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Harpoon

Is this true?

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Quest

Formally, they (Cantonese or dialect speakers) write in a closely related language (standard Mandarin) using a semantic script. Informally, they write whatever they want.

Is there a problem?

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beirne
Yes, they're learning another language. See my post above.

My question was whether a native Mandarin speaker feels like they are learning another language when they learn to read and write. I thought the discussion above dealt with Cantonese learning another language.

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Altair
I rarely hear educated adults say "Me and so and so."

I agree, but the majority of speakers probably do use this structure. I was not trying to stress so much that Cantonese and English are in the same situation, but that the situation in Cantonese has parallels in English.

Are you sure the English in Shakespeare's time talked this way instead of in the way that Shakespeare wrote?

More or less yes, although I have oversimplified things. For instance, some of the verb endings I used were current only in southern England. Shakespeare's plays were intended for a popular audience, roughly the same audience as a broadway musical. His language had to reflect popular usage, or his plays would have bombed.

One difference between written Cantonese and English is the ability to carry over grammatical rules into everyday speech. In general the grammatical rules for written English work fine for the spoken language. From what I understand of written Chinese, though, the grammatical rules are based on Mandarin and would not be recommended for spoken Cantonese.

This is indeed a true difference. One thing that softens it, however, is that there is apparently heavy influence in terms of higher-level vocabulary.

I had a native Cantonese speaker tell me once that when he learned to read and write he had to learn to do so in "Mandarin", meaning that he was really reading and writing Mandarin, just pronouncing it in Cantonese. I wonder is a native Mandarin speaker would feel that they are learning another language?

I once had a native Cantonese speaker tell me that when he began to learn Mandarin from friends in the U.S., he was surprised that they talked just the way he wrote. From this, I understood that he saw his education as being monolingual in Cantonese and not has having used written Mandarin.

Perhaps it's too difficult to use western concepts of dialect and language to apply to particularily asian languages - specifically chinese.

I often find it's easier to think that people write in Chinese but they speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

I suspect that this is the real feel people have. For Westerners, it is clear that Mandarin and Cantonese are different languages; but I think for Chinese this was never the case traditionally and even now is treated as a somewhat odd viewpoint.

As for the si/but usage in Cantonese, my first encounter with it (having never read in Cantonese in my life) was the Jackie Chan movie (Who Am I? - or "Ngoh si say?" - in "proper" spoken cantonese, it'd be "ngoh hai bin goh?"

If this is the case with such "basic" words, it must be a little hard to understand any written text read out loud. In school, would you write poetry or perform plays only in "proper Cantonese"? Are most plays translated for performance in Hong Kong, left in Mandarin, or just read with Cantonese pronunciation? Also, is the educational situation in Guangzhou comparable to the one in Hong Kong, or do Cantonese speakers in Guangzhou learn to read only with Mandarin pronunciations?

What do Hong Kong parents read to their children at night? Only stories written in colloquial Cantonese, or also stories that have characters like 是,不,谁,椅子,事情, 在这里,and 我们 in them?

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Quest

Guangzhou is a little different, only Mandarin pronunciations are taught. Mandarin is the main language at school. Anything Cantonese is picked up from parents, friends and society.

What do Hong Kong parents read to their children at night?

They translate what's written into colloquial language.

My question was whether a native Mandarin speaker feels like they are learning another language when they learn to read and write.

No, except slangs and local grammar+vocabs should be avoided in formal writing.

When you have a huge country with so many different dialects/languages, a standard needs to be set. Yes it is unfair to the dialect minorities, but I don't see any better way to deal with the problem.

Luckily, most dialects are very similar to Mandarin, and learning written Chinese requires only minor adjustments. I think some people here exaggerated the differences.

For example, the French and English analogy is very misleading, Cantonese and Mandarin are much more similar than French and English. If I write out Cantonese on paper and avoid using slangs, a Mandarin speaker (maybe trained for a few days for words like 佢,係,唔,边 etc) can probably understand 99% of what I write.

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Harpoon

ahh what's going on?, this topic has so many nuances and no one seems sure what exactly is going on (it is pretty obscure after all) :wink:

Can anyone write a short passage in Chinese (characters and pinyin), where the Mandarin grammar and word choice of the written Chinese conflicts with spoken Cantonese (use romanization for that too), causing a hickup or a stall where the written construction is not directly compatible with the way Cantonese speakers would say it?

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Quest

Altair has given some examples, and it's hard to see the similarities+differences if you dont read characters.

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Harpoon

He has many of his own questions...

but

I write 我們, pronounce it "ngo mun" when I have to read out loud, but use "ngo dei" for normal speech.

So you read differently than you speak? I don't like all this seperation between spoken and written....it seems out of place in modern times.

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Quest
So you read differently than you speak?

Yes, for a non-mandarin dialect speaker, you read differently than you speak.

I don't like all this seperation between spoken and written....it seems out of place in modern times

Well, can you imagine a country with 500 language groups each writing its own documents in its own language. You need a lot of interpreters to handle daily cross-country activities. A standard is necessary in formal writing, so everyone in the country can understand. On your own, you can write Martian, no one cares.

Because of the language similarities and extensive training since young age, reading Mandarin with Cantonese pronunciations is as comprehensible as normal spoken Cantonese. I would think it's the same for other dialects.

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beirne
Luckily' date=' most dialects are very similar to Mandarin, and learning written Chinese requires only minor adjustments. I think some people here exaggerated the differences.

For example, the French and English analogy is very misleading, Cantonese and Mandarin are much more similar than French and English. If I write out Cantonese on paper and avoid using slangs, a Mandarin speaker (maybe trained for a few days for words like 佢,係,唔,边 etc) can probably understand 99% of what I write.[/quote']

Write Cantonese on paper in characters or phonetically? What defines slang here? Is slang words that aren't in the written language or is it a more restrictive definition?

So you read differently than you speak? I don't like all this seperation between spoken and written....it seems out of place in modern times.

I'm going to go out on a limb here with a view from the outside. There are real trade-offs in the writing system of China. China is a huge country with a number of major languages. As Canadians know with French and English and the Americans may discover with English and Spanish, having a multi-lingual country makes government difficult. People are strongly attached to their language and make it part of their identity. This can lead to a number of conflicts, including secession movements like in Quebec. Having one written language that roughly conforms to the various Chinese languages provides some linguistic unity. This is also why the various Chinese languages are referred to as "dialects" even though they are actually different languages. So while the system may or not be a good way to write a language it does have some important benefits for Chinese society.

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beirne
Because of the language similarities and extensive training since young age, reading Mandarin with Cantonese pronunciations is as comprehensible as normal spoken Cantonese.

What happens without the extensive training? If they are so similar why is extensive training needed?

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Quest
Write Cantonese on paper in characters or phonetically? What defines slang here? Is slang words that aren't in the written language or is it a more restrictive definition?

In characters of course, it would take longer training to map out the phonetic similarities.

Slang like 八婆,搵笨,炒鱿,炖冬菇,背脊骨落 etc.

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gato
For example, the French and English analogy is very misleading, Cantonese and Mandarin are much more similar than French and English. If I write out Cantonese on paper and avoid using slangs, a Mandarin speaker (maybe trained for a few days for words like 佢,係,唔,边 etc) can probably understand 99% of what I write.

The distance between Cantonese and Mandarin is probably more like that between Spanish and Portuguese, both Romance languages. I've heard that the Portuguese can understand a lot of spoken Spanish (and even more written) without any formal study. The Spanish seem to have a harder time understanding spoken Portuguese, maybe because Portuguese tends to be more slurred.

It's true, though, English has many "borrowed" words from French, from the days when the Normans used to rule England. Many of the so-called big words in English are originally French.

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gato
In characters of course' date=' it would take longer training to map out the phonetic similarities.

Slang like 八婆,搵笨,炒鱿,炖冬菇,背脊骨落 etc.[/quote']In addition to slangs, there're also other common Mandarin words for which there are no dialect pronunciations. For example, the word/character "玩“ (play) doesn't exist in Shanghainese. The Shanghainese use the word "ba xiang" to mean "play." If you were to write it out, it would have to be two characters, but I don't know if people ever agreed on which two characters to use. In writing, they would write the Mandarin "玩“.

As you move towards more formal vocabulary or words that were created in the last sixty, seventy years (in which Mandarin has been dominant), words used to discuss Marxism, for instance, you'll see that the words used in a dialect are just Mandarin words with a local flavor.

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beirne
The distance between Cantonese and Mandarin is probably more like that between Spanish and Portuguese' date=' both Romance languages. I've heard that the Portuguese can understand a lot of spoken Spanish (and even more written) without any formal study. The Spanish seem to have a harder time understanding spoken Portuguese, maybe because Portuguese tends to be more slurred.

[/quote']

How much do Mandarin and Cantonese speakers understand each other when they talk? How functional is their communication?

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TSkillet
How much do Mandarin and Cantonese speakers understand each other when they talk? How functional is their communication?

It's hard to tell nowadays in China because kids are taught in Mandarin now in school even if they speak cantonese or another dialect outside of school.

I'll use my personal examples - my dad doesn't understand much mandarin at all - he certinaly doesn't speak any . . . I think if it's pretty basic and he knows what the conversation is about he's okay (say, for example - asking for directions).

I am a somewhat Native Cantonese speaker (first language, spoken in the household, but brought up in the US) - and I studied about 2 years of Mandarin at University - plus 7 years of projects working in Taiwan and China has really expanded my usage and vocabulary. When i was first going to Taipei or the Mainland for meetings - I could understand about 60% of the meetings just due to my intial studies in Chinese - and I often found that because i knew a dialect of Chinese already - I could easily make guesses as to what hte conversation was about. And it worked for Shanghainese.

There's a lot of words which are very similar. And there's a lot of sound shifts which are commmon - like words with a "ook" ending in Cantonese (mook - wood, suok - uncle) - change to an "oo" ending in mandarin. (mu, su respectively).

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Jose

The example of Spanish and Portuguese, which gato mentioned, shows that it is a bit simplistic to ask "how easily do they understand each other's language when talking?" to determine how close two languages or dialects are. It is a well-known fact that Portuguese speakers usually say they can understand spoken Spanish without any difficulty. In fact, news programs on Portuguese TV don't even bother to subtitle people speaking in Spanish. On the other hand, Spanish speakers claim to be unable to understand any spoken Portuguese at all, and will say that italian is much more understandable.

In order to determine how close two languages are, I think the basic question to ask is not how easily speakers understand one another when talking, but rather how much of the other language can be learned by applying certain transformation rules. The speaker of Spanish who claims to understand as much spoken Portuguese as Russian or Chinese, can however, learn a few transformation rules (Spanish "-dad" words become "-dade" words in Portuguese, and so on), and (s)he will get 70 or 80 % of Portuguese right. This is of course impossible to do with Russian or Chinese.

I don't know any Cantonese, but from what I've read, and from what TSkillet said, it seems that there are lots of correspondences between the sound patterns in Cantonese and Mandarin syllables. The differences among the Chinese dialects probably tend to be exaggerated in the Western literature on the subject because of the reliance on the flawed 'mutual intelligibility' test.

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beirne
I don't know any Cantonese, but from what I've read, and from what TSkillet said, it seems that there are lots of correspondences between the sound patterns in Cantonese and Mandarin syllables. The differences among the Chinese dialects probably tend to be exaggerated in the Western literature on the subject because of the reliance on the flawed 'mutual intelligibility' test.

Then are Spanish and Portuguese mere dialects of Italian?

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Jose
Then are Spanish and Portuguese mere dialects of Italian?

I'm not sure what you mean, but there is no scientific criterion to determine what degree in linguistic difference is required for two forms of speech to be regarded as separate languages rather than dialects. It is a matter of cultural identity. The romance languages are all similar to a certain extent, but they have developed into different standards, and their speakers feel that they belong to separate cultural units. This is the main difference with the Chinese dialects, I think.

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gato
How much do Mandarin and Cantonese speakers understand each other when they talk? How functional is their communication?

Cantonese speakers seem to have an easier time understanding spoken Mandarin probably because the written language is either entirely Mandarin (in the case of Guangdong province) or closely resembles Mandarin (in the case of HK). But if you try to talk to a native-Cantonese speaker who hasn't learned any Mandarin, he probably would still have a hard time understanding you.

It's much more difficult for a native Mandarin speaker to understand Cantonese. I'm a native Mandarin and Shanghainese speaker, and even after many years of exposure to Cantonese TV/movies and Cantonese spoken in the markets/restaurants, etc, I still understand nearly nothing when I hear people speaking Cantonese. I can recognize some of the words if the Cantonese TV or movie has Chinese subtitles, but if you remove the subtitles, I'm back to understanding nothing. I can understand more spoken French and Spanish than Cantonese, even though I'm hardly fluent in those languages.

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wai ming

Just from my limited personal experience, looking at my friends, I would say that Cantonese speakers seem to have an easier time learning/picking-up Mandarin than vice versa. This isn't to say that they will be able to speak Mandarin perfectly, and it's often obvious from their accent and sometimes-flawed grammar that they aren't native speakers, but as a whole, they seem to make the connection between Cantonese and Mandarin more easily than Mandarin speakers. I'm not sure, however, if that isn't related to exposure - Cantonese speakers in South-East Asia and Hong Kong would have more exposure to Mandarin than most native Mandarin-speakers from mainland China.

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