China is without a doubt here to stay in Africa! China clearly has a plan for Africa. The “sinofication” of Africa is currently taking place through immigration, the assertion of soft power and mass investments and goods. However, in many instances, it is not clear that African countries have a plan for China beyond touting the slogan “Africa is open for business.” Therefore, it is necessary for Africa to develop a China specific cultural strategy; this strategy should include a subset of Africans learning Mandarin and Chinese culture in order to better understand the “Chinese way” and use that knowledge to assert Africa’s interests
The cultural integration of Chinese language and culture across Africa will inevitably increase. China’s formal promotion of Mandarin and of Chinese culture and history via the Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms is another example of China’s plan to expand its culture. As pointed out by Prof. Kenneth King, this is possibly the largest language promotion project the world has ever seen, taking place in nine years since the first Confucius Institute was opened in Seoul in November 2004. Yet it is dwarfed by the sheer numbers of students worldwide, who are learning Chinese outside these institutions. China gives generous support to more than 30 Confucius Institutes teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture at many top African universities. China also runs one of the world’s largest short-term training programs, with plans to send about 30,000 Africans to China between 2013 and 2015. In fact, as more Chinese media and service providers (such as Star TV, CCTV) expand into Africa, Mandarin is more likely to become an imperative for Africans to learn.
So then there’s the question of “what’s a language and what’s a dialect?” for which there is no real answer. The Mandarin a person from Xuzhou in Jiangsu
would speak at home is pretty much unintelligible to a Beijinger. They form a continuum where people at the ends can’t understand each other, but from one
town to the next the degree of mutual intelligibility is pretty high, from town to town, all the way to Beijing. For Phonemica, we say that Wu and Mandarin
and Cantonese are all different languages of the same language family, much like Italian and Spanish and French are grouped as Romance languages in Europe. Others might say
that Cantonese and Mandarin are dialects of Chinese. Neither opinion is really wrong, because the language/dialect distinction is entirely arbitrary, and
some scholars may have a broader or narrower focus in making such distinctions.
Again, China is here to stay! Africa needs a plan for China. Certainly, being pro-active with respect to the sinofication of Africa can mean many things. This includes offering Mandarin classes to government officials which for instance the Central Bank of Zambia does. Additionally, there should be an emphasis on the youth. China is one of the very few countries that has increased the number of full scholarships for Africans to study in its universities, with a total of 18,000 students anticipated between 2013 and 2015. Flexibility is necessary for success. As such, African youth should play their cards based on the current geo-political shifts. There are pretty clear benefits in terms of economic interests. Furthermore, there are also benefits for kids as far as science and reasoning if they start learning Chinese early. Let us not forget that there are only 50,000 Mandarin characters so the earlier we start the better!
The answer is different in different places. If we’re just looking at a language like Wu, which is spoken in and around Shanghai, we can see clear changes from one
generation to the next. In many of these places, the generation after today’s children won’t be able to speak the local language. Every day we talk to
people who lament that they can only understand but not speak the language of their parents, or if they speak it, it’s only at the most basic level. These
aren’t small languages either; we’re looking at languages that have tens of millions of speakers. There are languages that are dying out because there are
only 100 speakers, all of whom in their 70′s or 80′s, and there are languages that are dying out with millions of speakers. The reason is fundamentally the same,
though: More and more people are consciously using Mandarin at home.
We don’t often think of China as a country rich in linguistic diversity, but there is a huge number of languages spoken in the country, as well as
dialects. How many are there?