Differences Between Mandarin and Cantonese
Did you know the Mandarin Chinese is one of the languages declared official by the United Nations? And there is a good reason for that. Mandarin Chinese is so widely spoken that one in every five people speaks this language in the world.
Mandarin Chinese may be one of the dialects of Chinese language but it is a hugely popular and widely spoken language. The Chinese language itself cannot be termed as a single language—it is a group of languages and boasts of a wide population of speakers worldwide. The most commonly spoken Chinese dialects are Chinese Mandarin and Chinese Cantonese.
In fact, the total number of Chinese speakers in the world constitute about 16% of the total world population—a staggering figure.
Termed as one of the emerging languages of the future, the Chinese language should surely be on top of the list of languages to learn—but for that you will need the services of a reliable translation partner that can deliver professional Chinese translation services for a hassle-free learning experience.
The two most widely spoken dialects of the Chinese language—Cantonese and Mandarin have significant differences but are both widely spoken and belong to the same Sino-Tibetan family of languages.
Differences in Numbers
The most significant difference between Chinese Mandarin and Chinese Cantonese lie in the number of speakers. The Mandarin language, commonly known as Putonghua is spoken by 1.1 billion people worldwide. This is a huge number, considering that the descendants of Chinese language mainly originated from Guangdong province, from where Cantonese has its roots, not Mandarin. On the other hand, Cantonese (known as Yue) is spoken by only 84 million people worldwide.
The numbers for China highlight this difference even more.
Mandarin is spoken by 907 million people, making up a huge chunk of the total population—67%. In contrast, Cantonese is spoken by only 5% of the total population, or 73 million people. The rest of the Chinese people speak other dialects of Chinese language.
Differences in Areas They Are Spoken
Mandarin is the official language or the lingua franca of China. Being the local dialect of bigger cities and metropolis areas of China, Mandarin is spoken in most parts of northern and central China, including the capital, Beijing. Other than China, Mandarin is spoken locally in Taiwan and Singapore, although other Chinese dialects are also commonly spoken in these regions.
Cantonese is the local dialect of southeast China. Originating mainly from the Guangdong province, Cantonese is also spoken in the southern provinces. Other than China, Cantonese is commonly spoken in Macau and Hong Kong.
Differences in the Characters
Mandarin and Cantonese may have the same roots in ancient Chinese, but it is difficult for a person speaking Mandarin to understand Cantonese writing characters. This is because Mandarin uses simplified characters in contrast to Cantonese that uses traditional characters. These ‘traditional’ Cantonese characters are built on more character strokes than those of simplified Mandarin characters.
A person fluent in reading traditional characters will easily be able to read simplified characters. But a person who can only read simplified characters will have a hard time understanding and comprehending traditional characters. If you belong to the latter group, you need to have the support of a reliable translation partner for a comprehensive Chinese translation service so that you can learn Chinese better.
Differences in the Tones
One other major difference between Mandarin and Cantonese lie in their tones. Mandarin, being a ‘simplified’ version of Chinese has 5 tones, one of which is a ‘neutral’ tone. On the other hand, Cantonese has a total of 9 tones, of which 3 are ‘entering tones’. These tones are a vital part of the way you communicate, making Cantonese more difficult than Mandarin in terms of tones and speaking.
Differences in Level of Difficulty
Although Mandarin and Cantonese both are tonal languages (where different tones convey different meanings for the same sound), the different number of tones and characters makes Cantonese more difficult than Mandarin. This is because Cantonese does not only uses tones, but also relies on ‘pitch’ to convey that tone—unlike Mandarin, that relies only on tones to convey the meaning. Likewise, Cantonese is tougher to write than Mandarin, hence the level of difficulty for Cantonese is high.
Differences in Grammatical Structures
Like the characters and tones, Cantonese and Mandarin have different grammatical structures as well. Interestingly, Cantonese is simpler to understand for a non-native speaker. This is because the grammatical structure of Cantonese is simpler, easier, and follows a fixed pattern. On the other hand, Mandarin, depending on the subject, changes the structure of the sentence often—making it difficult.
However, idiomatic expressions in Cantonese are more difficult than that of Mandarin, which follows an easier idiomatic approach.
Differences in Usefulness
If you view the two dialects of Chinese—Mandarin and Cantonese from the perspective of usefulness, you will notice that Cantonese language is lagging behind Mandarin in terms of both popularity and regions it is spoken. Although Cantonese was the language spoken by the descendants of a majority of Chinese who immigrated to other countries, Mandarin has seemed to take hold of these communities now. In fact, Mandarin has become the language of teaching, business and trade in many countries, including Hong Kong and Taiwan. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that if you know Mandarin in China, you can communicate with many of the locals there, but if you know Cantonese, this communication might not be so easy.
The Last Word
China, with its billion-dollar economy and technological revolutions is fast making its name in the most developed nations of the world. It comes as no surprise to anyone that Chinese language is fast becoming the most popular language of the future—and so are its dialects. Chinese Mandarin and Chinese Cantonese may be two different dialects of the Chinese language, but apart from the differences, both are the languages you can use to communicate with the local people of developed countries. Remember—irrespective of which of the two languages you learn, you need to have the right learning tools, and a reliable translation agency is one of these tools, for delivering precise Chinese translation service.