Concentric circles of language in Beijing, part 2

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From a Penn graduate student who recently returned to his home in Beijing, of which he is a born and bred native:

I'm now back at home in Beijing after a 14-day self-quarantine in Tianjin, which was designated as one of the 12 cities to receive all diverted international flights to Beijing because of imported coronavirus concerns. It was an unforgettable journey and a special experience to get back to China this time. I was surrounded by passengers wearing coverall medical protective suits and had been tested body temperature countless times, which, together with all other temporary measures by no matter travelers, crew members, or customs staff, reminded me of how the ongoing pandemic has changed the world and every single person's life. I have been tested negative for the coronavirus twice as required after I arrived in China, and everything has been going well.

It's very interesting and intriguing to read "Concentric circles of language in Beijing" that you shared with me, especially given that I just came back to Beijing from the US after a two-week tarry in Tianjin. As a Beijinger, I was born and grew up in Beijing until I went to college in Nanjing, and I strongly agree with your opinions and find it very noteworthy and thought-provoking that Pekingese is not only disappearing but also shows a trend of a geographical pattern corresponding with the Beijing ring roads. My general impression of Pekingese was that: 1. People who can speak and understand Pekingese are mostly scattered outside central Beijing and the central business district, and, indeed, only a small proportion of the current Beijing population are capable of speaking Pekingese. Interestingly, my Pekingese improved most when I was in Nanjing, rather than in Beijing, since that was where I got a stronger sense of Beijinger identity and the awareness that Pekingese has been in danger of extinction. 2. The older and the more educated I become, the fewer people who speak Pekingese I could meet in Beijing. I remember that my primary school teachers were mostly "old Beijingers" and had strong Pekingese accents, but at least half of my high school teachers were not Beijingers and spoke various topolects. I could hardly encounter people with Pekingese accents when I worked as an intern in Beijing after I entered college. Thus, I think there is a tendency that Beijing, as a typical migrant city, is losing its topolect Pekingese not only because of the diminution of the population proportion, but also because of the changing social structure in Beijing, when "old Beijingers" who can speak Pekingese are losing central influence in this city with higher-educated, more competitive, higher-income migrants playing more central roles, both geographically and culturally.

I also feel very familiar with the Pekingese accent of this presenter Yuan Tengfei 袁腾飞, who is a typical "old Beijinger" and an influential historian. As he compares Pekingese and Tianjinese, I was reminded of the fairly recognizable accent of people I met in Tianjin. Indeed, although both Tianjinese and Pekingese are northern-China topolects and these two cities are adjacent, I feel like Tianjinese is more popular in Tianjin and well-preserved since most Tianjin people are still using it. Unfortunately, this presenter is not welcomed by the Chinese authorities and has been censored from time to time

The farther Pekingese is pushed from the center of Beijing, the more attenuated it will become as a viable speech community, till a point is reached at which it no longer becomes viable to maintain itself for successive generations.


Selected readings

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