Chinese-Australian Peter Chen is a keen listener, and his latest research on language use and the Australian population shows that Mandarin is the dominant language of the country.
He is one of the few researchers who has been able to observe the language habits of the Australian public, and in a paper published today in the Journal of Language and Linguistic Inquiry, he estimates that Mandarin accounts for about a third of the total population of Australians.
“We’re seeing Mandarin as a second language, which is really important because it’s an international language, and that means that you can speak to your neighbours and people around you and people who speak a foreign language,” Mr Chen said.
“It means you’re able to communicate with people from different cultures.”
A recent study by Mr Chen and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that Australians spoke Mandarin at a rate of about 20% higher than other Australians.
But how do they do it?
“The way we use our language is much more complicated than people think, and we really need to get into the thinking of what’s going on in our own heads, as well as what we’re doing in the world,” he said.
“If we don’t understand how people talk in our language, we can’t understand why they’re doing it in their language.”
Dr Peter Chen, who has conducted research on the language use of Australian adults, said that Mandarin was more prevalent in the country than in most other countries.
Chinese-Australian Dr Peter Chen has been studying the language of Mandarin Australians, and says it’s more prevalent than other languages in the Australian community.
The language is spoken by about 30% of the population.
In the study, the researchers asked about 20,000 Australians to speak Mandarin, and the majority of them were in their late 20s and early 30s.
Of those, about 25% spoke Mandarin to a large number of friends and family members, and about 15% of them also spoke Mandarin with at least one other person.
One in four of the people surveyed spoke Mandarin as their first language, with another 10% speaking Mandarin with their family and friends.
It’s not just a Chinese-language phenomenon.
Dr Chen said Mandarin was also spoken by people from China, South Africa and India.
‘A global language’The study found that Mandarin language was spoken by nearly half of the general population, and more than 30% said they spoke Mandarin in more than one language.
Some Chinese-Australians who spoke Mandarin were more likely to speak the language to family and work than those who did not.
More than 60% of Mandarin-speaking Australians said they knew someone who spoke the language, compared to just under 30% for English-speaking people.
Mr Chen said it was difficult to understand why people from other cultures were speaking Mandarin to Australians.
“It seems to be a very global language, because Mandarin is spoken everywhere in the globalised world,” Dr Chen told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“[The study] shows that the Chinese-born people from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and China all speak Mandarin to Australian-born Australians.”
Chinese-Australian Dr Peter Cheng, who studies Mandarin-language use in Australia, said he thought Mandarin was the dominant spoken language in the population, but he wanted to understand how it worked in Australia.
Dr Chen said the study had revealed a number of interesting findings.
For example, Chinese-Canadians were more inclined to speak Chinese to friends and relatives, but that was less the case for Chinese-New Zealanders.
People from Taiwan and Singapore were more apt to speak English, with about 10% of Taiwanese speaking English, compared with about 3% of Chinese-Singaporeans.
And when it came to family members speaking Mandarin, Chinese Canadians were more than twice as likely as Chinese-Americans to speak it to their parents and grandparents.
“It’s really interesting to me because Mandarin really has such a huge influence in Australian culture and so much of our everyday life is based on Mandarin, whether it’s food or clothing or where we’re going to eat or how we are going to cook a meal,” Dr Cheng said.
“So, Mandarin is really quite powerful.”
Professor Cheng is a linguistics professor at the Monash University School of English and a visiting professor at RMIT University.