Should I learn Mandarin or Cantonese? (48)

10 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-26 20:47 ID:F1wkQ/5A

It really depends on what you want to do. I'll explain.

In mainland China, something like 70% of the population speaks Mandarin as a first language. Cantonese is spoken by about 20% of the population, maybe more, concentrated in the south and the cities on the coast. There are also some who consider this to be an ethnic difference as well, with even differences in physical anthropology, and speak of a Cantonese people who tend to be taller and lighter-skinned than the shorter, darker-skinned Mandarin people who make up the majority. The Mandarin speakers have historically considered themselves to be a distinct race or ethnicity, and in their own language, call themselves the Han people. But that's not really what you asked about.

Almost all Chinese immigrants to North America have always been Cantonese speakers. Since 1990, increasing numbers of Mandarin speakers have come to the US and Canada.

So, if you want to get around in Chinatown, and be able to flirt with the waitress, learn Cantonese. Cantonese is easier for a Westerner to learn, as Mandarin is a tonal language where every syllable has four possible completely unrelated meanings depending on inflection, and inflected / tonal langauges are the most difficult for a Westerner to learn.

If you want to go to China to teach English, or to do business, Mandarin. Even in the booming coastal cities, millions of Mandarin-speakers from the countryside are coming to look for work, so Mandarin is useful there as well.

If you want to visit Singapore, learn Hokkien. There are lots of Hokkien-speakers in Singapore.

And if you want a US government job, learn Fujien. Federal law enforcement agencies in the US, like the FBI, are desperate to find Fujien speakers, due to the appearance just in the past ten years of Fujien-speaking Triad gangs in Hawaii and California. There's a lot of money to be made, if that's what you want.

Oh, and, be advised: learning to speak, read, and write another language isn't something you can do in an afternoon, or even in a year. It takes hard work, dedication, and years of study to learn to communicate in another tongue. It's one of the most difficult intellectual feats human beings are capable of. If you truly want to do this it takes a committment of years of hard work. Which is probably why most people don't want to do it.

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