- What is meant by Cantonese?
Cantonese (or Yue 粵) is one of a number of language varieties (also referred to as dialects 方言) that make up the ‘Chinese’ or Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Other Sinitic varieties include Mandarin, Xiang, Gan, Wu, Min, and Hakka. Depending on context, the term ‘Cantonese’ may refer to any kind of Yue Chinese, including the prestige dialect of Yue spoken in Guangzhou and in Hong Kong. Cantonese also includes varieties spoken in the Four Counties (四邑) area of Guangdong province, from where many overseas Chinese originate (i.e., Toihsan 台山, Samwuih 新会, Hoiping 开平, Enping 恩平, etc.).
2. How many Cantonese Speakers are there around the world?
According to Ethnologue there are over 85.5 million Cantonese (Yue) speakers worldwide (Eberhard, Simons & Fennig, 2022). But, in fact, the figure is likely much higher as accurate counts are difficult to assess. Aside from speakers in China, Cantonese is also spoken by Chinese diaspora communities around the world such as those in Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. For prospective, Cantonese speakers worldwide outnumber the population of Italy (~60 million) or of France (~67 million).
3. Where is Cantonese Spoken?
Cantonese is spoken in the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi and also in Hong Kong and Macau. Cantonese is also widely spoken by overseas Chinese all around the world with some of the largest communities in Southeast Asia. Most early North American and European Chinese communities spoke some form of Cantonese (e.g., Toihhsan 台山 and Chungsan 中山).
4. What is the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin?
Cantonese (or Yue) and Mandarin represent two varieties of Chinese. Despite sometimes being referred to as dialects, Cantonese and Mandarin are not mutually intelligible and have differences in sound, structure, and grammar just like many other languages. The intelligibility might be compared to more distantly related Romance languages such as French and Romanian.
4. Can you write in Cantonese?
Usually, Cantonese refers to the spoken language. All educated Chinese learn to read and written standard Chinese, which does not completely match spoken Cantonese. However, there are vernacular Cantonese characters used in less formal contexts (e.g., advertising, comics, and blogs)
5. How can I get started Learning Cantonese?
On this site the pages under the ‘Cantonese Learning materials menu’ list a number of texts, sites and apps that are useful for Cantonese study. For new learners, Colloquial Cantonese: The Complete Course for Beginners (Bourgerie et al., 2015), Everyday Cantonese (Man, 1999) and Talk to me in Cantonese (Hung, 2019) are texts especially aimed at beginner learners new to the Cantonese language and culture.
6. Where can I find materials to learn Cantonese?
There are a number of textbooks and sites to study Cantonese. A list of these can be found under the Cantonese Learning Materials tab.
7. Is computer-based instruction available for Cantonese?
An increasing number of computer and smart phone-based aids for learning Cantonese are available. Many of these can be found on this site under the Cantonese Learning Materials tab.
8. Are there summer institutes or study abroad programs for Cantonese?
The Yale-China Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong offers a variety of Cantonese courses including an online course. The other major universities in Hong Kong also offer Cantonese courses, as does Jinan University in Guangzhou, China.
9. What institutions around the world offer Cantonese courses?
On the Cantonese Programs around the world tab there is a list of higher education institutions that offer Cantonese courses at varying levels. The Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) at the University of Minnesota also has a short list of U.S. institutions teaching Cantonese that includes k-12 programs (last updated 2014).