Wednesday, July 02, 2008

By Such Means: an Anecdote

From Cosma Schalizi's review of S. Robert Remsey's The Languages of China:
A conference of scholars and politicians met... to decide on a national language for the newly-declared... Republic. Ramsey opens with just that conference, which in real life began on 15 February 1913 in Beijing. It was not a success: the participants lacked linguistic knowledge and worked largely on the basis of political jockeying, the Mandarin-speaking North against the more linguistically diverse, and socially and economically advanced, South. ``As tempters flared, Wang Rongbao, one of the leaders of the Southern faction, happened to use the colloquial Shanghai expression for `rickshaw,' wangbo ts'o. Wang Zhao [a Northern leader] misheard it for the Mandarin curse wángba dàn `son of a bitch' (literally, turtle's egg),' and flew into a rage. He bared his arms and attacked Wang Rongbao, chasing him out of the assembly hall.'' By such means Mandarin was declared the national standard for pronunciation.
I have no idea if this is true or not, but it made me laugh.

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