”是北京方言的一大特征，除此之外，“吞音”也是北京话的一大显著特点 —— 只要将北京话里的“装垫儿台”和标准普通话里的“中央电视台”相比较，你就能明白了。然而，在现今的北京居民口中，这些北京方言的特点都不如以往那么常见了。教育部近期发布的一份报告显示，在年轻一代中，北京方言正在衰亡。
The news doesn’t come as a surprise though, as previous studies have highlighted the “dialect crisis” in other parts of China as well.
According to the UNESCO *Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, nearly 100 Chinese dialects are on the brink of extinction.
He Hongzhi, of the Beijing Municipal Language Commission, attributes this problem to migration and the promotion of Putonghua.
“With rapid social development over recent years, an increasing number of migrants with different dialects can be found all over China. However, people are encouraged to speak Putonghua between each other, threatening the existence of dialects,” he told Beijing Daily.
Reflection of history
But rather than just letting the problem be, efforts are being made to preserve these local dialects because of the culture *heft they carry.
“For many Chinese who live outside their hometowns, dialect is an important symbol of identity and a constant reminder of where they come from,” commentator Li Yue wrote on Daily Sunshine.
Dialects also reflect history and embody local culture. The Beijing dialect for example, though being a language of the Han ethnic group, shows traces of Mongolian and Manchu languages. Mongolian and Manchu are ethnic groups who had ruled Beijing during the Yuan and Qing dynasties respectively. The Mongolian word hutong and the Manchu word Sachima (a common Chinese pastry) now appear in the Beijing dialect.
To preserve these valuable parts of history, the State Language Commission has maintained databases since 2008 to cover different local dialects, while many areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang province have established museums dedicated to local *lingo. The Beijing municipal education authority, similar to its counterpart in Shanghai, also plans to make the Beijing dialect part of its school-based curriculum.
And it’s not just the government that is making an effort to maintain the country’s waning dialects – an increasing number of individuals are joining in the effort too. Wang Han, a well-known anchor for Hunan TV, has invested several million yuan into the research and protection of Hunan dialects, for example.
But all these efforts are still *insufficient in keeping dialects from fading away, according to Cao Zhiyun, professor of linguistics at Beijing Language and Culture University.
“What we’re doing now are mostly rescue works. A more effective measure to keep them alive could be using elements such as pop songs and the ‘celebrity effect’ to attract the young to use dialects,” he told Xinhua News Agency. “They need to realize that speaking [their local] dialect is something they can be proud of.”