Knowledge About Chinese Characters
By the comprehensibility criterion, Cantonese is not a dialect of Chinese. Rather, it is a language, as are Shanghaiese, Mandarin & other kinds of Chinese. Although the languages are obviously related, a Mandarin speaker cannot understand Cantonese or Shanghaiese without having learned it as a foreign language (and vice versa, though most Chinese do learn Mandarin today). For this fact, they are often considered separate languages, but generally having knowledge of another Chinese dialect eases up the learning process for Cantonese. It becomes easier to tell how certain tones map from one dialect to Cantonese.
Most Western linguists classify them as “Sinitic languages”, not “dialects of Chinese”. (And some languages in PRC, like Uighur, are not Sinitic at all.) Objective though it may be, this criterion can annoy nationalists—and not just in PRC. Danes & Norwegians can converse, prompting some linguists to classify the two as dialects of a single language—though few Danes or Norwegians would agree.To the historical linguist Chinese is rather more like a language family than a single language made up of a number of regional forms. Cantonese & other Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, as far as transparency is concerned.
The Chinese dialectal complex is in a lot of ways analogous to the Romance language family in Europe. To take an extreme example, there is probably as much difference between the dialects of Peking & Chaozhou as there is between Italian & French ‘ the Hainan Min dialects are as different from the Xian dialect as Spanish is from Rumanian (Norman 297).
Both Cantonese & mainland Chinese (Mandarin) are tonal languages, but there are up to nine tones in Cantonese compared to only four in the main Chinese dialect of Mandarin. This makes Cantonese a more difficult dialect to learn. Cantonese speakers find their dialect more lively, fun to speak & colorful, with an abundance of slung, a unique humor to it, & distinctive culture, which makes it more appealing to new learners. It is more expressive than any other Chinese dialect. However, the mainland Chinese dialect of Mandarin is seen as too formal, mainly used as a tool in government & business.
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