Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

China_Checker

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

Recommended Posts

hedwards

@Kobo, there's presently tens of millions of speakers, languages that are "too late" in that regards are usually the ones that only have a few thousand speakers. What's more, there's a rather significant amount of written and recorded material in Cantonese which isn't something that's typical of languages on the verge of extinction.

 

Those languages are usually ones that don't have a writing system, haven't been recorded much and are already running short enough of native speakers that the language is in stagnation.

 

It's probably possible that Cantonese will die out, but one generation that thinks it's cooler to talk like the more powerful groups represented by Mandarin isn't sufficient to write the language off at some point in the future.

 

@Lu, I suspect that it depends upon politics and region. Taiwan used to be closer to the US politically than the PRC for historical reasons. Although, HK was probably as close as Taiwan, so who knows.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Nathan Mao

The following is an uninformed opinion:

 

The mountains are high and the emperor distant.

Using Cantonese is a form of passive resistance against the oligarchs in Beijing.  From a few of Skylee's previous postings of Cantonese articles (to demonstrate how Cantonese is different from Mandarin even in writing, not just pronunciation), it seems more than a few writers use Cantonese to help veil criticism of the Central Government, and perhaps to even inform and organize protest and resistance.  

 

Such writing is made easier in that Cantonese seems to be very dynamic and slang-oriented.  One likely reason for Cantonese being so dynamic and slang-oriented is that youth are using it.

 

Rule #1 of language acquisition is kids speak what their friends speak.

 

As such, I really don't think Cantonese is dying.  At the very least, it is still far from entering a extinction-oriented death spiral.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Silent

 

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.

Sure this would be a multiple generation effect. The simple fact that a learned language won't just fade away and basicly people have to die for the language skills to die makes it multigenerational. This does not mean that effects can't be noticed in a much shorter term. Of course it's complicated and many processes interact. Surely it's not just convenience, economics and politics are just as important. Without doubt many more factors can be pointed out. Where convenience and economics may be predicted to some extent, politics is less predictable. It's very well conceivable that China gets divided and  Cantonese would become a language with a country and army. that would change the dynamics considerably in favour of Cantonese

 

 

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.

I don't know about the US, but this sounds very odd to me, but behaviour also strongly depends on numbers and motivation to move. With comparatively low numbers the first generation, the ones choosing to move, often stick strongly to their culture, specially when they arrive to work, make money and have in the back of their minds to return home. The second and third generation fall between two societies and struggle with their identity and the generations after tend to be assimilated.

 

With larger numbers people with comparable background tend to stick together and create their own enclaves. They may stick much longer to their ancestral culture and language, may even significantly influence their host society. They may develop an own language based on (their mix of) ancestral languages, the host language and other influential languages.

 

Of course these processes are not fluent and gradual, but happen with struggles and associated ups and downs. But even if a generation neglects the ancestry and a next generation wants to delve back in, this may very well result in a change of language. The distance to their ancestral language may be grown quite big, surely after a few generations. The division mandarin/cantonese (and all the other dialects) is not that important any more, it's all Chinese after all. The availability, what friends study and political/economic consideration may be quite important in the language choice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

I was hoping not to have to link to this, but you guys have forced me to. http://xkcd.com/605/

 

The point here is that a lot of the arguments are being based upon what is really at most about 20 years worth of data. Anybody looking at German in the late '40s would likely have seen a similar situation where the language was at a relative low. Millions of Germans had died in WWII, in the US the language had been banned and there was an unfair association of all things German with the holocaust. But, nearly 70 years later the language is probably thriving more than ever before and obviously going to continue to be a major player.

 

Same goes for Cantonese, it has lost some of its luster following the PRC opening up to the outside world and HK being given back to the PRC, but with the massive amount of movies and TV series in Cantonese, there's likely to always be a subculture of Cantonese speakers out there. I mean, heck, even 1500-500 years after the Roman Empires fell, there's still people that converse in Latin. Granted it's a largely static language, but it's still used by people for communication and people opt to use it despite not having ot.

 

Folks are definitely entitled to their opinions, but it's silly to try and compare a language that presently has tens of millions of native speakers with one that's only got a few hundred and likely to get snuffed out at any point if the next generation isn't interested in preserving it. Maybe Cantonese dies out in a hundred years or maybe it doesn't, but a few anecdotes based upon probably 10-20 years is far from sufficient to predict anything.

@Silent, BTW, you act as if that doesn't happen even with actively used languages. Take a look at American English now versus what it was like in the '70s if you don't see it. One generation is pretty much completely meaningless in terms of these discussions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Silent

 

@Silent, BTW, you act as if that doesn't happen even with actively used languages. Take a look at American English now versus what it was like in the '70s if you don't see it. One generation is pretty much completely meaningless in terms of these discussions.

Sorry, but I'm puzzled about what you mean by 'that'.

 

I haven't made a scientific study of it, but I think the data available is quite a bit more then just a couple of dozen years. I think their is already thousends of years a proces going on in  which smaller languages tend to deminish in strength and die out. It's a quite logical consequence of improved communication, though introduction of agriculture and the related urbanisation may historically have had an opposite/tempering effect. The existence of a tendency does of course not mean that the opposite does not exist. Languages are dynamic and political and economic factors play an important role.

 

I'm not really sure about the situation of German. I've little to no info about German in the 1940's. To me however it sounds odd that German thrives now more then ever. Admittedly I tend to travel now more outside of Europe then within, so my experience may be somewhat biased. I however strongly feel the last 20-30 years german has lost a lot of ground. In the past in touristic area's within Europe German seemed the language of choice. It's still very usefull, however I've the impression the language of choice nowadays is more English then German. Before the iron curtain opened up German was the western language of choice to learn in Eastern Europe. Now it tends to be English though directly neighbouring the German language area German is still important. Despite German being the largest language within the EU (in number of native speakers) and second largest (after English) of total (native + non native) speakers the number of EU documents translated to German is comparatively small. I've understood the Germans have started a campaign to increase the number of EU documents translated to German. To me that does not sound like a thriving language but more like a language that struggles to maintain its position.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

@Silent, the data we have is really just a dozen or so years. If you want, you could probably stretch it to when China opened to the west, but even that's 40 years and barely 2 generations tops. Most of that time Cantonese was the preferred language for commerce there. Linguistically, I'm not sure how much we can really say, Linguists tend to avoid Chinese in general due to perceived difficulties in the language.

 

Last I was in Guangdong and it was literally the only part of China where my Chinese wasn't any good. I ran into more people there that couldn't understand standard Chinese than anywhere else. Literally phrases that had been working for me for months, were completely incomprehensible to the people I was dealing with.

 

It might well be that in Guangzhou and Shenzhen that Cantonese is waning, but what I was seeing in Dongguan wasn't a language in the ICU as some people are suggesting, it's a language that is still vibrant. I've noticed that a lot of the time when people talk about China, they ignore the rural areas and the areas which are cities, but ones that foreigners tend to avoid. The situation outside of those areas is often times in opposition to what's going on there.

 

The point I'm making with German is that languages tend to wax and wane, what looks like a dire situation isn't always dire, it's mostly the smaller languages where there's only a couple million or fewer speakers where you really have to worry. Virtually all the languages that go extinct are ones where there's been a prolong period of decline and for one reason or another it hits a point of no return. Cantonese is unlikely to ever be in that sort of position as there's enough body of work in terms of TV and film where learning the language after it dies is going to be easy enough. And I also expect that it will get a subculture the way that Latin does of people that just enjoy the language.

But, that's just my view on it, without the ability to see what's up in a hundred years, it's going to be really tough to agree on who's right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
imron

I don't know about the US, but this sounds very odd to me,

That's because

 

 

It's common for the first generation born in the US

 

 

the first generation, the ones choosing to move,

 

You're out by a generation, so given your later comments about the later generation, it seems you two actually agree.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

@imron, that probably is the source of confusion there. I had thought that we were mostly agreeing, but I couldn't recall why I thought that.

 

Anyways, I think this whole thing has more or less run its course as far as I'm concerned, I'm sure others still have things to say, but I'm not sure that I've got anything more to contribute. Barring some brilliant insight that settles this, we're just going to have to have faith that this will ultimately settle itself the way these things normally do. Either people continue to value the language enough to keep using it or it winds up living only in collections.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Silent

 

@Silent, the data we have is really just a dozen or so years. If you want, you could probably stretch it to when China opened to the west, but even that's 40 years and barely 2 generations tops. Most of that time Cantonese was the preferred language for commerce there. Linguistically, I'm not sure how much we can really say, Linguists tend to avoid Chinese in general due to perceived difficulties in the language.

If you're talking about hard data, specifically for Cantonese you may be right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
querido

The original question, the old trick question "Have you stopped beating you wife?", and the old riddle "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" all have something in common. Can you figure out what it is? I bet the original poster didn't even notice it.

 

By the way, where is the original poster? A politely worded question, but no thanks for the scintillating analysis?

 

But regardless, we should keep the thread bumped for its trendy juxtaposition of the words "Cantonese" and "dying", as we know that some are delighted to hear it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

@Silent, hard data would make the question easier to answer with better reliability. Right now we only have impressions from people and that can vary a great deal depending upon how the observer treats the language. A longer period of time and more observers would probably make it more reliable. It used to be that British English was the preferred English to learn, but over the last hundred years the American dialect spoken most frequently in North America has greatly increased its influence.

 

One of the things that really holds Chinese back when it comes to non-native speakers learning is that the methods used to teach it are in the stone age compared with many languages that receive more attention from linguists.

 

Anyways, that's definitely off topic, so I'll leave it at that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kobo-Daishi

 

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?

 

 

 

I've since learned that the actor is 河國榮.

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=河國榮

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=%E6%B2%B3%E5%9C%8B%E6%A6%AE&num=100&tbm=isch

 

An Aussie named Gregory Charles Rivers.

 

He's the Cantonese Dashan except he speaks without an accent, so, you wouldn't be able to tell he wasn't a native if you heard him with your eyes closed.

 

Kobo.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
skylee

I can't agree that 河國榮 speaks Cantonese without an accent. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Beardan

Cantonese will never die in Hong Kong. However is the U.S, Australia and England it will fade and in time die out because kids will be learning Mandarin.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kobo-Daishi

I can't agree that 河國榮 speaks Cantonese without an accent. :)

 

Really?

 

I thought his accent was spot on.

 

But then the only Cantonese speakers I meet are ethnic Chinese from Vietnam.

 

And the only 2 Cantonese language dramas I've ever watched through in their entirety have been the two Ariel Lins dubbed into Cantonese, “It Started With A Kiss” and "In Time With You". But that was after having watched the originals in Taiwanese Mandarin several times.

 

So is Gregory Charles Rivers' Cantonese noticeably Aussie-accented?

 

Whenever they've a Vietnamese or Filipino actor playing a Chinese role on American TV I can always tell! Vietnamese! Filipino!

 

Is that so with Cantonese? Does an American speaking Cantonese sound different from an Australian?

 

I can tell an Australian accent from an American one, and from an English one. Not so much a Canadian one, they sound just like us except for a few words.

 

Kobo.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kobo-Daishi

Cantonese will never die in Hong Kong.

 

 

Never?

 

Never say never.

 

I wonder if this is how the Manchu felt after they conquered the entirety of China and then expanded her territories to the farthest extent she had ever reached.

 

Who would have known that after a few short decades they would be out on their ears and the Manchu language near extinction with only about 5 (less?) octogenarians still able to speak the language fluently?

 

This reminds me of the Willow Palisade.

 

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

 

The Willow Palisade was built up to prevent Han Chinese from entering what was originally the Manchu homeland. When the Qing (Manchu) government was on the decline, she was afraid she'd lose Manchuria so open the gates to the Chinese who flooded in.

 

Now, Manchuria is no different from any other part of China. The Manchus are indistinguishable from the Han Chinese. They speak Mandarin and eat the same kinds of food.

 

How, so when 50 years of "hands off" ends for Hong Kong? When the limit on number of mainlanders permitted to visit Hong Kong are lifted?

 

If Hong Kongers feel that there are too many mainlanders visiting the place now, think what it will be when there's no holding them back.

 

Kobo.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

@Kobo, that's somewhat hard to say, but I suspect that it's not possible to tell an Australian speaking Cantonese from a Brit speaking Cantonese as the main difference in spoken language of those dialects is that to Australians, everything is a question. They pretty much always end their sentences with a rising intonation pattern as if unsure of the truth. As far as AU versus US speakers speaking Cantonese goes, I'd be very curious if there's any way of identifying them with the possible exception of word choice based upon natural preferences.

 

In terms of American English, that's a bit of a misnomer as the spoken variety is really more like North American English where the Canadians and the Americans typically speak about the same. At least as far as SAE goes, there's obviously other dialects in use. As far as written language goes, American English is pretty much just America, for some reason the Canadians have chosen not to adopt our spelling simplifications and stick more closely to the British spellings.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
skylee

Would that "some reason" be that Canada is still part of the Commonwealth?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hedwards

Not really, it's pretty much just the British spellings. It's more like they were using British dictionaries and never bothered to change to ones that more accurately reflected their use of the language. But, they stick much more closely to the rest of North America when it comes to the usage of words.

 

If it were a Commonwealth thing you'd expect it to be more than just the spellings.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tommie C.

 

 

 Is there any reason I should continue studying Cantonese or will it be a dead language in a few more years?

 

I've learned both Cantonese and (continue to learn Mandarin): I believe that Cantonese will continue as the original diaspora of Chinese people who migrated from the mainland were largely from HK and Tai Shan. So many communities around the world continue to speak the language. Additionally traditional characters really capture the etymology of the language and if one is learning only Mandarin you are likely to see only the diluted simplified characters. Its a personal preference issue, but I for one, prefer the greater texture of the traditional character (I find traditional characters more helpful in recalling meaning and context).

 

Here's a bit of an axiom that I am working on: One who learns traditional characters will always be able to divine the simplified characters but the reverse is not always true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...