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.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
By Such Means: an Anecdote
From Cosma Schalizi's review of S. Robert Remsey's The Languages of China: