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Polyhistor

Are there differences between books written in Mandarin versus Cantonese or another language?

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Polyhistor

I know that for the most part the characters are all the same, with a few notable exceptions, but if the author of a book is a Hong Konger who speaks Cantonese, is that going to be noticeable to somebody as they read the book? Will there be any little grammatical idiosyncrasies or idiomatic expressions that are native to Cantonese that might throw off a Mandarin-only speaker? Different meanings to some characters than you'd expect if it were written by a Beijinger? 

 

I find the experience of reading 金庸 to be quite different from reading 王度庐, for instance. Could some of that difficulty stem from the fact that the former was writing for a Cantonese audience?

 

What about Hokkien, Shanghainese, Wu and all the others? I remember reading about a relatively recent novel that was written in Shanghainese and released to some success. Would a Mandarin speaker find any difficulty in trying to read such the novel? I'm afraid I can't recall the title off hand. 

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Lu
56 minutes ago, Polyhistor said:

I know that for the most part the characters are all the same, with a few notable exceptions, but if the author of a book is a Hong Konger who speaks Cantonese, is that going to be noticeable to somebody as they read the book? Will there be any little grammatical idiosyncrasies or idiomatic expressions that are native to Cantonese that might throw off a Mandarin-only speaker? Different meanings to some characters than you'd expect if it were written by a Beijinger?

Generally, no, unless the author does it on purpose.

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PerpetualChange

There are a good deal of variant characters in my HK-published copy of a Gu Long novel. 

 

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calibre2001

There is diglossia is in the Chinese languages. Written Chinese is written Chinese and spoken is spoken. I would think of the former as a collection of Chinese speech & vocabulary spanning across all dialects with the northern variant being more dominant. Over time and  in different location there’ve been different types of 白話 and all this contributed to the written language. 

 

Here’s a Qing era Malay language learning book for Chinese speakers. Somewhere in the preface which is written in old Chinese, it mentions the Chinese character transliteration of Malay words are based on 漳州 & 泉州 speech I.e. 閩南語. An interesting way to learn Hokkien!

https://www.speakhokkien.org/hua-i-thong-gu

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anonymoose

Books tend not to be written in Cantonese or any other dialect.

 

Books, whether they are published in Hong Kong or any other region of China, will be written in standard written Chinese. This is based on Mandarin. Therefore, reading a printed book with Cantonese pronunciation will not be real spoken Cantonese. Nevertheless, this is how Cantonese speakers, as far as I know, read, if they are reading aloud.

 

The situation for other dialects is a little different. Because they are mostly on the mainland, and most literate mainlanders are proficient in Mandarin, they will just read in Mandarin rather than their local dialect.

 

3 hours ago, Polyhistor said:

Will there be any little grammatical idiosyncrasies or idiomatic expressions that are native to Cantonese that might throw off a Mandarin-only speaker?

 

Yes, but the book will still be written in standard Chinese. This is analogous to books written in English, where some words might be dialectal or regional depending on where the author is from. That doesn't change the fact that the book is written in English.

 

3 hours ago, Polyhistor said:

I remember reading about a relatively recent novel that was written in Shanghainese and released to some success.

 

I'm not aware of such a novel. You may be correct. Nevertheless, this is exceedingly rare. Even in Shanghai, you would be hard pressed to find anything printed in Shanghainese (apart from books specifically for learning Shanghainese, which are still written in standard written Chinese as their main language).

 

I know there are some informal publications in Cantonese in Hong Kong. These will, however, be unintelligible to non-Cantonese chinese speakers.

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Demonic_Duck
7 minutes ago, anonymoose said:

Books, whether they are published in Hong Kong or any other region of China, will be written in standard written Chinese.

 

Makes sense for non-fiction or narrative, but what about dialog?

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anonymoose
21 minutes ago, Demonic_Duck said:

Makes sense for non-fiction or narrative, but what about dialog?

 

I'm not sure but I'd be surprised if it's anything other than standard Chinese with perhaps a few dialect words just to make it feel regional. I mean, why would someone go to the trouble of writing a book in standard Chinese and then writing dialogue in another language only to alienate the majority of the potential readership? Again, I suspect it's analogous to books in English. If there's dialogue by a foreigner, they might throw in the odd "mamma mia" or the like, but the majority of the dialogue will still be in English.

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Jim

I've translated several works of fiction where the dialogue is attempting to reflect non-standard vernacular and it's been a range from  just occasionally chucking in the odd dialect word for colour, as mentioned, to noticeably different syntax and so forth though still not the full thing so as to be accessible to a wider readership. 

Puts me a bit in mind of James Kelman's superb How Late It Was, How Late which he wrote as a stream of consciousness in the protagonist's Glaswegian vernacular. It won the Booker Prize but as I recall one of the judges resigned in protest.

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Dawei3

Wikipeida has a good discussion of written Cantonese and how it is sometimes different from Standard Chinese (which as noted above is based on Mandarin).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Written_Cantonese

 

An interesting excerpt:  "Historically, written Cantonese has been used in Hong Kong for legal proceedings in order to write down the exact spoken testimony of a witness, instead of paraphrasing spoken Cantonese into standard written Chinese. However, its popularity and usage has been rising in the last two decades, the late Wong Jim being one of the pioneers of its use as an effective written language. Written Cantonese has become quite popular in certain tabloids, online chat rooms, instant messaging, and even social networking websites; this would be even more evident since the rise of localism in Hong Kong from the 2010s, where the articles written by those localist media are written in Cantonese. Although most foreign movies and TV shows are subtitled in Standard Chinese, some, such as The Simpsons, are subtitled using written Cantonese. Newspapers have the news section written in Standard Chinese, but they may have editorials or columns that contain Cantonese discourses, and Cantonese characters are increasing in popularity on advertisements and billboards."  

 

I've had friends from HK disparage their language saying "Cantonese is just a slang language", with the implication it's "wrong" because in writing it differs from standard written Chinese.  However, "what is slang" is a time sensitive issue.  E.g., "Copy" began as just a noun and its use as a verb was "slang."  An English grammar nazi who thinks nouns should never be used as verbs will have a tough time in life never saying "copy" as a verb.  (or email or xxx or xxx...).  

 

Bauer offers different and detailed perspective on written Cantonese:  "One of the most distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong Cantonese that sets it apart from all other regional Chinese languages is its highly conventionalized written form that is being widely used throughout this speech community. What we clearly observe is that Hong Kong Cantonese-speakers are transcribing with Chinese characters and even English letters the lexicon and grammar of their Cantonese speech; this practice was precisely expressed by Huang Zunxian 黃遵憲 of the late Qing dynasty in his phrase《我手寫我口》(ngo5 sau2 se2 ngo5 hau2) 1, literally, ‘my hand writes my mouth’, i.e. I write the way I speak."

https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/glochi/4/1/article-p103.xml?language=en

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PerpetualChange

I lived in HK for several years and I still notice how much harder my HK friends Facebook posts are to understand than anything else in Chinese that I read. Not sure how that creeps into former writing but I'd imagine that you can find a mix of things written both with general Chinese and local audiences in mind. 

 

21 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

I've had friends from HK disparage their language saying "Cantonese is just a slang language", with the implication it's "wrong" because in writing it differs from standard written Chinese.  However, "what is slang" is a time sensitive issue.  E.g., "Copy" began as just a noun and its use as a verb was "slang."  An English grammar nazi who thinks nouns should never be used as verbs will have a tough time in life never saying "copy" as a verb.  (or email or xxx or xxx...).  

 

This is not my experience at all. However most HK friends were very humble about their language and would not go out of their way to encourage others to learn it or use it. 

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Lu
On 8/27/2020 at 11:44 PM, Dawei3 said:

I've had friends from HK disparage their language saying "Cantonese is just a slang language", with the implication it's "wrong" because in writing it differs from standard written Chinese.

I've heard similar, about spoken Cantonese even. Asked a (Cantonese Dutch) person about a word I heard him use, after asking again he said the word, and the meaning, adding self-deprecatingly: 'that's how we say that', implying that it was just a funny little thing between a few people instead of a normal word in a language spoken by millions.

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