Language Log » The ethnopolitics of National Language in China

Victor Mair:

Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), the official language of the People’s Republic of China, is designated in four different ways, depending upon the country in which these terms are used:

Guóyǔ 国语 / 國語 (“National Language”) — Taiwan / ROC

Huáyǔ 华语 / 華語 (“Florescent / ‘Chinese’ Language”) — Singapore

Hànyǔ 汉语 / 漢語 (“Sinitic Language”) — linguists

Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 / 普通話 (“Common Language”) — China / PRC

Although these four designations convey distinct, yet subtle, nuances, linguistically they basically refer to the same language with only minor variations.

In recent years here on Language Log, we have had numerous vigorous debates over the relationship between topolects and “minority” languages on the one hand and MSM on the other hand. These debates have to do with ethnic identity, language preservation, and national unity. By chance, I received from Max Oidtmann an extraordinarily detailed report setting forth his observations made on a recent (late May-early June) study trip to Xinjiang. These included his incisive remarks on the terminology pertaining to MSM in Xinjiang