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Cantonese increasingly bows to Mandarin in HK

Hong Kong--At the age of 10, Hong Kong student Miranda Lam can hold a conversation and write in both English and Mandarin Chinese. But ask her to speak to her grandmother and she shakes her head. “I don't know what she says sometimes,” she says.

Her grandmother speaks Cantonese, Hong Kong's official language. But Miranda's parents — both Cantonese speakers themselves — have chosen to limit the time they speak it at home. Instead, they talk to Miranda mainly in English and Mandarin, to improve her chances of attending an international school.

To linguists, Miranda's struggle to speak her mother tongue is a worrying indication of how Cantonese may be under threat in Hong Kong from the spread of Mandarin, the official language of mainland China. “It is difficult to calculate the timing but in the medium- to long-term, Cantonese is an endangered language” in Hong Kong, said Stephen Matthews, an associate professor in linguistics at the University of Hong Kong.

“It might survive for 50 years or so but after 50 years, it will still exist but it may well be on its way out.” Cantonese is the language of the streets, courts and the Legislative Council in the city of 7.1 million people. Although its written form shares the same roots as Mandarin, it differs in pronunciation and grammar which, according to linguists, makes it a distinct language rather than dialect.

Matthews, who has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years, believes the threat to Cantonese comes from current policies and changing attitudes towards Mandarin, also known as Putonghua, since the territory was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

“Putonghua was pretty much invisible in the early 1990s,” he said. “Before the handover a number of friends and students would say 'I don't want to learn Putonghua. I'm not interested.'”

“But then around the time of the handover they said 'Maybe we should start learning Putonghua.' They were talking about it. Now, of course, everyone is doing it.” Matthews believes one significant factor is that schools have begun switching from Cantonese to Mandarin for the teaching of Chinese literacy, a move that improves students' Mandarin but which appears to have a detrimental effect on their Cantonese.

More than 160 primary schools are currently using Mandarin in Chinese language lessons after a government policy encouraging a switch from Cantonese was introduced in 2003. Then there are the students like Miranda who are sent to international schools. “Their Cantonese is suffering. It is undergoing attrition,” said Matthews, using a technical term for the process by which people lose their native language.

Another factor influencing the shift is the rising flow of mainland visitors, whose numbers have soared since cross-border travel was made easier in recent years. In response, shops, restaurants and hotels are increasing their use of Mandarin.

The move has angered some and earlier this month a group staged a demonstration outside clothing chain Giordano after it began using the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China, rather than the traditional characters understood by Cantonese speakers.

Thomas Lee, professor of linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is less pessimistic and believes Cantonese is “still very much alive.” But he warned it needed to remain in use in mainstream education to avoid becoming marginalized, pointing to the decline of Shanghainese — now reckoned to be spoken by less than 50 percent of people in China's second city — as an example of how dialects and languages can decline in a matter of generations.

June 11, 2012    Mainlander@
Cantonese is actually a bit like the “Ebonics” of Chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. HK’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for Cantonese but its destined to be delusional and short-lived unless Cantonese people can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other Chinese. It has never happened in the last 2000 years though. As a matter of fact, Cantonese area has always been the receiving end of cultural influences from the north. The Cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as Vietnamese, zhuang, Thai, etc) and nonstandard colloquial Chinese spoken by migrant Chinese (such as soldiers and prisoners) from central China when China conquered the northern part of the old Vietnam 2000 yrs ago. Its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the Chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why Cantonese accent sound closer to Vietnamese and Thai than other major Chinese dialects despite Cantonese and Vietnamese being of different language system). They adopt the written form of standard Chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. As a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. Vietnamese used to adopt Chinese characters for writing before the French came.

HK’s success has little to do with the Cantonese language. HK benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. Its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s (war and power change). Most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of Cantonese origin. They brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. The tension between mainland and Taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in HK boom like nothing before. Business just poured in uninvited. It was easy money. HK hardly needed to compete. A very different picture now. The only advantage left for HK is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the British. In terms of human resources, the best brains of Chinese are still in the Changjiang river delta (the Shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from Beijing to Shandong area). Pearl river delta only started to project influence on the Chinese course of civilization after the British took HK and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of Cantonese origin. That says much about the worth of Cantonese pride.
June 13, 2012    mike_t_sun@
Mainlander@ wrote:
Cantonese is actually a bit like the “Ebonics” of Chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. HK’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for Cantonese but its destined to be delusional and short-lived unless Cantonese people can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other Chinese. It has never happened in the last 2000 years though. As a matter of fact, Cantonese area has always been the receiving end of cultural influences from the north. The Cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as Vietnamese, zhuang, Thai, etc) and nonstandard colloquial Chinese spoken by migrant Chinese (such as soldiers and prisoners) from central China when China conquered the northern part of the old Vietnam 2000 yrs ago. Its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the Chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why Cantonese accent sound closer to Vietnamese and Thai than other major Chinese dialects despite Cantonese and Vietnamese being of different language system). They adopt the written form of standard Chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. As a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. Vietnamese used to adopt Chinese characters for writing before the French came.

HK’s success has little to do with the Cantonese language. HK benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. Its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s (war and power change). Most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of Cantonese origin. They brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. The tension between mainland and Taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in HK boom like nothing before. Business just poured in uninvited. It was easy money. HK hardly needed to compete. A very different picture now. The only advantage left for HK is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the British. In terms of human resources, the best brains of Chinese are still in the Changjiang river delta (the Shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from Beijing to Shandong area). Pearl river delta only started to project influence on the Chinese course of civilization after the British took HK and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of Cantonese origin. That says much about the worth of Cantonese pride.
Regarding post above from Manlander@. Eventhough your comment is well expressed, it only further proof that mainland Chinese have huge "Napoleon" issue. Issue which they feel people are always look down at them. The only way to make themselves feel better is to exaggerate their self worth and put down others. It is same as Korean telling Chinese they are the first to develop soy bean milk, tofu, etc (biggest lie). Do not for one second think China's fortune is only due to mainland Chinese. Part of the rise of China is built on the entrepreneurs from Taiwan and Hong Kong and the capital they brought over to develop/invest. China would be like India without support of both Countries. How do you have Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, which employs one million mainland Chinese? This is not saying China's rise is without the hard work and intelligence of Chinese people. But, please give credit where credit is due. Even though you are not gracious by nature, do not put others down just to make yourself feel better. BTW, I am not from HK.
June 13, 2012    Chowboy@
Mainlander@ wrote:
Cantonese is actually a bit like the “Ebonics” of Chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. HK’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for Cantonese but its destined to be delusional and short-lived unless Cantonese people can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other Chinese. It has never happened in the last 2000 years though. As a matter of fact, Cantonese area has always been the receiving end of cultural influences from the north. The Cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as Vietnamese, zhuang, Thai, etc) and nonstandard colloquial Chinese spoken by migrant Chinese (such as soldiers and prisoners) from central China when China conquered the northern part of the old Vietnam 2000 yrs ago. Its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the Chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why Cantonese accent sound closer to Vietnamese and Thai than other major Chinese dialects despite Cantonese and Vietnamese being of different language system). They adopt the written form of standard Chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. As a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. Vietnamese used to adopt Chinese characters for writing before the French came.

HK’s success has little to do with the Cantonese language. HK benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. Its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s (war and power change). Most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of Cantonese origin. They brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. The tension between mainland and Taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in HK boom like nothing before. Business just poured in uninvited. It was easy money. HK hardly needed to compete. A very different picture now. The only advantage left for HK is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the British. In terms of human resources, the best brains of Chinese are still in the Changjiang river delta (the Shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from Beijing to Shandong area). Pearl river delta only started to project influence on the Chinese course of civilization after the British took HK and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of Cantonese origin. That says much about the worth of Cantonese pride.
Sounds like we have a Cantonese-hater here. Where is the evidence to back your claim that Cantonese is developed from other tribes?
Trying to "harmonize" Cantonese people are we?

Well it won't work.
June 14, 2012    miller.henry641@
Mainlander@ wrote:
Cantonese is actually a bit like the “Ebonics” of Chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. HK’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for Cantonese but its destined to be delusional and short-lived unless Cantonese people can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other Chinese. It has never happened in the last 2000 years though. As a matter of fact, Cantonese area has always been the receiving end of cultural influences from the north. The Cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as Vietnamese, zhuang, Thai, etc) and nonstandard colloquial Chinese spoken by migrant Chinese (such as soldiers and prisoners) from central China when China conquered the northern part of the old Vietnam 2000 yrs ago. Its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the Chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why Cantonese accent sound closer to Vietnamese and Thai than other major Chinese dialects despite Cantonese and Vietnamese being of different language system). They adopt the written form of standard Chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. As a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. Vietnamese used to adopt Chinese characters for writing before the French came.

HK’s success has little to do with the Cantonese language. HK benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. Its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s (war and power change). Most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of Cantonese origin. They brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. The tension between mainland and Taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in HK boom like nothing before. Business just poured in uninvited. It was easy money. HK hardly needed to compete. A very different picture now. The only advantage left for HK is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the British. In terms of human resources, the best brains of Chinese are still in the Changjiang river delta (the Shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from Beijing to Shandong area). Pearl river delta only started to project influence on the Chinese course of civilization after the British took HK and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of Cantonese origin. That says much about the worth of Cantonese pride.
Good post.
Unfortunate that your historical facts and excellent logic will be attacked as irrelevant by those with a bias against reading a comment such as this.

And, of course, the success of HK is due, in no small measure, to its being a Crown Colony for so many years.
June 17, 2012    CristobalAleman@
Mainlander@ wrote:
Cantonese is actually a bit like the “Ebonics” of Chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. HK’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for Cantonese but its destined to be delusional and short-lived unless Cantonese people can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other Chinese. It has never happened in the last 2000 years though. As a matter of fact, Cantonese area has always been the receiving end of cultural influences from the north. The Cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as Vietnamese, zhuang, Thai, etc) and nonstandard colloquial Chinese spoken by migrant Chinese (such as soldiers and prisoners) from central China when China conquered the northern part of the old Vietnam 2000 yrs ago. Its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the Chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why Cantonese accent sound closer to Vietnamese and Thai than other major Chinese dialects despite Cantonese and Vietnamese being of different language system). They adopt the written form of standard Chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. As a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. Vietnamese used to adopt Chinese characters for writing before the French came.

HK’s success has little to do with the Cantonese language. HK benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. Its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s (war and power change). Most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of Cantonese origin. They brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. The tension between mainland and Taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in HK boom like nothing before. Business just poured in uninvited. It was easy money. HK hardly needed to compete. A very different picture now. The only advantage left for HK is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the British. In terms of human resources, the best brains of Chinese are still in the Changjiang river delta (the Shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from Beijing to Shandong area). Pearl river delta only started to project influence on the Chinese course of civilization after the British took HK and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of Cantonese origin. That says much about the worth of Cantonese pride.
Mandarin is a bit like the "slave" of Chinese language and has a horrible and depressing history. It's the result of influence and imposed by Manchus when they conquered China, it was already influenced by many other tribes that conquered northern China (Khitan, Jurchen, Jin, Northern Wei). The modern pronunciation of standard Mandarin was derived from Manchus, not because Han Chinese wanted to speak but because they had no choice but to speak it.

As always Mainland Chinese always talk about so much crap from their despicable mouths. CHINA citizens forget all the things they benefited from Hong Kong donations and trade. During the cultural revolution from 1949-1976 China which cost 70 million lives, Hong Kong was helping China but Chinese. All those countless donations HK made to China.

CHINA PRIDE

1. Fake products

2. Poison drinks and foods

3. No freedom, No human rights
July 7, 2012    huattk@
Cantonese speakers might wander in here and take offense by the comments that came from "mainlander", especially his racist "ebonic" reference.

What I then found is, this poster evidently ran a keyword search online and attacked various forums and websites that deals with HKers' distaste against China's linguistic tyranny. I ran a Google search for one of his many scathing remarks: "HK's success has little to do with the Cantonese language", and was duly taken on a globe-trotting trip to many other websites.

What I found out is this. Here he might call himself "mainlander" with small "m", but on a forum that he posted, he goes by "go for aesthetic appeal". (Kindly fast forward to page 6.)

http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/read.php?1,97273

Now, I won't pretend to understand the motive behind his inane dribble, and his fascination with "beautiful northern Chinese stock" (it's painfully clear that the man has never heard of the plastic surgery craze in the north). But if I had to put a finger to it, I'd say his frustration probably stems from a childhood bereft of the enjoyment of HK funny movies, due to a lack of basic Cantonese comprehension. And as such, the humor of Stephen Chow absolutely escapes him.

However, speaking as one whose lineage is from Fuzhou, which is right next door to Guangdong, I place great emphasis on maintaining my dialect. I may speak fluent Mandarin, but I see it as no better from Hokkien. And less so than Cantonese, whose language has indeed seen progress in the last 20 years.

That is, unless, you're a strictly Mandarin speaker, an outsider who's never come into contact with other dialects. As such you don't follow the state of Cantonese development enough to see how it's been pushing forward.

Cantonese, like Japanese, can freely incorporate English words and be used without confusing the listeners. That is the hallmark of a modern, progressive language. Words like computer, file, RAM, HDD, Google. These are English words that should be picked up in a snap, and be used from the word go, because they're just too simple. In Cantonese, computer can be uttered as "computah" or 電腦 (electronic brain). But in Mandarin it's ?子?算机 or more commonly shortened to ?算机. To my mind, a ?算机 is a calculator.

So I'm sorry, mainlander. I don't know your agenda for coming on the web to 唱衰 (a Cantonese word recently adopted by Mandarin speakers to mean "belittle") a whole people's language, but you're dismissing the fact that Cantonese, and indeed, Chinese dialects, have gained a momentum that cannot be stopped on account of your personal bias, and your windbag long rants.

Viva la resistance!
March 12, 2013    tiggertoy@
I hate feeding the trolls, but sometimes, their rants do show us what happens when we embrace the negative side of cultural pride. I think peeps like mainlander had forgotten why China became so weak WWII and a bit prior. It is because Chinese people were like a "pan of loose sand". We didn't stick up for each other. We are constantly consumed with who's better amongst our neighbors, then the cities, then the provinces.

I grew up in HK and I think HK worked out so well was because the different clans were all cramped up in a few square miles under foreign rule and HAD to learn to work with each other. Of course the clans will have cultural differences and things that each of them could be proud of. But if we keep this 'tude up of who's better and not really just try to appreciate and cleverly take advantage of our differences then we will be a bitch to 'em foreigners again.

Incidentally, when I was attending school during the 60's and 70's, I was told that when I wrote in Chinese I was not to wring in "slangs". The teachers didn't say specifically we were writing in Cantonese when we wrote something in our dialect, just that they were slangs and not proper writing. I had always thought that we (Mandarin and Cantonese speakers) all wrote the same because at the time I wouldn't dream of writing in slangs for it was bad form. (I mean, classmates might have written like that to each other for a laugh) So I got confused in the 90's when someone asked me on a plane from HK if what I was reading was in Cantonese. I have always thought that we were at least united by one writing and I sure hope that is still the case. I do have a hard time with reading simplified Chinese. When I first came upon it, it felt like someone had ripped out the heart of the words I was proud of mastering the strokes of as a kid. It is what one is used to and I will have to adjust.
January 4, 2014    cristobalaleman@

Guangzhou was one of the top 3 world cities in `19th century and before that it was a trading port in Tang dynasty and Song dynasty.


Where as the capital of northern China was being conquered by invaders non-stop for more than 1000 years.
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 Analysts downbeat despite exports, imports rise 
In this Aug. 1, 2010 file photo, a man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese, the main language used in the city, as he attends a Hong Kong rally to help stop Mandarin being promoted to the detriment of Cantonese in mainland China. Cantonese is the language of the streets, courts and the Legislative Council in the city of 7.1 million people.

(AFP)

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