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The myth that only one kind of writing is correct is the foundation for all the myths that follow. It starts with early spelling standardization and continues with early usage guides. Its consequences include making enemies of formal and informal writing, and making people think correct writing means one thing – and means a capable and good person. Closer to the truth? Terrible writers can be good people, good writers can be terrible people, and all shared writing includes some fundamental similarities, and some differences. Formal writing fancies nouns more than verbs, for instance, and it likes informational subjects. Informal writing has more equal affection for nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adverbs, and it favors interpersonal subjects.
Chapter 5 begins in 1958 when Chairman Mao Zedong called upon citizens of the People’s Republic to take a “Great Leap” forward in national development, requiring that citizens constantly partake in revolutionary behavior. The policy affected all aspects of life - as grain production quadrupled, so, too, should literacy rates; as steel mills expanded, so, too, should school buildings; and as technology was perfected, so, too, should children’s pronunciation of Putonghua. In an environment where all nonrevolutionary behavior was considered counterrevolutionary or subversive, there was no space for thinking in any language but the national one. Fangyan were exiled with other so-called feudalistic behaviors of the past, destined to fade away, and dangerous to revive. Yet this chapter does not end on a somber note. Rather, the final section draws upon oral histories and strategic readings of official sources to uncover a secret life of fangyan. It shows that the CCP was unsuccessful in ending the dialectical process. Instead, the Party reinforced it, ensuring that the battles over language and identity continue to this day.
Chapter 2 analyses how late-Qing and early-Republican period efforts to construct a Chinese national language shaped debates over the role of fangyan in the modern Chinese nation. As reformers debated how best to modernize their nation through language by drawing upon philological studies of their own and the Western criticisms of Chinese society explored in Chapter 1, two narratives emerged. Some elites proposed that, because fangyan were an indispensable part of the nation, the national language should represent these, their shared, historical core. Others, drawing on the examples of France and Japan, contended that one fangyan should be chosen as a national representative and others should be demoted to variant status. Although in 1925 a language based almost entirely on the phonology of Beijing was chosen as the bedrock of the national language, these failed proposals created a precedent for centering Chinese collective identity on fangyan and, as a result, a basis for envisioning a more heterogeneous notion of national belonging. From local village bureaucrats to textbook producers, fangyan were portrayed as “roots” of a shared past, critical to forming a basis for a shared ethnic and national community.
Chapter 4 examines how the Communist Party co-opted existing narratives about fangyan and the nation for its revolutionary goals from the 1930s through the 1950s. On the one hand, the CCP’s increasingly efficient bureaucracy, buttressed by linguists at the state-sponsored Chinese Academy of Sciences, declared Putonghua the Chinese national language and framed fangyan as obsolete remnants of a past that would naturally disappear on their own. On the other hand, those in theater, radio, and literature proclaimed that fangyan were indispensable to their objective of spreading revolutionary messages. Together, the coexistence of these two narratives shows that despite the CCP’s national language agenda, there were powerful voices declaring that a revolution “from the people” should be presented in the language of those people, i.e., fangyan.
Taking aim at the conventional narrative that standard, national languages transform 'peasants' into citizens, Gina Anne Tam centers the history of the Chinese nation and national identity on fangyan - languages like Shanghainese, Cantonese, and dozens of others that are categorically different from the Chinese national language, Mandarin. She traces how, on the one hand, linguists, policy-makers, bureaucrats and workaday educators framed fangyan as non-standard 'variants' of the Chinese language, subsidiary in symbolic importance to standard Mandarin. She simultaneously highlights, on the other hand, the folksong collectors, playwrights, hip-hop artists and popular protestors who argued that fangyan were more authentic and representative of China's national culture and its history. From the late Qing through the height of the Maoist period, these intertwined visions of the Chinese nation - one spoken in one voice, one spoken in many - interacted and shaped one another, and in the process, shaped the basis for national identity itself.
In the history of Québec, the 1960s are known as the time of the Quiet Revolution. That decade is commonly referred to as a major watershed since it marked the onset of a spectacular economic, social, and cultural recovery of the Francophone (“French Canadian”) population. Previously, and for two centuries, Francophone Québec had been dominated by the British Empire and English Canada. Throughout the period, as a cultural minority, it had borne the brunt of ethnoracial stereotypes and had suffered from discrimination in the workplace. I seek to investigate one dimension of the destigmatizing process that unfolded in the 1960s by focusing on the discursive strategies devised by a group of young leftist intellectuals who argued that Francophone Québec needed a new national language as a condition of its full emancipation. My research focuses on major contradictions that this radical group had to confront: 1) they could have rejected the vernacular, stigmatized language (known as joual) emblematic of the English domination, to adopt the Parisian French and thus become fully part of a great civilization, but by doing so they would have lapsed into another form of colonization since this superior language was considered as foreign and imposed at the expense of “authenticity”; and 2) they could have promoted joual as the authentic language of the nation and worked to free it from stigma, but this would have come at the price of a “parochialization” of Québec culture. I show that these intellectuals failed to invent the collective myths that would have transcended this double bind and other contradictions. Finally, the paper compares Québec to other societies in the New World in order to better highlight the distinctiveness of this case.
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