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

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Demonic_Duck

Traditional characters vs. simplified characters is a separate issue from Cantonese vs. Mandarin vs. other Chinese languages (when I say "vs." I mean making a comparison, rather than putting them in opposition to each other).

 

Traditional vs. simplified is a question of writing systems not of languages, and basically has nothing to do with the question "is it worth it to learn Cantonese?"

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imron
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.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but your axiom is absolutely false.  I've seen plenty of native speakers who only know Traditional fail to know/divine a Simplified character, and likewise plenty of native speakers who only know Simplified but fail to divine a Traditional character.  For the most part though, once you've learnt one, you'll be able to read most of the other without too much difficulty, and there are only about 500 characters that are radically different between the two sets.

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gato
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.

That's not true, either.  Just look at the ethnic Chinese population of Cantonese heritage in Malaysia, Singapore, and other Southeast Asia countries.  Most are no longer fluent in Cantonese.  There is no reason to believe that ethnic Chinese in Canada, US, or the UK will be better in passing Cantonese to future generations.  .

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Lu

From what I see of Cantonese people in Holland, some find their language very important and are likely to pass it on to their children. Some don't really care about languages in general and are likely to pass on only a little bit, if any, in addition to Dutch. Many will marry non-Cantonese speakers, either Dutch or from other areas of China, and unless they really emphasize learning Cantonese, their children will likely grow up speaking Dutch. I think the next generation is fairly likely to speak less Cantonese than the current, and even the people who will speak it well won't find as many other fluent speakers to have a Cantonese social life with.

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Johnny20270
But problem is Lu, 2nd generation lose interest in their heritage language.

 

I agree with Gato. In London, traditionally "Chinese people" were Cantonese, due to immigration history and the average Joe Bloggs couldn't tell the difference between a mandarin and Cantonese speaker. I know far more Cantonese BBC's than mandarin speakers and almost all can't write characters and they tell me their Cantonese is very chinglish. China town in London used to be prominently Cantonese but is becoming more and more Mandarin speaking due to business. Its causing a bit of a rift between the too by all accounts. 

 

I have similar experience, We had Irish language drilled into us as kids. Every day for 12 or 14 years but practically no-one speaks anymore. Its because its of no "practical use". In fact if we failed Irish we failed the entire school exams. But no job wants it or university degree course asks for it as a requirement, so no-one cared about it There are no decent books, tv shows using it despite the government trying hard but figures show its dying out. My grandmother was a fluent Irish speaker and almost always spoke Irish, my father can communicate with irish people, and I can't remember anything.

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Mckk

It's difficult in general to pass on Cantonese when you've migrated outside of HK, and it seems foreigners are in general uninterested in Cantonese. It's true that if you speak Mandarin and English, you'll be just fine across China, HK, Singapore, Malaysia etc. Mandarin is also comparatively easier than Cantonese - what with only having 4 tones as compared to Cantonese's 6 (or 9, depending on who you ask). And Mandarin's spoken system is essentially the same as its written system - not so with Cantonese. With Cantonese, you're essentially learning 2 language systems, one for spoken and the other for written. If you really wanted to function in HK (which I will assume is the case if anyone was interested in Cantonese), then you're gonna have to learn traditional script, as opposed to China's simplified. Foreigners for simplified script quite difficult enough as it is.

 

However, having said all that, I've had Mandarin speakers tell me you're more likely to find people in HK are able to speak English, but not sufficient Mandarin to actually for the language to be helpful. On top of the severe discrimination between Mainlanders and HKers, I don't really think speaking Mandarin in HK is gonna work in your favour. To survive, English and/or Mandarin in HK is certainly sufficient - but if you wanna immerse and mix with local culture, with or without the existing hostility between the Mainland and HK, learning the actual local language is of course a given that it would be more beneficial for you. Locals are often delighted (in any country) when a foreigner speaks their actual local language. HK would be no exception here. Besides, there's always the chance someone won't actually have sufficient English/Mandarin to communicate with you in HK, whereas if you knew Cantonese there, you're sorted.

 

In short, if you live in HK and plan on staying a long time, or are interested in mixing in the local culture and with its people, then learn Cantonese for sure.

If you're outside of HK, then I think it's more of a personal preference.

If you're talking practicality - eg. which language is more useful generally, then it's definitely Mandarin.

 

Cantonese, however, has a lot of charm that I don't find in Mandarin. For a start, we have such quirky little sayings! :D

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sky788

Cantonese is a popular dialect, it is not dying. But ​Chinese dialects are usually only for the native speakers or other Chinese speakers. Most non-native or non-Chinese speakers study Mandarin. Unless you particularly love the dialect, then you study it, but otherwise, people will agree that the most widely used is Mandarin. But Cantonese is also used in Guangdong, China.

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Flickserve

I don't think Cantonese is dying. But there are changes. Going to Guangzhou recently, I was told there are many non-Cantonese speakers. If, in a big group, there is only one person who can't speak Cantonese, the whole group will switch to Mandarin.

I met a few Mandarin speakers in the finance industry bewailing the fact they cannot improve their Cantonese because at work, people will use either English or Putonghua with them. So the desire to fit in is there. I did recently meet a neighbour who who spoke both Cantonese and Mandarin. She told me she went to England for Uni and work, came to HK and learnt Cantonese on top. I'd say her Cantonese accent is not bad at all.

Cantonese is fashionable amongst the young because, well, it's easier to fit in amongst the peer group. This goes for those who are children of non-cantonese speaking migrants. I think that's pretty understandable.

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LantauLarry

Just my 兩毫子 (you can tell I live in Hong Kong): As a passable Cantonese speaker and mediocre-but-eager Mandarin learner, I find Cantonese to be the more useful of the two when eating in Chinese restaurants outside of Asia. Pull out a few Cantonese words, and often the server's eyes pop out, and get food cooked the real Chinese way, and even get my favorite dishes that aren't on the menu. I've found this to be true in as far flung locations as London, Wiesbaden, and rural Virginia.

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GongdongBostonian

Cantonese is a really rich language, and not likely to "die off". I agree with the comment above where someone said it depends on whom you want to talk with. I don't live in China, but where I am in the U.S. it's the Chinatown language. Everyone behind the counter speaks it for the most part (Boston and New York), so if you want to know what people are "really" saying, you need it. Mandarin is the official language of China so certainly useful. I will eventually learn Mandarin, because of it's use, but there's just something badass and charming to my ear in Cantonese. Plus, I'm learning from vintage books that don't use "simplified" Chinese, so all of the characters I'm learning use the same ones I see on signs in Chinatowns. As I put it, "if you're not in China and want to learn the language of the home team, people who are not moving back and don't speak Mandarin or very good English, you need Cantonese". Plus, nothing is cooler than the "secret handshake" of being able to code-switch to a language nobody thinks you can speak by looking at you. Cheers!

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Zhenxing Lu
On 10/26/2015 at 11:47 PM, Flickserve said:

Going to Guangzhou recently, I was told there are many non-Cantonese speakers. If, in a big group, there is only one person who can't speak Cantonese, the whole group will switch to Mandarin.

完全正确。

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