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Is it worth it to learn Cantonese or is it a dying language?

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Kobo-Daishi

Good analogy there, actually. Lennon has been dead for over 30 years, yet Christianity is still alive and well.

A better analogy would be that Lennon is about as alive as Christ and John's proclamation that the Beatles are more popular than Jesus (or Christianity according to Google search) is correct.   :)

2choz6w.jpg

 

 

5xss9t.jpg

A Google search for "Beatles" returns 43 million hits to "Christianity"'s 31.5 million hits. A difference of 11.5 million.

Kobo.

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Lu

Number of Google hits is not the same as popularity.

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Demonic_Duck

I'd imagine any site dedicated to either pop music history or entomology name-drops beatles, whereas Christianity is generally only going to be name-dropped on sites about Christianity (and even then, probably not the majority of those... you're much more likely to find God, Jesus, Church, Christ, Christian etc.)

 

Aaanyway, getting way off-topic here.

 

It seems your position is focusing on the fact that, in your opinion, Cantonese will eventually die out. I think if that point comes, it will be enough in the future that we have very little idea what the linguistic landscape will actually look like at that point. As such, I don't think it's particularly relevant to our decisions as people living in 2014, though it seems we're actually in agreement about that.

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trinifinn

I actually have quite strong feelings on this (although my skills are still quite pitiful after 3 courses and 4 years in HK) The 1.3 billion people in China speak a variety of languages (OK dialects if languages need their own army and flag) the same way people do across Europe. Probably stretching the analogy a bit, but English has become the de facto lingua franca across Europe, but people still keep their own identities and languages.

 

Obviously you should consider your objectives, there are valid reasons for only studying Mandarin if you only have time for one language. Mandarin has definite business advantage, but not much use for daily life in HK. But Cantonese dying out is not a good reason at all..

 

Wiki says there are 66 million Cantonese speakers, this includes the most dynamic (and free) segments of Chinese, HK, Guangdong, the traditional overseas diaspora around the world. Cantonese is closer to ancient Chinese, and classical texts, while Mandarin is relatively young, if some historical turns had taken a different direction, who knows Cantonese might be the national language? Or what is now China could have a dozen different languages. Personally in my studies of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese I see more connections to Cantonese (as the borrowing of Chinese language and culture extends way back to ancient times) Triangulation is useful and fun..

 

I started studying Japanese 20 years when it was the up and coming language (maybe people have forgotten/never heard of "Japan as No 1" etc) it was useful but the world has changed radically - and it was fun anyway. Try looking back over the span of a few Chinese generations, how society was massively transformed over and over again, Communist agricultural economy, mass starvation with Great Leap forward, family members killing each other in Cultural Revolution, crash course headlong into capitalism just 30 years ago, all under the same government - can anyone honestly predict what China will look like in 30 years? (30 years ago the USSR ruled over 15 republics and Eastern Europe and seemed all-powerful) Sorry a bit off topic there :)

 

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Kobo-Daishi

can anyone honestly predict what China will look like in 30 years? (30 years ago the USSR ruled over 15 republics and Eastern Europe and seemed all-powerful) Sorry a bit off topic there :)

No, but you can make educated predictions based on current data. Like those megatrend books written by futurists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurists

 

Assuming that a generation is about 25 years and there's 33 years until 2047, that would mean that Cantonese would still be around at least 108 years.

To date I've had direct personal experience of two non-Mandarin dialects/languages: the one spoken in Changzhou, a subset of the Wu family, and Cantonese. In Changzhou, all local adults have it as their first language, yet my 8-year-old nephew refuses to speak it, although he understands it - he talks back in Mandarin. From empirical observation, this looks like a very common phenomenon, and it started sometime around primary one. In the absence of any literature or audio/video entertainment, it's not far fetched to assume that by the time he's a grandfather, everyone around him will be a native speaker of Mandarin. But there are still sixty+ years to go, and a lot could happen/change before then.

Cantonese, in comparison, is in a much, much stronger position, at least in HK.

What Carlo wrote correlates very strongly with my belief that after the 50 years of "hands off" are gone, Cantonese, as well as all the other Chinese dialects/languages/regionolects/topolects, what have you, will be gone.

 

In Changzhou, all local adults have it as their first language

When my parents were growing up in Taishan, there was no free public education. No cars, television, or even paved roads. Not in Taishan at least. If you wanted to go to school, your parents had to fork over money for an education. My mother, being a girl and the youngest in her family, only got an elementary school education. Any money had been spent by the time she came of age. She was basically monolingual in Taishanese the entirety of her life.

My dad was slightly better off, his family was well off by Taishanese standard. Which isn't to say much since it was a poor place to begin with (that's why most of the early Chinatowns were started by Taishanese. they left to make their fortune overseas). And it didn't help that my grandfather had two wives and more than 10 kids. By the time my dad was of age the money had been spent. Though he did learn to speak Cantonese and Mandarin in addition to Taishanese.

People were mainly monolingual. Either in Mandarin (the vast majority of the nation) or in their local "dialect".

In those days, people really didn't move around much, so, all the people they met would have been other speakers of Taishanese. Much as the hukou system kept people in their local dialect area until recent times. Now this has all changed with the economic reforms and people moving to the cities to make a living. This will only accelerate as the government pushes people to move from a rural lifestyle to an urban one. Off of small low producing farms to make way for huge efficient farming corporations.

As Carlo wrote of his 8 year old newphew. He and those of his generation schooled by free public education are bilingual. They speak Mandarin in addition to their local dialect. When the monolinualists have died off how long will the local dialects last?

His nephew only answers questions posed to him in Mandarin even when the question is posed in the Teochew (Chaozhou) dialect. How long will the monolingualists last before they are eventually replaced by the bilingualists, fluent in Mandarin and barely so in their ancestral dialects.

And then they, the bilingualists in their turn, will be replaced by monolingualists speaking only Mandarin? Or maybe bilingualists, but, in Mandarin and English, if they really paid attention in school.

An anecdote. Usually when I meet ethnic Chinese who were born outside of America, I ask how it is for the Chinese in their country of origin. I once met a Taishanese woman from the mainland. I asked her about the TV they watched. She said they had a satellite dish and they would receive Cantonese programming from Hong Kong.

How long will Cantonese programming last in Hong Kong once the 50 years of "hands off" are over? Not because of political intervention, but, because of market forces.

 

Free of the dense Cantonese verbal humor usually associated with Chow’s work—Conquering The Demons is his first all-Mandarin production—these scenes feel like little more than airless segues between big set pieces.

http://www.avclub.com/review/stephen-chow-applies-his-zany-touch-chinese-classi-201841

If you've been studying Cantonese like I have, on and off, for over a decade you'd know that Stephen Chow was famous for making his "mo lei tau" movies. Films that were quintessentially Cantonese in their flavor. A lot of Cantonese wordplay, very zany and low brow humor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Chow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mo_lei_tau

The only movies with full Cantonese transcripts to be found on the Internet are of his "mo lei tau" movies. (That's why I started my YouTube channel Kobo's Cantonese Corner, because of the lack of Cantonese transcripts to be found on the Internet or anywhere. Unfortunately because of a lack of interest...)

"Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is Chow's first all-Mandarin film. It's made $205 million and counting. As much as any Hollywood blockbuster. It was the biggest movie in China last year.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/gallery/china-box-office-2013-top-667128

The latest Captain America has made nearly $100 million in its first three weeks there. That's why Hollywood is tailoring their films to please a Chinese audience.

Usually Chow's films are a big hit mainly in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia where a strong Cantonese prescence is. This time, Journey didn't even make the top ten grossing films in Hong Kong for 2013. I don't even think it was a minor hit when it opened in HK.

What is the likelihood that Chow's next film will be a return to his "mo lei tau" style of film making? Playing for a small Cantonese niche market?

How long will Cantonese media (films, TV, radio, Cantopop, etc.) last once the 50 years are over? The Hong Kong market or the whole of China?

 

My predicted 108 years left for Cantonese is still a long time coming, but, the bigger "megatrend" is already being played out.

Kobo.

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carlo

 

That's why I started my YouTube channel Kobo's Cantonese Corner, because of the lack of Cantonese transcripts to be found on the Internet or anywhere.

Kobo, first let me say thank you, and encourage you to continue. The only reason why I haven't done so before is that... I'm still stuck going through Stephen Chow's movies, one subtitle at a time. In fact, it takes me a long time to get through a scene, because the subtitles are often not 100% accurate, and to get that extra missing word here and there sometimes feels like breaking the Enigma code. I would personally volunteer to pay more taxes to the HK government in exchange for jyutping captions on TV (ok, and public housing for the homeless).

 

 

How long will the monolingualists last before they are eventually replaced by the bilingualists, fluent in Mandarin and barely so in their ancestral dialects.

Admittedly I'm not aware of that many functioning bilingual societies at present, but there are encouraging examples. Wales doesn't look too bad (the first time I drove through Wales I thought my radio was picking up a station somewhere in Estonia). Swiss German is probably a better analogy. I'm sure (no need to look) that other Cantonese threads already mention several other reassuring precedents.
 
Societal and official attitudes can change a lot in 50 years, and while today most people are worried about promoting similarities rather than preserving differences, who knows how things will be after two generations. Of course, it could go either way. For now, I find living in Hong Kong a good reason to try hard to learn Cantonese.... although I could survive without it (No. My body would, but my soul would be poor).

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skylee

Carlo, you and I should meet and we could chat in nothing else but Cantonese. :)

From my observation, instead of turning monolingual, local people here in HK are turning trilingual (Cantonese, English and Putonghua). Younger people who want to have a better life here must speak these three languages. The exceptions are probably people from Mainland China (except 湯唯 of course) who tend to refuse to speak in Cantonese. But this is just my observation in HK.

I was in Taipei last weekend and met some people there who spoke to me in Cantonese when they heard my accent. It was nice. (The same happened when I visited Shanghai and Beijing, which just showed how bad my Putonghua was.)

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hedwards

Cantonese is basically here to stay. Barring the Chinese government deciding to eradicate the language, it's going to be around for quite a while.

 

The situation looks very much like German in parts of the US. My grandfather was a native born American and the last member of my family to immigrate to the US did so around the turn of the 20th century. But, up until the '40s at least, it was possible to conduct all of your business in German and there were tons of native German speakers in the Milwaukee area. Ultimately, it took 2 world wars, the US government banning the language from being taught, and the lumping of all things German in with one of the worst crimes against humanity ever, before that really changed.

 

There's other languages in the US that are still in the position that German was prior to WWII, and I don't see those going away anytime soon either.

 

I think that Skylee is likely correct here, especially since the investment necessary to learn Cantonese in addition to Mandarin is so much less than the effort needed to learn German or Spanish on top of English.

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Silent

 

Cantonese is basically here to stay. Barring the Chinese government deciding to eradicate the language, it's going to be around for quite a while.

 

Without any doubt it will be around for a long time but my impression is it's loosing already quite a bit of it's glamour. In the mainland everybody has to learn mandarin, I've the impression the diaspora is slowly changing over to mandarin too. I think the major chinese language school in town has dropped cantonese from the curriculum a few years ago. And I've read this is happening at more places.

 

The moment (young) people stop learning the language it takes close to 100 years before the language really disappears. So yes, still plenty speakers to practice for the foreseeable future. However I feel this is quite irrelevant for a learner. For a learner there are basicly two considerations for language choice.

- If learning with a certain specific goal, learn the language that suits that goal best. The status of the language is quite irrelevant it might even be a dead language if study of a specific historic era is the goal.

- If you've no specific reason to choose a certain language, the language that expands your base of potential conversation partners most would be best.

 

The second rule applied to the mandarin/cantonese debat favours mandarin as there are more mandarin speakers then cantonese speakers and a big share of the cantonese speakers know (some) mandarin too while the other way around is more rare.

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hedwards

Silent, this would have to be a multigeneration trend, and those are really tough to predict. Cantonese is in a stronger position than Chinese is in the US and yet there's still Chinatowns with their own brand of Chinese that's distinct from any of the ones from China. Considering that no version of Chinese has ever been the official language of the US, it seems to reasonable to me to recognize that these trends are more complicated than mere convenience.

 

It's common for the first generation born in the US to avoid their culture only to have the next generation delve back into it out of curiosity and a sense of place.

 

Anyways, this whole discussion is kind of silly because nobody here is going to live long enough to know the answer.

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Kobo-Daishi
In the mainland everybody has to learn mandarin, I've the impression the diaspora is slowly changing over to mandarin too. I think the major chinese language school in town has dropped cantonese from the curriculum a few years ago. And I've read this is happening at more places.

 

When I was a kid growing up in the greater Los Angeles area, I remember reading my older brothers' university catalogs and seeing courses in Cantonese. Even when my youngest sister went to college she was able to take Cantonese. I've still got her textbook. It was the first volume of the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) course. I even bought the second volume and the accompanying audio for the series. Now the entire series is available for download on the Internet.

 

Nowadays there aren't Cantonese classes to be found at US universities. You'd more likely find Mandarin for native Cantonese speaker courses.

 

Also, Chinatown has changed considerably. The only Cantonese speakers are most likely ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. And I'm amazed that there are quite a lot of Fujianese as well. When I was growing up it was mostly Cantonese with the Taishanese the ones losing out.

 

When I was in elementary school, I was the only Chinese kid. Now I see Chinese from everywhere. From Cuba, from Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Kampuchea (the former Cambodia), Myanmar (the former Burma), South Korea, etc. Along with Taiwan and Hong Kong.

 

I remember once talking to an ethnic Chinese woman from Vietnam about the Chinese schools in Vietnam. She was from Danang, I think. I know it wasn't in Saigon (or now Ho Chi Minh City) where most come from. Somewhere in the middle of Vietnam. She said that the schools when she was growing up offered Mandarin or Cantonese. That must have been more than 30 years since she was in school before the fall of Saigon and the unification of the north and the south. I wonder if the schools still offer Cantonese.

 

Kobo.

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Kobo-Daishi
It's common for the first generation born in the US to avoid their culture only to have the next generation delve back into it out of curiosity and a sense of place.

 

By then it's too late. Especially for the smaller dialects.

 

I was the one who lived the longest with my parents, taking care of them in their old age. So, of my siblings, my Taishanese is the most advanced. Now, I've already started to forget it. The younger generation don't want to have anything to do with the language. And I don't feel qualified to teach it. The ones I'm able to speak it with are my siblings and even they speak English to me more often than Taishanese.

 

And besides there's no place to learn it. No media (unlike Hong Kong Cantonese).

 

Kobo.

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Kobo-Daishi

After 2047, would instruction in Hong Kong schools switch over to Mandarin?

 

Right now Hong Kong schools don't teach Cantonese as a subject, but, I believe instruction is conducted using Cantonese.

 

Will that all change after the 50 years hand off period?

 

Kobo.

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Kobo-Daishi

Kobo, first let me say thank you, and encourage you to continue. The only reason why I haven't done so before is that... I'm still stuck going through Stephen Chow's movies, one subtitle at a time. In fact, it takes me a long time to get through a scene, because the subtitles are often not 100% accurate, and to get that extra missing word here and there sometimes feels like breaking the Enigma code. I would personally volunteer to pay more taxes to the HK government in exchange for jyutping captions on TV

 

 

I'd rather see real Cantonese characters instead of modern standard Chinese subtitles. To each his own.   :)

 

Here's a new video I've just uploaded.

 

I was going to title it "Gwei Lo speaks Cantonese like a native shaming many an ABC, BBC, CBC, DBC...WBC, XBC, YBC, ZBC". That or "Gwei Lo Speaks Cantonese Like A Native Then Meets Tarzan"   :)

 

Kobo.

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carlo

 

From my observation, instead of turning monolingual, local people here in HK are turning trilingual (Cantonese, English and Putonghua).

Yes, with one exception: non-Cantonese speakers don't get any Cantonese instruction. If you're lucky enough to move to HK before say age five, you pick up all three, mainly from cartoons and the playground. If you're only slightly behind schedule, I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to do.

 

Btw, some of the people from mainland China I meet at informal Cantonese study groups here in HK are pretty hard-core about it. It would seem that understanding TV and local entertainment is a big motivating factor, even without more immediate economic incentives.

 

 

I'd rather see real Cantonese characters instead of modern standard Chinese subtitles. To each his own

I'd be ok with either, but I think there's a larger number of non-native speakers in HK who wouldn't know the exact readings of many characters. It's relatively easy to go from one to the other anyway.

 

Here's a new video I've just uploaded.

Great, I'll check it out. Personally I'd vote to change "shaming" into "inspiring". ;)

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Kobo-Daishi
From my observation, instead of turning monolingual, local people here in HK are turning trilingual (Cantonese, English and Putonghua).

 

How do they do it?

 

I could understand picking up Cantonese being raised by Cantonese-speaking parents, living in an environment where Cantonese is the main language, and the mode of instruction is through Cantonese. But how do they learn English and Putonghua?

 

Do Hong Kongers take English classes in school? Putonghua classes?

 

Kobo.

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Kobo-Daishi
Here's a new video I've just uploaded.

 

I was going to title it "Gwei Lo speaks Cantonese like a native shaming many an ABC, BBC, CBC, DBC...WBC, XBC, YBC, ZBC". That or "Gwei Lo Speaks Cantonese Like A Native Then Meets Tarzan"   :)

 

Does anyone know who the actor is or how he acquired his Cantonese?

 

Born and raised in Hong Kong? International school?

 

Went to Hong Kong to learn martial arts and picked it up?

 

Kobo.

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skylee

How do they do it?

 

The HK Government's policy is to have a work force that is biliterate and trilingual.  This is called 兩文三語.  Schools and universities stick to this policy (but some universities stick to one language - English).

http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/edu-system/primary-secondary/applicable-to-primary-secondary/sbss/language-learning-support/featurearticle.html

 

The language education policy of the Government of the HKSAR aims to enable our students to become biliterate and trilingual. We expect that our secondary school graduates will be proficient in writing Chinese and English and able to communicate confidently in Cantonese, English and Putonghua.

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Kobo-Daishi

I'd be ok with either, but I think there's a larger number of non-native speakers in HK who wouldn't know the exact readings of many characters.

 

 

I think Skylee wrote once that she sometimes gets a character's pronunciation wrong when she's reading subtitles as well. Unless she was joking. Sometimes it's hard to tell.  :)

 

That reminds me of an anime I've been watching titled "Chuka Ichiban".

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuka_Ichiban

 

It's a crazy show that's kind of a mix of Iron Chef meets the Qing Dynasty. Ming?

 

2h3oqpi.png

 

When they have Kanji they have the pronunciation written out using the syllabaries. I think Japanese books, magazines, and newspapers do as well. I think it's called rubi.

 

So strange to me.

 

Kobo.

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Lu

Nowadays there aren't Cantonese classes to be found at US universities. You'd more likely find Mandarin for native Cantonese speaker courses.

Really? Up until a few years ago at least, there were Taiwanese classes. I have a hard time believing that Cantonese is not taught when a much smaller dialect is.
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