Standard Language Variation in Chinese

Some Insights from Both Theory and Practice

  • Sandra Kaltenegger Universität Wien
Keywords: standard language variation, Einbau language, Chinese, Chinese as a foreign language, language attitudes


In the discourse on pluricentricity, standard language variation within the Chinese language has rarely been addressed, even though it is the most widely spoken language in the world and steadily gains in popularity amongst foreign language learners. Chinese exhibits a multitude of (potential) standard varieties, yet it is a prime example of an Einbau language—a language that strives for homogeneity—, which makes research on standard language variation highly challenging and explains the lack of scientific interest until now. This paper proposes a holistic approach to Chinese standard language variation by not only scrutinizing Mandarin but also Cantonese and Hokkien. In a next step, two studies provide a glimpse into the perception of Mandarin pluricentricity in practice. The data reveal that the Mandarin learners who participated in an online questionnaire were more open to the idea of a pluricentric Chinese language than the four Mandarin teachers who were interviewed. Lastly, this paper goes into the reasons for the troublesome process of collecting data on Chinese pluricentricity but also why it is a fruitful endeavor that we need to undertake in order to improve our understanding of Chinese.

Author Biography

Sandra Kaltenegger, Universität Wien

Sandra Kaltenegger holds two bachelor’s degrees in transcultural communication and Finnish studies as well as a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Vienna, Austria. In 2019, she received the advancement award granted by the Wiener Sprachgesellschaft for her master thesis titled Chinese as a Pluricentric Language. Her research focuses on language policy, Mandarin as a foreign language, language attitudes and discourse analysis.