Culture >Dialects
Cantonese is the native language of Cantonese people, a tonal language of the Sinitic languages of the Sino-Tibetan language family and one of the seven major Chinese dialects. It is mainly spoken in provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and Hainan, and Hong Kong and Macao. It is also the most widely used language in the Chinese communities around the world. The number of Cantonese speakers worldwide is about 70 million.
23 years on: Death can't do Teresa Teng and her Chinese fans part

oday would have been the 65th birthday of Teresa Teng, or Deng Lijun in Mandarin. Google celebrated the occasion, honoring the Chinese queen of songs, known for her folk and romantic ballads, with a doodle that comes up on the search engine's homepage. As the most popular singer in the 1980s and 1990s, Teng was widely known by the Chinese-speaking world and her sweet voice has captured a whole generation. Born in Taiwan in 1953, Teng's singing talent came to light at the young age of ten. Her rendition of Cai Hong Ling (Picking Red Water Chestnuts) won the first prize at a singing contest organized by the Gold Horse Record Company. Her win heralded the beginning of Teng's singing career, which saw the star releasing eight albums in just two years in the late 1960s. Teng's voice moved audiences in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, French and Malay, as the singer was a polyglot. Teng's sweet image and voice soon thrust her to stardom. She was a superstar in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and beyond the Chinese territories. She won widespread acclaim in Japan, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. During her career peak from 1981 to 1987, her songs dominated the Chinese market and could be heard playing virtually everywhere. Nearly everyone at the time had a tape of her songs, playing hits like Tian Mi Mi (Very sweet) and Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The moon represents my heart) on loop. Teng's presence in the lives of Chinese people was concretized by the saying – "Wherever there are Chinese people, there will be Teng's songs." But all beautiful things must end: Teng died of asthma in Thailand on May 8, 1995, and the tragic news fell like a bombshell on her fans and music lovers. But while Teng was gone, her heritage lived on: even today, 23 years after her death, programs about Teng are still running on television. A museum to commemorate her was established in Taiwan, and she also inspired a theme restaurant in the Chinese capital Beijing. People seem to keep Teng's memory alive in a multitude of ways, and she will always be one of the shining stars in Chinese culture.


By Irene Thompson | Updated July 11, 2013 by Irene Thompson Welcome The Yuè dialects, also known as Cantonese (Guăndōnghuà), are one of the major dialect groups of China. They are spoken by 52 million people in the province of Guăngdōn and in the city of Guăngzhōu (Canton), as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and in expatriate Chinese communities and Chinatowns in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. The total number of Cantonese speakers is estimated at 62 million people (Ethnologue)*. The origins of Cantonese are not known due to absence of reliable historical records, however, it is generally agreed that it had developed linguistics traits that distinguished it from other Chinese dialects by the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). *These numbers may be outdated. Status People’s Republic of China (PRC) In PRC, Cantonese is spoken along with Mandarin. The latter is used as the medium of education and government administration. Because of PRC’s language policies, most people in China today are proficient in Mandarin. As a consequence, Cantonese-Mandarin bilingualism is increasing in Cantonese-speaking provinces of the country. However, Cantonese continues to be the language of everyday communication both inside and outside of the home. It is also used in electronic and print media. Hong Kong and Macau Cantonese is the de facto official spoken variety of Chinese along with English. It is the language of choice for education, business, government, and the media. For instance, Hong Kong’s important and popular film industry is in Cantonese. It is too early to predict the effects of unification on the status of Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau. U.S. Click on the MLA Interactive Language Map to find out where Chinese (all dialects) is spoken in the United States. Dialects Standard Cantonese, also known as Guăngdōn dialect, refers to the most prestigious dialect spoken in Guăngzhōu (Canton), Hong Kong, and Macau.There are numerous other dialects of Cantonese, such as Bobai, Cangwu, Gaolei (Gaoyang), Guangzhou, Guinan, Ping, Qinlian, Siyi (Hoisan, Schleiyip, Seiyap, Taishan, Toisan), Tengxian, Yangjiang, Zhongshan (Ethnologue). Structure Sound system Cantonese is considered to be a conservative dialect, its sound system having preserved the final consonants and tones of the Tang Dynasty literary standard. Syllable structure Syllables in Cantonese consist of an Optional Initial Consonant + Vowel (accompanied by tone) + Optional Final Consonant (/n/, /ŋ/, /m/, /p/, /t/, /k/). In contrast, Mandarin allows only /n/ and /ŋ/ in final position. Vowels The vowel inventory of Cantonese is a matter of some debate among linguists, with the number of phonemes (sounds that distinguish word meaning) differing, depending on the analysis. All vowels are long in final position. The table below shows 7 vowel phonemes. Consonants According to one analysis, Cantonese has 18 consonant phonemes which are given below. Cantonese does not have a contrast between voiceless and voiced consonants such as between /p-b/, /t-d/, /k-g/, /ts-dz/. Instead, there is a contrast between voiceless plain (unaspirated) and voiceless aspirated consonants, e.g., /p-pʰ/, /t-tʰ/, /k-kʰ/, /ts-tsʰ/. Only /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ can appear at the end of syllables Tones Every syllable in Cantonese has a pitch that is an integral part of the pronunciation of that syllable. Pitch distinguishes one syllable from another. Standard Cantonese has six (seven in some analyses) distinct tones: three level and three contour. A level tone is one which remains at approximately the same even pitch over the course of a syllable or a word, while a contour tone is one which shifts from one pitch to another over the course of a syllable or a word. There are several ways to mark tones in Cantonese. Pīnyīn marks tones with numbers corresponding to the tones. Yale Romanization, or Yale Cantonese, widely used in books and dictionaries for Standard Cantonese, especially for language learners, uses diacritics and the letter h to mark tones. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) uses symbols that represent tones. They look like this: ˥ ˦ ˧.

Mandarin or Cantonese? Just what do I study?

If you’ve made a decision to learn Chinese, the next big question is whether to learn Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese. You might be wondering which one of those two will help you most in the future in terms of career prospects. Or which one might be easier to learn. Or did you even realize that there was a difference between them? So let’s look in more detail at some of the key issues you’ll have to take into consideration to help facilitate your decision of whether to learn Cantonese or Mandarin: 1. Facts you should know about the languages before making the decision! You may know that the Chinese language is very diverse… China’s population was estimated by Worldometers at close to 1.4 billion people in 2014, making it home to just over 19% of the world’s population and there are some 56 languages spoken by China’s recognised ethnic groups, according to Wikipedia. However, whilst Hanyu, or Han, is the predominant language and spans eight primary dialect groups, accents and variations in regional dialects differ from each other to such a degree that sometimes even the same language becomes mutually unintelligible. In the past, people were more likely to use their own regional dialects to communicate, and this became a challenge as people from northern areas such as Harbin could not understand people from southern areas such as Guangzhou. To overcome this and other related issues, the Chinese government’s policy has long been to teach the younger generations “standard Mandarin Chinese”, and these days the vast majority of people can usually speak both Mandarin and their own regional dialect fluently. 2. Where are Cantonese and Mandarin spoken in China? Here’s a helpful map showing the main areas where Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken (1) Cantonese is one of the leading regional variations of Chinese The red coloured area shows where Cantonese is predominantly spoken: It is estimated that somewhere between 50-60 million people in the Guangzhou provincial areas, plus Hong Kong and Macau, speak Cantonese (not to mention those in overseas Chinese communities in SE Asia). It’s also the dominant Chinese dialect throughout most overseas Chinese communities in places such as the US, Canada and in European countries. (2) Mandarin Chinese is prevalent And the rest of the country? Did you guess right? That’s it: Mandarin Chinese. Not surprisingly, even though most people speak Mandarin, the words and phrase usage can be influenced by local accents or dialects. Still, you will find that Mandarin spoken in Beijing is not quite the same as in Shanghai—or even Taipei in Taiwan. For example, in Taiwan, “Subway” is: 捷运(jié yùn), while in mainland China it’s: 地铁(dì tiě). This is similar to using “Underground” in British English or “Subway” in American English. However, most native Chinese speakers can understand such differences based on context. Plus, the internet definitely helps. For example, people from the Mainland enjoy watching TV programs from Taiwan, and they are already getting used to Taiwanese accents and speech patterns, and the opposite also holds true. 3. Cantonese (and other dialects) vs Mandarin: what’s the real situation in China? Although each region has its own dialects, Mandarin is widely spoken throughout Mainland China and Taiwan, especially by the younger generations and also for governmental affairs. While it’s easy to find various data on the internet about which part of China speaks which dialect(s), most such data is generic and somewhat outdated. As China’s economy continues to grow, people are always moving throughout the country (e.g. from the countryside to first or second tier cities) due to a variety of reasons, including business, family, house prices, etc. From our observations, “standardized” Mandarin has become dominant throughout China. To give a concrete example, let’s say you work in Shanghai. No matter whether you are holding a business meeting or just walking into a 7-11 convenience store, people will generally expect you to communicate in Mandarin instead of in the local Shanghainese dialect. Given that people are always moving around the country for business or leisure, a standardized language base is, clearly, far more effective. On the other hand, dialects are still used among family members or close friends/colleagues from the same areas. 4. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese: some key differences Listening to people speaking Mandarin and Cantonese can seem as if the languages are totally different—yet they do have many similarities, especially in grammar and characters. Similarities Characters: the characters are the same except for the second character in the above two sentences. Usually, most Chinese characters can be both read by Cantonese and Mandarin speakers although, on occasions, the meaning may be different. Partly similar/different Grammar: the grammar has many similarities and the order of words is also generally the same, but not exactly, for certain expressions. The word order for “I am Norwegian” in Cantonese and Mandarin is the same. Differences Speaking: the speaker of one does not, usually, understand the other as the sounds of Cantonese and Mandarin are totally different. For examples, Cantonese has more tones (7) than Mandarin (4). 5. Coming back to the question: should I learn Cantonese or Mandarin? Cantonese: The Cantonese language/dialect is renowned as being difficult for foreigners to learn. However, with a bit of effort, it can be done and if you wonder: Why should I learn Cantonese? then here are some pointers: Learning Cantonese is a good idea if you are going to work or live in Hong Kong or the nearby Guangzhou province, as many locals (especially the older generations) cannot speak Mandarin well; Cantonese will be helpful for advanced Chinese learners starting to read ancient Chinese poetry, as many words rhyme in Cantonese but not in Mandarin; If you enjoy Cantonese songs or movies, learning Cantonese can help you understand what’s going on, especially given that such things are popular in China and overseas Chinese communities. Alternatively: The chances are that people won’t understand you if you speak Cantonese in the north or north-east regions of the country, as Cantonese is not widely used in those areas; Most Cantonese speakers might be able to teach you some useful phrases but will struggle to explain the grammar systematically or teach you Cantonese pinyin as they probably just picked the language up from parents or friends; I can be relatively difficult to find good Cantonese learning resources, although tools are certainly available, some of which we recommend further below. Mandarin: It appears that most people choose to learn Mandarin, in view of the following: It’s easier to find people to teach you Mandarin, including some of your Chinese friends who have learned “proper Mandarin”, and who may be able to teach you the language step-by-step; More Mandarin learning materials are available from all sorts of sources and at a variety of levels; With the current economic growth of China, it’s likely that Mandarin will be a key language of the future. Alternatively: Knowing how to speak Mandarin is not such a unique skill as compared to in the past, as more and more foreigners live in China and have learned the language; For someone whose English is not their native tongue, it might be better to, firstly, improve their English as more and more Chinese students and business people across the country are learning English. To summarize: some people like the sounds or music or culture of a new language or simply love the challenge of learning how to speak Chinese for their personal benefit. Whether you plan to learn Mandarin of Cantonese, it’s important to determine what your objectives are before you begin. 6. Resources to learn Mandarin/Cantonese Some of the most frequently recommended resources include: Pleco: this resource was the number 1 ranking resource in our survey, and is an integrated Chinese/English dictionary/document reader/flashcard system with full screen handwriting input and live camera-based character look-ups. Skritter is an amazing program suitable for Smartphones or PC’s to help with learning to write Chinese characters. It offers tone practice, stroke-level feedback and audio playback etc. It also even suggests corrections for any mistakes if you make them. Italki: a great platform to help you to find native speakers to practice languages with. For more Chinese learning resources, you can take a look at: How to learn Chinese where you can find many free resources as recommended by more than 60 Chinese learners.

Knowledge Graph

1 Teng's voice moved audiences in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, French and Malay, as the singer was a polyglot.

2 Cantonese, or Standard Cantonese is the dialect of Yue Chinese spoken in the vicinity of Canton in southern China.

3 Cantonese is the traditional prestige dialect of Yue.

4 Cantonese is also one of the most spoken varieties of Chinese among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia (most notably in Vietnam and Malaysia, and to a lesser extent in Singapore and Cambodia) and the predominant variety in the Western world, especially Canada, Australia, Western Europe, and the United States.