An interesting post on the Language on the Move blog about how the novel coronavirus has led to increased attention to linguistic varieties in China beyond standardized Mandarin (Putonghua). Excerpt:
Up until the outbreak of the coronavirus, Putonghua was conceptualized as capital for improving the labor force and individual employment prospects in China. The language policy “Promoting Putonghua to Eradicate Poverty” has been implemented nationwide in minority-centered remote areas and many Putonghua learning programs have been designed to facilitate access to Putonghua, particularly in China’s peripheral regions.
In short, Putonghua reigned supreme until the virus outbreak. However, the status of other dialects and languages changed almost immediately with the disease.
After the lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei Province, the center of the virus outbreak, the institutions which used to promote Putonghua to eradicate poverty have come to shift their strategy by developing language resources for the learning of non-standard Mandarin varieties. For instance, a bilingual audio-brochure in Putonghua and Hubei Mandarin was produced for medical staff and volunteers recruited to answer emergency calls and inquiries. The brochure provides model conversation between doctors and patients in both varieties. The necessity of speaking and understanding Hubei Mandarin has become more prominent as an increasing number of medical workers and volunteers from other parts of China have headed for Hubei: by February 20, over 60,000 medical workers from 29 provinces of China have been sent to Hubei to fight together with the local medical staff and infected patients.
The shifting linguistic focus from Putonghua to other Chinese varieties not only helps to improve medical care and save lives but also helps to build solidarity with the over 59 million Hubei residents hardest hit by the epidemic. The attempt to improve communication by speaking non-standard Chinese has raised the awareness of Chinese language policy makers regarding the importance of conducting more applied research on language and health communication in real-world contexts.
This content was originally published here.