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A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language

Penguin Special China

A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language by David Moser
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Mandarin, Guoyu or Putonghua? 'Chinese' is a language known by many names, and China is a country home to many languages. Since the turn of the twentieth century linguists and politicians have been on a mission to create a common language for China. From the radical intellectuals of the May Fourth Movement, to leaders such as Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, all fought linguistic wars to push the boundaries of language reform. Now, Internet users take the Chinese language in new and unpredictable directions. David Moser tells the remarkable story of China's language unification agenda and its controversial relationship with modern politics, challenging our conceptions of what it means to speak and be Chinese.

'If you want to know what the language situation of China is on the ground and in the trenches, and you only have time to read one book, this is it. A veritable tour de force, in just a little over a hundred pages, David Moser has filled this brilliant volume with linguistic, political, historical, and cultural data that are both reliable and enlightening. Written with captivating wit and exacting expertise, A Billion Voices is a masterpiece of clear thinking and incisive exposition.' Victor H. Mair, American sinologist, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Columbia History of Chinese Literature

'David Moser explains the complex aspects of Putonghua against the backdrop of history, delivering the information with authority and simplicity in a style accessible both to speakers of Chinese and those who are simply fascinated by the language. All of the questions that people have asked me about Chinese over the years, and more, are answered in this book. The history of Putonghua and the vital importance of creating a common language is a story David Moser brings to life in an enjoyable way.' Laszlo Montgomery, The China History Podcast

'Could it be true that "Chinese" is many languages, in fact? That they differ from one another as much as English, French, and German do? That "Mandarin" is a fairly recent invention? That Chinese people have disagreed, sometimes heatedly, about what the features and uses of Mandarin should be? This witty little book shows that all of this is so. A banquet of history and ethnography is salted with nuance that the author has drawn from several years' work with Central Chinese Television.' - Perry Link, author of An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics

Penguin Books Ltd; May 2016
130 pages; ISBN 9781743771754
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Title: A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language
Author: David Moser