Capital protects local dialect

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Beijing is protecting one of its most significant cultural identities, the Beijing dialect. Many Beijingers are proud of their unique approach to speaking Chinese, as it reflects the unique sense of humor of local people. Today, we meet a man who has been specially chosen to help represent this cultural symbol.

65-year-old Gao Guosen lives in a hutong in the downtown Xuanwumen area, and is proud to be a fifth-generation Beijinger. Because of that, he is in many ways the ideal candidate for a new project: He is now the voice of the standard Beijing dialect for a recording at the Beijing Institute of Linguistics Studies.

"One day I was on a bus, and I heard a non-Beijinger saying "we get off at 'Qianmenr'". Actually, out of all the 'gates' of Beijing, most are pronounced 'men', while only three gates are pronounced as 'menr' in the Beijing dialect. Those are 'dongbianmenr', 'xibianmenr' and 'guangqumenr'," Gao said.

But even Gao, with his many years of experience, is not sure how to pronounce every word. For that, he has sought advice in the hutongs of Dashala, believed to have the largest number of really old Beijingers.

"Such as the word 'earthworm', in standard Chinese it is "Qiuyin", but in Beijing dialect it’s called 'Qushan'. I'd forgotten that until I asked an old Beijinger," he said.

Gao says Beijing these days has a wide variety of dialects, and fewer people are using pure Beijing dialect to communicate. That has made protecting this unique cultural symbol an urgent task.

Xicheng District, where Gao lives, is among the first of 11 districts to join the project, which plans to create a comprehensive dialect database. In this way, the authentic speaking style of Beijingers will never fade away completely.


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