In Life! on October 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

I just read on the New York Times that Mandarin is now wiping out Cantonese.  And, lucky me, of all languages I have managed to harness under my belt, it is the dying animal: Cantonese.

I remember watching Kung Fu movies in Cantonese and thinking that Cantonese just sounded so much richer than Mandarin.  Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Andy Lau, Sammo Law and a slew of  other Chinese hotshots that hit the American scene all made movies in Cantonese.  And they were excellent.

When the main Cantonese-speaking character of Journey to the West: The Monkey King (a Chinese tale of the adventures of a Monk, a monkey, a servant, and a pig)  quit halfway through the epic saga, and was replaced by a Mandarin-speaking actor, I stopped watching the episodes.  I simply could not understand what was going on.

My mother says Cantonese is “juk,” which in Cantonese means “crass,” whereas Mandarin is more refined.   But to me,  when a Cantonese person is yelling, threatening, or passionately accosting another Cantonese person, the nine tones intertwined creates a rich  lyrical orchestra that just sounds so “of the earth” as opposed to the five tones of Mandarin, the characters of which sound a little too flat, artificial, and  similar to each other in my ears.

With the growing number of people learning Mandarin, the rise of Mainland China, and the  recognition of Mandarin as the Official Language, Cantonese has now  become primitive.

With semi-alarmists, such as Thomas Friedman writing books out there about the rise of China and the rise of globalization  through technology, thereby causing  information to be easily dispersed and therefore ‘flatten’ or equalize everyone in the playing field, of course, people are rushing to learn Mandarin.   If you learn one of the hardest and most relevant languages in the world, you are putting yourself  ahead of the game.

His book, The World is Flat, warns that with the rise of China, Americans will have to start specializing and bettering their education system to keep up.  Despite the fact that he devotes one chapter aimed to assure readers that even if parents enroll kids in Mandarin language school, it might not better their future, the fact remains that my life would have been easier if I grew up speaking Mandarin.

So, now I’m reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Mandarin.  But, that is because I know Zhuyin Fuhao system, which is a romanization of Mandarin syllables that appears next to the Chinese characters.  So, I read the romanization, then read it aloud in Mandarin, then translate it in Cantonese (some Cantonese words sound like Mandarin), and then translate the Cantonese  back to Mandarin.  And finally, translate the Mandarin to English.

Again, my life would have been easier if I grew up speaking Mandarin.  But no use complaining … like I said before, when a wave pushes you, don’t just push back.  Be ready.

  1. How so, other than you wouldn’t be trying to learn it now??

  2. I think any decline in Cantonese is a shame – you’ve said something I’ve always thought but hadn’t been able to put into words, that Cantonese has a richer sound than its other Chinese counterparts.

    Still, I’d’ve thought it would be pretty easy to learn Mandarin after Cantonese – after all, written Chinese virtually is Mandarin, right?

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