Language Talks: Is Simplified Chinese that Simple?

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Arts and Humanities | Chinese Studies | East Asian Languages and Societies


Richard Bohr, Liberal Studies


China is home to fifty five ethnic minorities. Throughout its long history, communication within the nation has always been problematic. Despite the uniformity in written Chinese, which can be understood by any literary Chinese, Chinese spoken language is very diverse ranging from mutually intelligible to unintelligible among speakers of different dialects. Recognizing this linguistic obstacle, the Chinese communist party initiated a language reform program which aimed to standardize the common language, minimize linguistic miscommunication, and improve the literacy rate by simplifying Chinese characters to make it easier to learn. Language reform is influenced by the utilitarian view regarding language as a practical tool. However, language reform seems to suggest a larger role for language in the development of China as a nation. The ideological view reflects this role of language as a unifying force and a symbol of national identity. Thus, an issue arises questioning: "How can a society seeking to modernize use language to sustain a sense of national identity during a period of deep-rooted political, economic, and social change (modernization)?" It will be shown that during modernization, the ideological view dominates and proves the crucial relation between language and national identity.