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What Is Mandarin? The Social Project of Language Standardization in Early Republican China

  • Jeffrey Weng (a1)
Abstract

Scholars who study language often see standard or official languages as oppressive, helping the socially advantaged to entrench themselves as elites. This article questions this view by examining the Chinese case, in which early twentieth-century language reformers attempted to remake their society's language situation to further national integration. Classical Chinese, accessible only to a privileged few, was sidelined in favor of Mandarin, a national standard newly created for the many. This article argues that Mandarin's creation reflected an entirely new vision of society. It draws on archival sources on the design and promulgation of Mandarin from the 1910s to the 1930s to discuss how the way the language was standardized reflected the nature of the imagined future society it was meant to serve. Language reform thus represented a radical rethinking of how society should be organized: linguistic modernity was to be a national modernity, in which all the nation's people would have access to the new official language, and thus increased opportunities for advancement.

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