Monday, August 24, 2015

通用奶茶 We all scream for ice cream!

I wonder if calling it 通用話 or 通用語言 might capture the spirit of the enterprise a little more, and sidestep some of the political friction from nationalist 國語 or classist 普通話 choices. (Great for constructing societies, maybe not so hot in the modern era where we lack consensus on "the nation" or disagree on promoting class conflict as a mode of revolutionary change. ‪#‎politics‬)

Of course, people who use the words 國語 or 普通話 might not see these particular connotations, because the usage of the phrases is so common/widespread 普遍 in their own societies. But upon closer inspection, the current choice of what we call our language does raise an eyebrow.

If we care about 正名 (or the "rectification of names"), then in terms of defining a mission of language and urging its acceptance among populations who do not currently speak it, we should focus on its applicability, utility, and ability to serve as a means of communication—not on its nation-building 建國 character.

We may also prefer using the name of our language to elevate discourse, not as a tool for fighting class battles. "Common," as in "common tongue" in English, has a uniting character, i.e. what we have "in common" with each other. It contrasts with 普通 "common; ordinary; plain; average" which could be interpreted as emphasizing an elite-commoner divide, and in regular usage feels "pedestrian."

華語 is okay too, but it gets into the whole ethnic question of "Who is 華?" Although maybe that's a good thing, because then only 華 people should have to use Mandarin, and you don't get to impose it on other non-華 groups.

So in terms of identifying the purpose of language, while keeping it politically neutral and viable, 通用 seems to deliver the message in a way that more Sinophone communities could swallow. It also doesn't preclude foreigners and/or minorities from learning the language, because it doesn't force any particular appellation or uncomfortable surrender of identity on them if they choose to pick up this dialect.

There doesn't appear to be any ongoing debate about these monikers, but this particular line of thought was sparked while reading about the history of the "construction" of the national language—a language that, at this juncture, is not only for the nation.

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