It feels good to post something about language after all the recent travel entries.
We stayed in Chiang Mai where they are many international visitors who use English as the ‘contact language’. The ISO meetings and conference I attended (The 5th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing – IJCNLP2011) were all in English. My ISO colleagues who are Thai, Indian, Korean and Japanese spoke English with the Thais and each other.
The English used as a ‘contact language’ by non-native speakers in Thailand is ‘Thailish’ in that the primary audience isn’t (always) native speakers. So items such as nouns not agreeing in number are OK.
With the growing prominence of China and, therefore I assume, the influence of Mandarin, I asked my Asian colleagues if they thought they could see a time when they would use Mandarin as a medium rather than English. The answer they gave to me was ‘No’ due the number of, and differences in, Chinese dialects.
I’ve heard it said that there are around 100 regionalects in China. My Open University “L197 Beginners’ Chinese” text-book, however, states “Apart from Mandarin, the other six major varieties of spoken Chinese are Cantonese, Gan, Hakka, Min, Wu and Xiang.” It also lists the major varieties speaker numbers, as of 29th May 2009:
- Mandarin (c. 800 million speakers)
- Cantonese (c. 80 million)
- Wu (c. 75 million)
- Min (c. 50 million)
- Xiang (c. 35 million)
- Hakka (c. 35 million)
- Gan (c. 20 million)