Huge language differences exist across the seven main Chinese dialects (Mandarin ¥_, Cantonese ¸f, Hakka «È, Wu §d, Min »Ô, Xiang ´ð and Gan ÆB). These are at least as different as related European languages, English, German and Swedish or French, Italian, and Romanian. The audio taped stories are the first set of scientifically matched natural conversation samples for all seven dialects. Mandarin occupies most of northern and western China, as well as much of Taiwan. But south of the Yangzte, deep geographic and cultural divisions have fostered a proliferation of dialects, as Map 1 shows. Six of the seven main dialects are in the southeast, as shown on Map 2. How much can a Shanghai speaker understand of a Cantonese story? Or a Min speaker understand Hakka? For the first time we can both hear and read, how different -- and similar -- the languages of China really are.
All the speakers describe the same specially made experimental film about some children stealing fruit. The 'Pear Stories' film has sound effects, but no words. Professor Wallace Chafe, of the University of California, designed the film to elicit language samples around the world, including English, German, Greek, Japanese, and a Mayan Indian language.
We can watch the film for ourselves, since Professor Chafe has generously agreed to free reproduction of the film, as well as the printed English stories. These stories have already served as foundation for much progress in understanding spoken and written language. We hope they will they will stimulate a deeper understanding of the Chinese language family.