The Cantonese Language
Chinese is spoken by more people than any other language in the world. All but about 100 million of China’s 1 1/4 billion people speak one or another of its dialects. There are another 20 million speakers on Taiwan, 7 million in Thailand, 5 million in Malaysia, 2 1⁄2 million in Singapore, one million in Vietnam, and lesser numbers in other countries including the United States and Canada. Thus Chinese has more than twice the number of speakers of English, though of course it lacks the universality of English and is spoken by few people not of Chinese origin. Chinese has been an official language of the United Nations since the founding of the organization in 1945.
China constitutes a separate branch of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Though it has many dialects, Mandarin (based on the pronunciation of Beijing) is considered the standard and is spoken by nearly three-fourths of all Chinese-speakers in China, or about 900 million people. The Mandarin-speaking area covers more than three-fourths of all of China: the entire north but also the southern provinces of Kweichow (Guizhou) and Szechwan (Sichuan). All the other dialects are confined to the southeastern corner of the country, between the lower course of the Yangtze River and the South China Sea.
The non-Mandarin dialects are:
- Wu, spoken by about 80 million people in Shanghai and the surrounding areas;
- Cantonese, spoken by about 50 million people in the extreme southern provinces of Kwangtung (Guangdong) and Kwangsi (Guangxi) and also in Hong Kong;
- Min, spoken by about 40 million people in Fukien (Fujian) Province and generally subdivided into Northern Min, or Fuzhou, and southern Min, or Amoy. Amoy is also the principal dialect of Taiwan.
- Hsiang, with 40 million speakers in Hunan Province;
- Hakka, with 30 million speakers in Szechwan, Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Fukien, and also on Taiwan.
In addition, the Min dialects are widely spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, while Cantonese is also spoken in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Most Chinese in the United States speak Cantonese.
Chinese, like the other languages of the Sino-Tibetan family, is a tonal language, meaning that different tones, or intonations, distinguish words that otherwise are pronounced identically.
Chinese is written with thousands of distinctive characters called ideographs, which have no relation to the sound of a word. A large dictionary will contain as many as 40,000 to 50,000 of them. Chinese children learn about 2,000 by the time they are ten, but one must know two or three times that number to be able to read a newspaper or a novel. One kind of Chinese typewriter has 5,400. The number of strokes required to draw a single character can be as high as 33.
Despite the complexity, the Chinese characters do have the advantage of making written communication possible between people speaking mutually unintelligible dialects and languages. A given word may be quite different in Mandarin and Cantonese, but it would be written identically in the two dialects. Since the Chinese characters are also used in Japanese, each language, when written, is partially understandable to a speaker of the other, despite the fact that the two languages are totally unrelated.
We emphasize practical training, enhance students’ sense of language and confidence, expand their knowledge base and ability to use Cantonese in a fun yet practical way, quickly and easily!
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