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Mandarin Vs Cantonese

Aggiornamento: 19 feb 2021

Di Margherita Maestripieri

As we said in the previous article both Mandarin and Cantonese are forms of Chinese. Considering both these languages as dialects, and two of the most important ones, what are the main differences between them?

Knowing Mandarin well could it be helpful when it comes to understand Cantonese?Unfortunately, no. If you can speak Mandarin, you won’t be able to understand Cantonese and vice versa.


First of all, Cantonese has 9 different tones, while Mandarin has 4 (+ 1 neutral). Not only the tones but also the way to pronounce the same Chinese character is different from Mandarin to Cantonese. As for the way how to write characters, Cantonese still uses the original form, which is the not simplified one (中國) while Mandarin uses simplified characters (中国).

Where is Cantonese spoken?

Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau and in the Guangdong province, including Guangzhou, known in the western world as Canton. Both languages are spoken in Singapore and Malaysia. Mandarin is spoken in Taiwan and in Mainland China: it is the local dialect of most of northern and central China, including Beijing.

Photo credits: Web

An article published on the South China Morning Post points out that Cantonese language could be in “danger”, since Chinese kids are discouraged from using the local dialect at school and grandparents need to communicate with their greatchildren in Mandarin.

This pic taken from the web is a typical propaganda that encourages Chinese people to speak Mandarin and write in simplified Chinese characters, being also a “civilised person”.

“The schools and the government have been discouraging Cantonese in the community for a long while.

My son and almost all his classmates are unwilling to learn both traditional and simplified characters because they think they are useless for daily life.” Said a mother interviewed in the article of the South China Morning Post.

The Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission said that they want 80% of China’s population to be Mandarin speaker by 2020.

What is going to happen to Cantonese?

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