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The Rivalry of the Mandarin and Cantonese Dialects
Home Reference & Education Language
By: Charlene Lacandazo Email Article
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There are two main spoken styles of the Chinese language: those are the Mandarin and the Cantonese dialects. Mandarin is officially used in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore; however, Cantonese is more dominant in Guangzhou province and officially spoken in Hong Kong.

Cantonese or Standard Cantonese is a dialect widely spoken in Guangzhou (which literally means Canton) and Hong Kong. Although Cantonese shares most the same vocabulary with Mandarin, these two Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible. In addition, there are quite a few large differences between these languages, from vocabulary to grammar, to sentence structure, and to pronunciation.

So, why has Cantonese become an Independent language?

There are numerous regional spoken Chinese dialects, but all of these are mutually unintelligible. Although China has promoted Mandarin as an official language for education and communication, there are still some Chinese provinces that uses the Cantonese dialect as the means for government communication and in media.

If Cantonese is an important language, why has it not gained international status in the world?
Some of the earliest relationships between the Chinese and Western worlds were developed in Guangdong province. Later on, Cantonese became dominant among Chinese languages used overseas, and also standardized in Hong Kong.

A lot of people cannot properly evaluate the importance of the Cantonese language both in Chinese history and in global markets. The same reasons why some of the Chinese dialects such as Shanghainese or Sichuanese did not gain any popularity even from the early times in China may actually also account for Cantonese.

As a matter of fact, many Chinese immigrants in the U.S nowadays are native Cantonese speakers; thus, there are probably more Westerners that are exposed to Cantonese than any other Chinese dialect.

It is clear that there is something of a rivalry between Mandarin and Cantonese. We all know that Mandarin is the most influential Chinese dialect, while Cantonese is the second most influential; and that Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. However, Cantonese has a long history, and thus, has been important in Chinese history and Chinese education.

But, which is more difficult to learn, Mandarin or Cantonese?

Both of these Chinese dialects pose difficulties and complexities to non-native Chinese speakers, and thus, learning either of these dialects is complex and need a sufficient and efficient learning process. Most English speakers who have learned both of these Chinese dialects believe that Cantonese is the more difficult Chinese dialect to learn and to understand.

Charlene Lacandazo works for Rosetta Translation, a leading translation agency in Shanghai, specialising in professional Chinese translations and interpreting services in Shanghai.

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