https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago

How similar are Mandarin and Cantonese?

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How similar are Mandarin and Cantonese?

3 weeks ago

25 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/PaulL05
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Cantonese and Mandarin are very different. I've heard some people describe the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin like the difference between German and Swedish.

I can't think of all the differences right now, but here are the differences that I can think of:

Cantonese has nine tones. Differences between tones in Cantonese are subtle, not nearly as extreme as the tones in Mandarin. For example, Cantonese speakers often struggle with the fourth tone (or falling tone) of Mandarin, because we don't have such an extreme tone drop in our tones.

Cantonese and Mandarin can have drastically different sounds for the same character. For example, The pronunciation for "五" is wǔ in Mandarin and ng5 in Cantonese (pronounced like mhm).

Mandarin uses the Pinyin system, Cantonese uses the Wade-Giles system.

There is a "formal" AND colloquial form of Cantonese. There are few differences between "formal" Cantonese and Mandarin (which really has only one form). And you could read out the written Cantonese form. However, we rarely speak written Cantonese; there is a colloquial form of Cantonese which is actually spoken and is very different from the written form of Cantonese. For example, 沒有 is méiyǒu in Mandarin and "muht yao" in Cantonese. However, you rarely say "muht yao". You would usually say mou5. The character for mou5 is 冇. Although this character is colloquial, it can be written. Mandarin does not have this character. So whenever a Mandarin speaker sees this character, they know that the author is a Cantonese speaker.

Example to illustrate the differences:

Mandarin and Cantonese (formal): 我是香港人

Mandarin: Wǒ shì xiānggǎng rén

Cantonese (formal): ngoh si heung gong yan

Cantonese (colloquial): 我係香港人

Cantonese (colloquial): ngoh hai heung gong yan.

Source: I am a native Cantonese speaker, and can speak some Mandarin.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PaulL05
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Another example to illustrate the differences:

Phrase: My Mandarin is not very good

Mandarin and Cantonese (formal): 我的普通話不太好

Mandarin: Wǒ de pǔtōnghuà bù tài hǎo

Cantonese (formal): ngo dik pou tong wa but tai hou

Cantonese (colloquial): 我嘅普通話唔係咁好

Cantonese (colloquial): ngoh ge pou tung wa m hai gam hou

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Astrolumos
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From my point of view, characters is not equal to language, so it's not proper to say that 'Mandarin does not have the character XXX'. We can say that Mandarin does not use that character so often as Cantonese or vice versa. Actually many different characters used in different dialects have the same source. For example, nearly all Chinese negative words (including 无,没,冇等等) share the same source. They all have m- consonants in ancient Chinese.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Chloe.Luna

OoOoOoOoh, I'm a Cantonese speaker, but when you write the Chinese, it is the same. But if you were to speak Cantonese and Mandarin, it will sound different.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/addohm

They're basically two languages. Don't make the mistake of calling them both Chinese, because it's an over-generalization. If you want to over-generalize on that scale, you could call Korean Chinese.

Anyway, Cantonese is much more difficult. It also uses I think nine annotations. It's also a terribly ugly language to listen to :P I lived in Macau for a year and a half and while I could pick up conversation subjects sometimes, I could never speak well enough for a native to not give me a "what the F" look.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/garpike
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They're basically two languages. Don't make the mistake of calling them both Chinese, because it's an over-generalization. If you want to over-generalize on that scale, you could call Korean Chinese.

They are both 'Chinese' is the sense that English and German are both 'Germanic' or 'Northern European', and 'Germanic' is not equivalent to 'German' any more than 'Chinese' is equivalent to 'Mandarin' (despite the fact that DL has adopted this inaccurate label in its Mandarin course). Calling Korean 'Chinese', however, would be more like calling Basque a Romance language on the grounds that it has incorporated a good deal of vocabulary from Spanish and French but remains entirely unrelated to them.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Chloe.Luna

Actually, as a Cantonese speaker, the languages are really similar. For example, if you were to write a Chinese word for both languages, it would be the same, but pronounced differently.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Y4M91
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Cantonese is a lot harder. It has nine tones and the grammar is more complicated than Mandarin.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/EpicRuler1414
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They are definately not mutually intelligable. Some words are similar but the languages are very different. The same goes for other Chinese languages/dialects like Shanghainese, Hokkien, Hakka etc.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RyanAbsint
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The two languages are not entirely mutually intelligible, but it isn't hard to learn the other if you already know one. For example, 小 in Mandarin is read something like "syeao" while the Cantonese read it something like "syew". Another example of them being similar is 大, read as "da" in Mandarin and "dai" in Cantonese.

I speak Mandarin to a degree where most conversations on basic topics go smoothly. However, when my father speaks Cantonese, I can usually only recognise only parts of the sentence. If you know some basic sound-shift patterns and are actually fluent in either (unlike me), you should be able to guess at the meaning of the other, as long as whatever is said is said slowly.

So basically, the two are different and mutually unintelligible, but I would say their difference is as big as German and English. You would recognise some words, but the rest is absolutely unintelligible.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KennyHolst

Also, there's more tones in Cantonese (between 6 and 9 depending on who you ask), and I'd expect that'd make it a bit of an extra challenge for a Mandarin speaker that isn't already used to hearing Cantonese. Similar to how foreigners are usually tonedeaf when they start learning Chinese... but at least if you know Mandarin you're already familiar with tones being a thing so it shouldn't be AS bad.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zUiA13
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Can they communicate each other when they write?

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KennyHolst

A lot of people would probably be able to communicate better by text than by words (although they might have some trouble if one reads/writes traditional and the other simplified). This is the reason why Chinese TV almost always has written subtitles - so people that don't know Standard Mandarin well will be able to tell what's being said.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Portofan
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大 as "dai", like in mandarin 大夫!

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Astrolumos
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As a native Mandarin speak, I would say that Mandarin and Cantonese is not that different as many people expects.

As a Mandarin speaker, if you know nothing about Cantonese, then they are not entirely mutually intelligible. But from my own experience, if you are native Chinese (no matter which dialect you speak) or having a good knowledge in Chinese, then it's actually not that hard to learn Cantonese.

I took a Cantonese course last semester and I was surprised that in only 3 and half month I can do daily conversation in Cantonese. The difference between M and C is not that much. Although C has 9 tones, but they are not entirely independent with M tones. For example, nearly all '1st' tone in C are in the 1st tone in M, '4th' tone in C are 2nd tone in M. And there is roughly some correspondence between their consonants and vowels.

It is hard to say whether Cantonese and Mandarin are the same language. This depends on how people define a 'language'. But you certainly cannot say that Cantonese and Chinese are not the same language. Mandarin is not equal to Chinese, they both belong to 'Varieties of Chinese'. I would say they are both Chinese dialects (there are hundreds of Chinese dialects).

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zUiA13
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I had a Swiss friend who was a native Swiss-German speaker. He learnd English for six months from its beginning, then got enough TOEFL mark to enter an University in USA. I was really astonished. Now I'm learning German these days to find the similarity of these two languages. If one understands German, English must be very easy. Now I am astonished to know that one Mandarin speaker took 3 and half months (!) just to be able to do everyday conversation in Cantonese. I haven't thought about the difference between a language and a dialect before, but the discussion here let me think about it. Thank you.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Astrolumos
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Prima! Ich lerne gerade auch Deutsch :)

I agree that the difference between language and dialect are pretty difficult to define. I guess that one of the reason why it is not that hard to learn Cantonese is that it shares the same writing system as Mandarin, so we don't have to spend a lot of time to remember the characters. The important thing is pronunciation but there certainly are some rules. Also the grammars are very similar.

English and German belong to same language branch but the difference is more significant. I think German grammar is more difficult than English as it has genders and 4 cases and a lot of conjugations to remember.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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In case you haven't seen this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2km_z4-1T8

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/aloha_aroha

I'm not totally sure on all the differences, but I do know that they're pretty much two different languages. Cantonese is much more complicated.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Raindrop02

Some of the words are the same,but most of it is different.

2 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JessePaedia
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How much would knowing Mandarin benefit me for learning other Chinese languages, like Cantonese?

I've heard that Mandarin speakers can kind-of guess how to say Cantonese words. I could say this is comparable to guessing how to say a word in French after learning Spanish.

2 weeks ago
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