Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Matt: Hello everyone, I’m Matt, your friendly neighborhood non-Cantonese guide to everything Cantonese…
Nicole: 大家好 (daai6 gaa1 hou2). I’m Nicole! Here in this lesson to bare a part of my Cantonese soul with you!
Matt: So Nicole, people have argued that Cantonese is not a real language on its own, but a dialect of Chinese.
Nicole: Well it's true and it's not true.
Matt: You are being ambiguous here, Nicole.
Nicole: No I mean seriously, the term dialect is so unfair. It's a political term, not a linguistic term.
Matt: So what you’re saying is that, politically it's a dialect of Chinese, however, linguisticlally speaking, it's a language on its own.
Nicole: Exactly. Because China is a huge country that has many many different languages. Since the official language of China is Mandarin, also known as Chinese, the rest of the languages have to be called dialects. And among them, Cantonese is the most popular one.
Matt: That’s right, over 130 million people all over the world, speak Cantonese.
Nicole: That makes a lot of good conversations.
Matt: Speaking of this, I know there was a conference in 1940s. Where a bunch of linguistic scholars and politicians held their votes to decide the national language of China, and Cantonese lost by only 1 vote.
Nicole: True. Only 1 vote. Cantonese was this close to be the official Chinese language. But never mind, Cantonese is still everywhere!
Matt: Tell me Nicole, where have you spoken Cantonese in your life, other than China?
Nicole: Everywhere I’ve ever been. I mean I can hear Cantonese in any country. I have an American friend who wants to practice his Mandarin in a Chinatown but failed, because they speak Cantonese in Chinatown.
Matt: That sounds a little bit like me practising Cantonese in Beijing.
Nicole: Yeah, Cantonese is not spoken in Beijing. Cantonese is mainly spoken in Guangdong, a province in South China thats neighbouring Hong Kong. Actually thats where the name came from.
Matt: Yeah sounds a bit similar. Guangdong and Canton.
Nicole: Yeah, exactly. And it's also spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and some neighbouring areas around the eastern part of Guangxi province in China.
Matt: It is the official language in Hong Kong and Macau as well, and historically is the most popular form of Chinese spoken outside of mainland China.
Nicole: Yeah, Cantonese immigrants are everywhere in the world. It’s a language you don’t even need to travel to use.
Matt: That’s right, in fact, in Chinatowns, everywhere there are stores that have signs only in Cantonese!
Nicole: That’s right, another thing that we Cantonese are really proud of is our written language.
Matt: That’s right, it looks a little more like art!
Nicole: Exactly! Traditional Cantonese characters are pictures and drawings. When you see them you can guess the meanings of them.
Matt: That’s true.
Nicole: But you know that China is the only country in the world whose literature has been written in one language for more than 3,000 consecutive years.
Matt: Woah… when does that take us back to?
Nicole: About 1,200 BC.
Matt: So here is what is so amazing about this. If you were at a restaurant 3000 years ago, you’d know what they were serving just by the characters. And you’d probably be able to order what you wanted to eat.
Nicole: Yes, exactly. In the past, many people would communicate with written language, as the regional dialects were so distinct and people couldn’t understand one another.
Matt: Wow, no wonder there are like tens of thousands of characters. That’s a lot to write about.
Nicole: but don’t let that scare you off… some exciting news is that Cantonese is one of the oldest dialects in China and shares the most similarity to the ancient spoken language.
Matt: So that means I would be able to talk to a ancient Chinese wait staff and order dim sum even though I was Cantonese illiterate?
Nicole: That’s correct, and you could have as much as dim sum you want. Though there are so many Cantonese characters, when you learn the language you will find that there are only about 600 syllables, or individual word sounds in Cantonese. Only 600, I mean it could be worse.
Matt: Yes, and they are used in combination to form all those thousands of words. Plus on top of that each word can be any one of the 6 tones of the language.
Nicole: Right, now there are two different forms of Cantonese writing as well. In Hong Kong, the traditional form of written Chinese characters is used, as opposed to the simplified form adopted in Mainland China. Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan as well.
Matt: Plus, a lot of words used in Hong Kong for different things are different than the term used on the mainland. In Hong Kong, with the passage of time, the language has evolved in its own way over the last 50 years. Over the same period of time, Guangdong very often would cling to preserving the ‘pure’ Cantonese form.
Nicole: That’s right, and there are a lot of new words too, since the internet and stuff.
Matt: Yes a lot of those words have only been invented in the past decade or so…
Nicole: Yeah.
Matt: Alright, now it’s time for our top 5 list!
Nicole: Yay! Top 5 reasons to learn the lovely language Cantonese!!!
Matt: OK number 5: Speakers of Cantonese are spread throughout the globe. There are Cantonese people EVERYwhere.
Nicole: You speak really fast! And also when you learn Cantonese, you get to understand what Jacky Chan is actually saying in his movies.
Matt: And number 4: Unlike most languages, Cantonese has a unique writing system, which provides visual comprehensibility and is considered by some to be… an art form!
Nicole: That’s right, and number 3: Cantonese grammar is easy! You don’t have to conjugate verbs!
Matt: Right!
Nicole: That’s the top reason for some people.
Matt: That’s right! And number 2: When you learn Cantonese you also learn how the Chinese think… logically, pragmatic.
Nicole: That’s right, I’m a logical and pragmatic person as well, I’m not emotional at all!
Matt: That’s right, you are learning so much more than just a language. Plus there’s all that dim sum and cool Taiqi and Buddhist Zen stuff.
Nicole: And Cantonese is one of the oldest dialects that preserves a lot of ancient Chinese culture and linguistics features. You learn the language, and you get to know more about China.
Matt: and the number one reason you should learn Cantonese
(drum roll sound effect)
Nicole: You can get rich!!
Matt: Hong Kong and the whole China currently boast the fastest growing economy in the world and is widely regarded as the largest global market in the twenty-first century. Proficient speakers of Cantonese will find jobs in various fields such as business, government, international relations, information technology, tourism, education, translation and much, much more.
Nicole: Wow! That’s a lot.
Matt: Yes, it is. OK everybody, you know what to do now. Get your made in China pen and notebook, and your made in China ipod, and your made in China computer, and suit up with CantoneseClass101.com
Nicole: That’s right! That just about does it today.


Please to leave a comment.
😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 06:30 PM
Pinned Comment
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Let's break the ice... why have you decided to learn Cantonese?

Sunday at 09:23 AM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hello Vy,

Both standard written forms of Cantonese and Mandarin are about the same. You may notice that all Chinese books, news report, written notice, article, poster, instruction menu or pamphlet have no mandarin or Cantonese version. Cantonese and Mandarin remain the same in writing. It is called {書面語(syu1 min2 jyu5) ~ written language} in Hong Kong and it is very formal.

After 1949 the government of the People's Republic of China introduced and promoted simplified Chinese to improve literacy rates. Singapore, mainland China including the Canton province adopt the simplified characters, while Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Japan continue to use the traditional script.

In spoken Cantonese, there are many different slang and characters that do not exist in Mandarin. Some characters such as {唔(m4)~not}, {佢(keoi5) ~ he,she} or {哋(dei6)~plural} are only used in spoken Cantonese. In standard written Mandarin and Cantonese, they should be written as {不(bat1)~not}, {他(taa1)~he}, {們 (mun4)~indicates plurality} instead of

{唔(m4)~not}, {佢(keoi5) ~ he,she} or {哋(dei6)~plural} .

The written form is almost the same between Cantonese and Mandarin for documents. When speaking daily conversation Cantonese speakers tend to use the spoken form character which is quite different from the one of Mandarin and standard written forms of Cantonese. ?


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Thursday at 01:23 AM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

I want to ask that if Cantonese writing is same with Mandarin writing beside the fact that Cantonese writing using classical form??

Cantoneseclass101.com Verified
Monday at 08:13 AM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hi Steven,

Glad to hear that you love Cantonese. Hope you enjoy the lesson in Cantoneseclass101.com


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Friday at 08:16 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hi Thomas Raimondo,

That's an awesome reason to learn Cantonese!!:smile::thumbsup:

Your fiance and her family is going to be amazed by your efforts and Cantonese skills!

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, we're here to help!


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Thomas Raimondo
Thursday at 08:44 AM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Nei5 Hou2 Olivia,

I have decided to learn cantonese because my fiance is from Macau and I would like to show her family respect by speaking to them in cantonese as well as connecting with her in her native language. Plus I have been to HK Mac a few times and really enjoyed my time there. I would like to live there with my leng3 neoi5.


Wednesday at 12:18 AM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hi Olivia,

1) You are right, Cantonese has dominated Hong Kong for so many years that even local people might not know that Hakka was one of a major language there. However, before the colonization, the situation was different. There were two major dialect in Hong Kong, and none of them were the Cantonese we know now. According to the history recording, the Hakka came to Hong kong about 200 years ago, earlier than other Cantonese related languages, so Hong Kong was historically viewed as a place dominated by Hakka.

I can't find English reference right now, but I could provide you some Chinese reference here.



2) Before colonization, the two major dialect in Hong Kong were Hakka and Weitou dialect. Weitou dialect is a language similar to Cantonese, basically they could communicate without difficulty.


3) You may ask, which language is the dominate one in Hong Kong? Sadly, we don't know which group owned more population exactly. We only have the rough impression that ratio was near 1:1 in whole Hong Kong, and Hakka was used in more than half of the villages on New Territories (54%).





4) After the quick development brought by U.K., there are more and more people moved to Hong Kong, and the percentage of Hakka dropped quickly. When 1911 the U.K. government calculated the population, the Hakka population had dropped to 15%. And then, the following history is the same as you know; Hong Kong gradually becomes a place dominated by Cantonese. Furthermore, large number of of Hakka speakers left Hong Kong after 1967.




「至於客家話的沒落, 也有政策的背景原因, 那就是英國人給香港的原居民優厚的條件讓他們離開香港, 移民英國, 在當時當香港的原居民移民英國是很容易的事情, 這些對英國的移民, 有時可以是一整條村大部份人都離開, 當然他們還保留在香港的物業和土地, 但文化影響就離開了. 這巧妙地掃除了英國人在香港建立一個廣府文化的障礙.」

Tuesday at 09:37 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hi Yuan,

You're right, thanks for your insight!:thumbsup:

I do have concerns about this sentence though --> "The major language in Hong Kong should be Hakka."

Why did you say that? I'm interested in your sources.

Because as far as I know, Malaysia and Singapore are famous for having a lot of Hakka speakers, yet Hakka isn't a major dialect group in Hong Kong, at least not in the last 50 years.


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Monday at 05:40 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Anyway, as far as I know, there is no provided evidence for the voting. If there is any this kind of evidence, it should be part of central government documents. And as we all know, Guangdong has never been the place of central government in the last centuries. And there is no history recording that the central government has stored this kind of documents in Hong Kong. Therefore, the story that the evidence is preserved in Hong Kong Museum of History is not that reliable. I also check the internet. According to Google, the museum has never declared that they owned such important evidence.

By the way, even in Hong Kong, Cantonese was not the major language under very late decades. The major language in Hong Kong should be Hakka. Therefore, it is very strange that the museum stores some thing has low relationship with its background.

After all, this is an issue of historian, not linguistic. No matter how close the sound between the Cantonese and ancient Chinese, this could not prove the existence of the recording. History is history.

Monday at 04:45 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hi Yuan,

Thank you for your comment, that's a very controversial topic. While some people points out that it was just a myth, some history teacher kept telling that stories. Other than the Cantonese dialect, some said that it was the Sichuan or Hakka dialect that was in such position. Some linguists even compared ancient poems with modern pronunciation of these dialects and find that they sound more natural than Mandarin.

Some even say that the proof of such poll is stored in the Hong Kong Museum of History, although I can't be sure the legitimacy because I haven't checked that in person.

All in all, it's a nice story about the Cantonese dialect and its influence in Chinese history :wink:


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Sunday at 09:49 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.


According to history recording, the voting mentioned in the class did not exist. I know Cantonese are proud of their culture and language, but you really should avoid this kind of legendary.