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The Taiwan Voice
Rong Cheng Qian, a teacher of Chinese in Taiwan, asks, are the Mandarin spoken on the mainland and the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan the same? In fact, Taiwanese Mandarin is nothing more than accented, just as the people of Guangdong’s Mandarin is accented and the people of Sichuan’s Mandarin is accented. People from Taiwan have their own dialect, so when they speak Mandarin they have an accent. Mainland Chinese call this accent the Taiwan “voice”.
As everyone knows, Taiwan is an island, originally peopled by ethnic minorities whose customs and language were completely different to the Han Chinese. Among the Han Chinese who later settled in Taiwan, most were from the Fujian and Guangdong provinces, the two nearest to Taiwan. If you hear the various Mandarin accents, you will discover that the Taiwanese people’s speaking of Mandarin is most similar to the Guangdong and Fujian people’s speaking of Mandarin. Features of the Taiwanese voice are its comparatively weak retroflex sounds,* a preponderance of expressive modal particles,** and its frequent stressing of the final syllables of a sentence. To a mainlander, Taiwanese women’s spoken Mandarin is especially pleasing to listen to, but Taiwanese men’s spoken Mandarin lacks force.
In the aftermath of the civil war, exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan were rare. Slowly, significant differences in the spheres of politics and culture emerged. As you all know, the greatest difference between the two is in politics. The mainland is socialist and Taiwan is capitalist. Politics effects the way people see things and it also effects language. While mainlanders use the easy to study simplified Chinese characters, Taiwanese still use the older traditional characters. I remember the first time I listened to Taiwanese television, I felt Taiwanese speaking to be somewhat strange. Firstly, their accent is a little different, the clearest example being how “he” (‘and’ -和) has changed to “han” in Taiwan. Taiwanese will say “wo han ni”, not “wo he ni”***. Next, Taiwan people’s use of words is also a little different. Mainland people say “renmin” to describe “the people” whilst Taiwanese people say “minzhong”; mainland people say “youeryuan” to describe a preschool center whilst Taiwanese call it a “youzhiyuan”.
Today, exchanges between the two are growing. Living on the mainland, I can hear voices from Taiwan all the time. The once odd sounding Taiwanese voice no longer sounds odd. In years gone by, mainlanders thought the Taiwanese rich and their voices strong. TV presenters would model themselves on the Taiwanese voice. But now that way of thinking has declined in importance. What is important is that one’s own special characteristics are preserved.
*In Mandarin, zh, ch, sh, r.
** Oh, ah, etc sounds to indicate surprise, sympathy, etc
*** “Me and you”
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