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In Hunan Province, how common in standard Mandarin? Or, more generally, where regional dialects are spoken, how common is Mandarin?

If I were to pass HSK 3 and be fairly competent at that level, would I be able to get by in Hunan Province? I.e. would I likely be able to read signs, menus, speak to random people on the street, etc.? If I understand correctly, everyone is taught standard Mandarin in school, and that it is the standard language everywhere, for example, in University environments.

Does anyone have any references for the regional dialect (Hunanese/Xiang)? I just can't find anything online.

Please let me know if this question is ill-suited for this forum. 谢谢。

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According to some sources citing the Ministry of Education, diffusion of Putonghua (普通话)in the country has reached 70% in 2015.

The biggest issue that you might face in Hunan (and in almost any other province) is not that people would talk to you in dialect, but that they would talk to you in Mandarin with accent.

Hunanese accent has a few distinctive traits, some of which in common with other southern speaks:

zh/ch/sh become z/c/s: 诚 sounds like 层
eng/ong --> en/on: 朋 sounds like 盆
n --> l (el):里 sounds like 你

and as others have pointed out:

h --> f: 湖 sounds like 服

That's not a small hurdle for new learners. How quick you'll get used to it depends mainly on your proficiency level. With an HSK3 you might have some hard time at first. Especially the n --> l change is tough for Mandarin students.

One last note: asking for references to learning resources is somewhat discouraged here as it is difficult to maintain lists and links. I believe that you can find something by querying for 湘语 on Baidu. Good luck!

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    Also hu- and f- blended into one (I think f- dominates nowadays, but if you listen to old recordings e.g. of the chairman himself, he prefers hu- e.g. in 政府); and the lack of r-, usually merged into y-. – Michaelyus Feb 20 '17 at 18:03
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The usual Hunan accent to Mandarin is very distinct and can be hard to understand for non-Hunanese people. My own grandmother, for example, has a heavy Hunan accent when speaking Mandarin, which prevents me from understanding her well.

The typical Hunan Mandarin characteristics are:

  • No distinction between alveolar 平舌 (z/c/s) and retroflex 卷舌 (zh/ch/sh) consonants. This is common among Mandarin speakers south of the Yangtze river, and shouldn't be a big hindrance to comprehension.
  • No distinction between the alveolar 前鼻音 (n) and velar 後鼻音 (ng) nasal consonants.
  • No distinction between the r, n and l.
  • No distinction between f and h. Thus, the sentence 我是湖南人 is pronounced by many Hunanese as wo si fu lan len.
  • Even worse, speakers of some Hunanese dialects do not distinguish between z/c/s, zh/ch/sh and g/k/h. This is actually contrary to general Sinitic historical-phonological rules, and can be very confusing. For example, my own grandmother pronounce the character 穿 as kuan or even kun, which can be hard to understand even for me, a native Mandarin speaker.

PS: all phonetic symbols I used above are Hanyu Pinyin.

  • Thank you, for this is helpful! It's a little disheartening to work so hard at Mandarin only to feel like I still won't be able to communicate with anyone outside of Beijing! – jdods Feb 22 '17 at 11:37
  • @jdods Actually, no need to worry. Not to stereotype, but Hunan people are generally considered as having a exceptionally heavy accent while speaking Mandarin. Should you run into any problems, try sticking to a young (20s) people. The younger generation is usually better at Mandarin and have a clearer enunciation. In most big cities in China, people have a reasonable good grasp of Mandarin. – xuq01 Feb 22 '17 at 19:32
  • Thanks! I will likely be mostly in a university environment. Maybe I would expect it to be less of an issue? – jdods Feb 23 '17 at 0:06
  • @jdods If so, this would not likely be an issue at all. Universities in China host students from all over the country, and most students are able to use Mandarin effectively. By the way, which university are you enrolling in? Either Hunan University or Central South University, I guess? – xuq01 Feb 23 '17 at 1:13
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    @jdods Good luck! Hunan University is a reputable university in China, and therefore students should be pretty good at Mandarin at least. – xuq01 Feb 23 '17 at 2:55

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