"Topolect" is spreading in China

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A few days ago, the hashtag #方言怎么翻译 (fāngyán zěnme fānyì ["how to translate 'fangyan']") was trending on Weibo (a Chinese microblogging website) since it appeared in the cet-6 exam (College English Test, a national English examination in the People's Republic of China) that recently ended. It was interesting to see how examinees translated it. For example, "local language, folk language, place's language, regional language, area's language."

Most intriguing is that a considerable number of people are using "topolect" when they try to correct those stumbling translations online, and they gradually realize that fāngyán 方言 is a political term!  This constitutes huge progress from the erstwhile virtually universal mistranslation of fāngyán 方言 as "dialect".

Readers of Language Log will be thoroughly familiar with "topolect", since it is one of our regular categories (see, for example, hereherehereherehere, and especially here).  The latest post dedicated to this subject was "'Topolect' is in China!" (4/14/18).  Judging from its trending on Weibo, it's clear that more and more people in China are familiar with the term "topolect" as a linguistically precise, politically neutral translation of  "fāngyán 方言".

[Thanks to Zeyao Wu]


  1. Robert Sanders said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 6:05 am

    Congratulations Victor!

  2. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 6:10 am

    What's the problem with "local language, place's language, regional language, area's language"?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 7:01 am

    "local language, place's language, regional language, area's language" do not a definition make.

  4. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 12:44 pm

    They don't? How are we defining "topolect"?

  5. cameron said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 12:47 pm

    I don't see why an academic Greek coinage is much of an improvement over "regional language, area language, etc." The technical term "topolect" just further obfuscates that what they're talking about is best translated simply as "language".

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

    We are trying to define "fāngyán 方言" in English.

    "Topolect" means exactly what "fāngyán 方言" means.

  7. cameron said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 7:22 pm

    I get that it's meant as a translation of fāngyán. What I don't see is why it's any better than "local language". Why is a Greek-based translation preferable to a Latin-based one?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 6:21 am

    For the well-documented background of "topolect" as an exact equivalent of fāngyán 方言, read the numerous "here" links in the final paragraph of the o.p., particularly the last one from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed. Please don't repeat what you have already said before informing yourself about the extensive discussion on "topolect" that has been going on for decades.

    The whole point of this post is that English speakers in China are catching on to this usage, so we're way beyond the level of question you keep repeating.

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