Multilingual China

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That's the title of a new book from Routledge edited by Bob Adamson and Anwei Feng:  Multilingual China:  National, Minority and Foreign Languages (2022).

China is often touted as a nation of linguistic uniformity, when nothing could be further from the truth.  This book is testimony to the astonishing variety of the languages and topolects spoken in the People's Republic of China.

Multilingual China explores the dynamics of multilingualism in one of the most multilingual countries in the world. This edited collection comprises frontline empirical research into a range of important issues that arise from the presence of 55 official ethnic minority groups, plus China’s search to modernize and strengthen the nation’s place in the world order.

Topics focus on the dynamics of national, ethnic minority and foreign languages in use, policy making and education, inside China and beyond. Micro-studies of language contact and variation are included, as are chapters dealing with multilingual media and linguistic landscapes. The book highlights tensions such as threats to the sustainability of weak languages and dialects, the role and status of foreign languages (especially English) and how Chinese can be presented as a viable regional or international language.

Multilingual China will appeal to academics and researchers working in multilingualism and multilingual education, as well as sinologists keen to examine the interplay of languages in this complex multilingual context.

Table of Contents

  • 1 Introduction: Multilingualism in China BOB ADAMSON AND ANWEI FENG
  • 2 Putonghua in the context of multilingual China and the world JEFFREY GIL
  • 3 Multilingualism in urban China: The case of Guangzhou QIYUN ZHU
  • 4 Teaching Chinese as a second language to ethnic minority learners in Hong Kong DANPING WANG
  • 5 Language policies and linguistic ecology in Hong Kong and Macau CHOI TAE-HEE AND VINCENT KAN
  • 6 The linguistic ecology of multilingual education in minority areas of Guizhou SHAN FEIFEI
  • 7 Examining the co-deployment of three languages for the Tujia, the Uyghurs, and the Inner Mongolians ZHANG QI
  • 8 The experiences of Tibetan nomadic children learning Chinese YIXI LAMUCUO AND JEAN CONTEH
  • 9 Multi-model approaches in multilingual education for minorities in China LINDA TSUNG AND LUBEI ZHANG
  • 10 The attitudes of Yi university students in Sichuan to trilingual education JIE LIU AND VIV EDWARDS
  • 11 Towards an empowerment model for multilingual education at minzu universities in China ANWEI FENG AND LIHONG WANG
  • 12 English language teacher training for minority-dominated regions in Xinjiang PING ZHANG AND ANWEI FENG
  • 13 Local knowledge instruction for young ethnic minority learners in Yunnan Province GE WANG, XING TENG AND ZHOU ZHOU
  • 14 The teaching of South and Southeast Asian languages in Yunnan Province YUAN YICHUAN, HE YINHUA, YUAN YUAN AND ZHANG YI
  • 15 The promotion of foreign language education and services for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ CUI XIN AND LIU QUANGUO
  • 16 Foreign language education in ethnic Korean schools in China ZHANG ZHEN’AI, WEN LITING AND LI GUANGHE

If Routledge (or some other press) would publish another book along these lines, I wish that they would bring out a comprehensive, authoritative work that would seriously tackle the problem of fāngyán 方言 ("topolects") in China.  That would include examining them from diverse aspects:  linguistic, historical, comparative, terminological, and so forth.  As I have often lamented, aside from misconceptions concerning the nature and function of Sinographs (hànzì 漢字 ["Chinese characters"]), nothing does more to mystify and becloud our understanding of Chinese and Sinitic languages and scripts than the hugely vexed notion of fāngyán 方言 ("topolects").


Selected readings

etc., etc.


  1. Dwight Williams said,

    January 3, 2022 @ 8:51 am

    Linguistic uniformity seems to be part of Xi's "dream" for Zhongguo/China, doesn't it? Whether it makes sense to actually try to achieve it or not.

  2. AntC said,

    January 3, 2022 @ 4:09 pm

    On the other hand … Taiwan university offers raises to encourage faculty to teach in native tongues "Taiwanese, Hakka, Indigenous tongues, the Matsu dialect, and Taiwan Sign Language, …"

  3. AntC said,

    January 3, 2022 @ 4:17 pm

    "Matsu _dialect_" presumably means fāngyán/topolect. wp says Matsu is a "subdialect" of Fuzhou/Eastern Min — which "is relatively closer to Southern Min or Hokkien than to other Sinitic branches such as Mandarin, Wu Chinese or Hakka, [but] they are still not mutually intelligible."

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