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Seismic shift in Chinese dialect and Internet addresses

By Dennis Clemente

Two recent “Asian” stories that appeared in two top general market dailies are challenging long-cherished Asian traditions—one about the supposedly dominant Chinese dialect, Mandarin; another about the possible approval of Web addresses expressed in characters other than those of the Roman alphabet.

The New York Times piece, “Mandarin Eclipses Cantonese, Changing the Sound of Chinatown,” October 21, reports: “Cantonese, a dialect from southern China that has dominated the Chinatowns of North America for decades, is being rapidly swept aside by Mandarin, the national language of China and the lingua franca of most of the latest Chinese immigrants.

“The change can be heard in the neighborhood’s lively restaurants and solemn church services, in parks, street markets and language schools. It has been accelerated by Chinese-American parents, including many who speak Cantonese at home, as they press their children to learn Mandarin for the advantages it could bring as China’s influence grows in the world.”

Read more here:

The Wall Street Journal report datelined Seoul, “Web Addresses to Adopt New Alphabets,” October 28, reads: “Leaders of the private body that oversees the basic design of the Internet are expected to decide here Friday to let Web addresses be expressed in characters other than those of the Roman alphabet — an issue for the majority of Internet users who use other alphabets in their native language. Already, portions of a Web address can be written in other languages. But the suffix, such as the “com” after the dot, must be typed in Roman letters.

“The change will allow the suffix — known as a top-level domain — to be expressed in about 16 other alphabets. They include traditional and simplified Chinese characters, Russian Cyrillic, Korean Hangul and Hebrew. Dozens of other alphabets are likely to be added in coming years.

“That means computer users will be able to type or input a full Web address without the need for Roman letters.” as referred to us by colleague, Ruth.

Now let’s see which story ends up with a nod of approval or a howl of protest. From our end, it could make Asian American advertising more interesting.—dennis clemente