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Chinese Language And All The Dialects  
User currently offlineAirways1 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 1999, 563 posts, RR: 0
Posted (14 years 4 weeks 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 1912 times:

Mandarin is the language spoken by the most people in the world as a first language, being spoken by 70% of China's population.

Nevertheless there are many other languages spoken in China, some related to mandarin, and others not. Most don't even have a standard writing system.

Anyway, what I want to know is, how easy is it for a speaker of one chinese dialect, say mandarin, to learn another, say cantonese?

I can speak (and read and write) a little mandarin, and wonder whether it wouldn't take much extra effort to learn cantonese or fukienese, or whether it would be just as easy/difficult to learn a completely unrelated language...?

Has anyone tried this?


7 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineSEVEN_FIFTY7 From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 957 posts, RR: 4
Reply 1, posted (14 years 4 weeks 21 hours ago) and read 1891 times:

I just think any dialect of Chinese MUST be one of the hardest languages in the world for Indo-European speakers to learn.

(Other very difficult ones include Gaelic, Finnish, Greek, Thai, Sanskrit, I'm guessing).

Tell me, is Cantonese as difficult as Mandarin? Can the two remotely understand each other? Or are these dialects more or less like entirely different languages?

User currently offlineBarfBag From India, joined Mar 2001, 2435 posts, RR: 5
Reply 2, posted (14 years 4 weeks 21 hours ago) and read 1888 times:

Sanskrit is a very structured and organized language, with a regular number of alphabets. It is very easy to learn, especially if you happen to know an Indo-European language.

User currently offlineHartsfieldboy From United States of America, joined Sep 2001, 552 posts, RR: 1
Reply 3, posted (14 years 4 weeks 20 hours ago) and read 1877 times:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that all the dialects of Chinese have the same characters all spelled the same when written. It's the way they are pronouced that one must learn. So a Cantonese speaker can't talk to a Mandarin speaker, but they can write it out and understand each other.

User currently offlineSenliture From Australia, joined May 2000, 431 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (14 years 4 weeks 17 hours ago) and read 1869 times:

we don't use the word 'spell', we don't have alphabets. But it is not always true for the Chinese can 100% understand what the other Chiense are writing, because there are two type of Chinese writing: Traditional Chinese (using in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and most of the world for unofficial writing, computer coding is BIG-5) and Simplified Chinese (using in Mainland China and most of the world for official writing, computer coding is GB). There are about 10,000 Chinese characters (or words), but there are only about 200 to 300 characters have been simplified, however, alll of them are commonly used. A Taiwan people can only understand half of a passage if it is written in simplified Chinese, and vice versa.

use Melbourne as an example, the civilian always use Traditional Chinese while the government will use the Simplified Chinese. It maybe caused by the Hong Kong people are majority Chinese here, and the government would of course, use the Simplified Chinese.

I speak Cantonese (my first language), Shanghaiese and Msndarin, I found that Cantonese is nearly 100% different from the other two. Their pronouncation are totally different. Cantonese has 9 tones while Mandarin has only 4 tones. I'm not sure about Shanghaiese as I only use it at home. I'm sure that Cantonese is one of the most differcult language in the world, hardly get the exact pronoucation even the local people.


User currently offlineAirways1 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 1999, 563 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (14 years 4 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 1858 times:

hartsfieldboy, as far as I know, only mandarin has a standard written form. A speaker of another dialect has to learn to write mandarin, even if they can't speak it. I know for example that Taiwanese (aka Fukienese) has no written form.

In the case of cantonese, they have modified standard written mandarin a bit to suite it, but it is nevertheless based on mandarin.

any natives, please correct me if i'm wrong. thanks.


p.s. senliture, what you write is correct in theory, but all the mandarin speaking Taiwanese people I know have no problem reading simplified chinese. I think from the context it is fairly easy to guess the simplified characters. I'm not sure whether it works the other way though.

User currently offlineCarmy From Singapore, joined Oct 2001, 627 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (14 years 4 weeks 1 hour ago) and read 1849 times:

As a Singaporean Chinese, I learn both English and Chinese (Mandarin) as a first language, so think might be able to answer some of the queries.

Chinese in the written form is largely similar between the different dialects. There are however a large number of colloquial terms that differ greatly between the different groups. This might make writing in Mandarin slightly different between the different dialect groups, but one should not have any problems understanding the main gist of the passage.

Here in Singapore, the Singaporean government decided that dialects should not be used anymore and, in true Singaporean fashion, started a speak mandarin campaign. It has been enormously sucessful, and now most of our young cannot speak their native dialects anymore, only Mandarin. We also use simplified chinese, and most people have not much problems reading in both simplified and traditional chinese. Some of those with a poorer command of the language might have a bit of a problem though, but most won't.

It won't be exactly easy to learn a dialect when you already know Mandarin, but it would certainly beat learning a new language altogether, considering that the written form is largely similar. Good luck with the learning of a new dialect and keep us updated as to how it goes!  Big thumbs up

User currently offlineRayChuang From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 8360 posts, RR: 4
Reply 7, posted (14 years 3 weeks 6 days 13 hours ago) and read 1840 times:

I think in the end, there will be three dominant dialects of Chinese--all for business reasons: Cantonese (Hong Kong connection), Mandarin (Taiwan/mainland China connection), and Shanghainese (Shanghai connection).

The dialect spoken in Shanghai will become much more prevalent soon because Shanghai has been targeted by the Chinese government for massive economic growth; why do you think they built that gigantic new city of Pudong in the last ten years?

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