The Linguist

The Linguist 55,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 19 of 35

monks, most famously through the Silk Road. Significant overseas migration waves were seen during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and at the beginning of the 19th century, when Chinese merchants travelled and settled outside. At the same time, workers and labourers went to Southeast Asia to find work, drawn by the opportunities offered by the European colonies there. Truly global migration, however, only began from the mid-19th century. Large-scale migration to Africa, the Americas and Australia, sometimes under conditions of indentured servitude, filled the shortages created by the decline of slavery. The present-day era of Chinese overseas migration began at the end of the 1940s and continues to this day. Despite a ten-year stoppage during Mao's 'Cultural Revolution', secondary migration (i.e. from Southeast Asia to other parts of the world) continued through this period. One important and extremely complex link between Chinese migration and language is the fact that, despite the popular claim that China has had a unified language since the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BC), people from different parts of China still speak languages that are not mutually intelligible. In fact, Emperor Qin Shi Huang only really managed to put a stop to the diversification of the Chinese writing system in the warring regions of China, imposing a unified written script through imperial proclamations. An immediate requirement for a migrant, then, even within Chinese borders, is to learn to understand and speak a different language. A national spoken variety of the Chinese language was only officially promoted during the Republican period (1912-1949). Known as Guoyu, literally National Language, it was based on the northern variety of Chinese, Mandarin, which had become a lingua franca in much of northern and southwestern China and was adopted by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) as the official language for international communication. The republicans who overthrew the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty were dominated by speakers of southern varieties of Chinese, especially Cantonese and Hokkien. But they decided to adopt Mandarin as the national variety and promoted it through the introduction of a phonetic alphabet, Guoyin Zimu ('Alphabet for the National Language'), later known as Bopomofo or Zhuyinfuhao. Until the present-day period, the vast majority of Chinese overseas migrants came from coastal areas and did not speak Mandarin. Nevertheless, bilingualism and even multilingualism in two or more regional varieties of Chinese was not uncommon among people who migrated. Given the long and complex history of Chinese overseas migration, it is very difficult, 20 The Linguist Vol/55 No/5 2016 With so many languages spoken in China, how do people in the Chinese diaspora communicate, asks Li Wei T o say that the Chinese are everywhere is no more a flippant stereotypical claim than a simplistic understatement. Indeed, China has been the single largest provider of migrants across the globe for many centuries. And Chinese-speaking migrants are found in every continent of the world. Yet the historical contexts, causes and motivations for migration vary widely; and the new environments they have found themselves in, the ways they have dealt with the challenges, and their outlooks for the future are extremely diverse. Above all, there are many different languages and language varieties that Chinese migrants speak, and these different languages and linguistic practices are an integral part of Chinese migration and the building of the Chinese diaspora and diasporic identities. Migration has long been a feature of the Chinese people. Within Chinese borders, there has been near constant movement as people flee natural disasters, military conflicts, poverty and oppression, or move for education, training or to seek better lives for themselves. Migration beyond the borders initially involved mainly merchants and Buddhist FEATURES Which Chinese? Which Chinese? © SHUTTERSTOCK

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