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Difference Between Chinese and Cantonese

chinese-pdChinese vs Cantonese

The Chinese language has a variation of dialects, usually pertaining to regions. Cantonese is one of the major dialects, as well as Mandarin, traditional and simplified for written Chinese.

The most popular, and thus most widely used Chinese dialect within mainland China, is Mandarin. It is also the official language of the republic of China. Among all the dialects, Cantonese and Mandarin cause the most confusion among many people.

Cantonese differs in many ways from its mainland Chinese. Cantonese is the dialect used in the Guangdong province, in mainland China, as well as Macao and Hong Kong. In recent years, due to emigration, Cantonese is the main Chinese dialect used within Chinese communities abroad, for instance, San Francisco, London and other communities.

Both Cantonese and mainland Chinese (Mandarin) are tonal languages, but there are up to nine tones in Cantonese compared to only four in the main Chinese dialect of Mandarin. This makes Cantonese a more difficult dialect to learn.

Cantonese speakers find their dialect more lively, fun to speak and colorful, with an abundance of slung, a unique humor to it, and distinctive culture, which makes it more appealing to new learners. It is more expressive than any other Chinese dialect. However, the mainland Chinese dialect of Mandarin is seen as too formal, mainly used as a tool in government and business.

Although grammatically Cantonese and Chinese dialects share many features, there are still variations, but unlike other Chinese, Cantonese grammar is very logical, and this is one of the easiest features of the dialect. Cantonese also has quite a large number of set expressions and idiomatic ways of how to say some things, which must be grasped to be fully functional with the dialect.

Cantonese and other Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, as far as transparency is concerned. For this fact, they are often considered separate languages, but generally having knowledge of another Chinese dialect eases up the learning process for Cantonese. It becomes easier to tell how certain tones map from one dialect to Cantonese.

While Chinese dialects have a standard in the written form, Cantonese can be written as it is spoken, although it can also be written in standard written Chinese. The majority of the Cantonese-specific characters evolve from an existing Chinese character, and have a similar sound, just adding a ‘mouth’ radical to the left side, but generally, written Cantonese in vernacular is still rare.

Chinese is a collection of dialects, including Cantonese and other dialects.
Cantonese is the second most widely spoken dialect after the main Chinese (Mandarin), which is the official language.
Cantonese is used mainly in Southern China, Hong Kong and Macao, while Chinese (Mandarin) is used mainly in mainland China.
Cantonese is more expressive, and more open to slung than main Chinese, which is seen as too formal.

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  1. The only comment I have is that Cantonese is not a dialect. Like Mandarin, Cantonese is a regional language.

  2. I agree, Cantonese is not a dialect, it is a regional language. Also, the grammar between Mandarin and Cantonese are fairly different. Also there is confusion about what you actually mean when you said “having knowledge of another Chinese dialect eases up the learning process for Cantonese,” languages may be easier to understand if you have a basis in it, but with the languages in China mutually unintelligible, I would bet that knowing French and knowing Hakka would provide the same amount of difficulty in learning Cantonese. The real factors that may contribute to the progress in which a person learns a language lies in age, exposure, motivation, attitude, education, and so on.

    Citations would help to make this a reliable blog as well.

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