Anonymous (ulvesang) wrote in linguaphiles,

Anecdote Analysis

A French professional looked at some applicants' passports (for identification), and so realised that they were from the People's Republic of China. After telling them "have your applications ready and everything in the envelope: photos, fee..." he ushered them into his office. As they went in, he replied to something they'd said with "xie xie" and a short sentence in what was obviously Mandarin. The applicants smiled and responded back amusedly.

My question is, then: as it seems everyone studying "Chinese" as a second language learns Standard Mandarin, does it actually function as a proper lingua franca in (mainland) China? This guy is quite an important figure and so I'd doubt that he would make a socially-risky move like that, so he either knew they'd understand or was just ignorant after all. I mean, for example, obviously Cantonese is the main player in Hong Kong and such, but to me at least, automatically speaking (Standard) Mandarin to someone from (mainland) China seems like automatically speaking German to someone from Swizterland-- and if you've ever been to popular, picturesquely-Swiss places like Lausanne or Geneva, you'll notice that that's not always so clever to do... yet we (usually) automatically speak English to Canadians.

So what's the deal here? Would it really be entering a closer sociolinguistic sphere by using (Standard) Mandarin over English with, say, Hakka-speaking Chinese-- or would English and Mandarin have roughly-equal status in this situation?
Tags: chinese

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