Protect Beijing's dying dialect, says folk expert

Suggestions from a folk customs expert about protecting Beijing's dialect triggered heated debate yesterday, after he proposed that kindergartens should teach the local lingo.

The Beijing dialect is disappearing, with a decreasing number of people speaking it, said Wan Jianzhong, a scholar at Beijing Normal University and municipal CPPCC member.

Speaking to members of the Beijing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Wan received both support and criticism for his proposals to preserve Beijing dialect.

"Education is a good way to advocate [the dialect] and hand it down through history," he told the Global Times.

Wan suggests that the city's public kindergartens should have dialect classes once a week, and dialect and folk customs courses should be included in compulsory education. College entrance examinations could have questions related to the Beijing dialect, and public media such as television and radio stations can have programs in dialect as well, including the news and weather forecasts, he said.

"With an increasing number of migrants, the city is becoming less Beijing-like. Original residents are relocated and fewer people speak the dialect and live the old lifestyle," he said. Wan believes that to bring back Beijingers' memories and sentimental attachments to their old life and culture, the dialect should be promoted. "I think having dialect classes at kindergartens sounds nice," said Lou Xiaosong, father of a 4-year-old girl and a local resident.

"My daughter usually comes home with a strange accent learnt from her peers. It's not a bad thing, but I'd like to see her stick to the Beijing accent," he said. But having dialect questions in exams is strange and unnecessary, he said, since it's unfair for students from other provinces.

"It's a little depressing to see fewer people around speaking the dialect. But Beijing is a city with diversity, so it should allow more dialects and dialect-speaking people," said Lou.

Wan said that he fears the dialect may become extinct, especially as so many migrants now live in Beijing. The number of migrants reached 7.04 million by 2010, 35.9 percent of the city's population, according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics.

"Beijingers are being non-localized by migrants. They talk to people who speak different dialects and forget to use their own," said Wan. While Putonghua should be advocated among the greater public, local dialects should not be sacrificed, he noted.

Dong Shuren, a retired linguist with Beijing Language and Culture University, has spent 10 years working on a dictionary of Beijing dialect which was published in December.

"I agree Beijing dialect should be protected and handed down throughout history, but not in an everybody-speaking-it way," he said. Some old phrases, common in the past, are no longer useful. These should stay in written records for future research and study only, he explained.

Spoken languages are used in daily communication and they should remain succinct and easy to understand, he said; that's what Putonghua is for.

"Language is one of the vehicles of culture. I'd like to see more campaigns to educate the public on the overall Beijing culture, like the old lifestyles and ways of thinking, not just suggestions about the dialect," said Dong.

Other than educational methods, Wan proposed that the municipal government should work out a local regulation on Beijing dialect protection.

"The old Beijingers should be assigned to siheyuan [courtyard houses] after government relocation, in a cluster so that they can live with more original residents and speak the dialect freely," he said.

But this idea might drive Beijingers and migrants apart, and it's not practical at all, say Dong and residents.

"People from a certain area sticking to their dialect is like putting an obstacle before them, and people from elsewhere," said Beijinger Liang Yanyan.

"People speak dialects to meet social and communication needs, so we'd better leave it to themselves to decide whether to use them or not," said Dong.

Source: Global Times