On Language: Cantonese

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to break down what exactly makes up the Cantonese language. It’s far different from the Chinese standard Mandarin. With nine tones to Mandarin’s four, Catonese is language of nuance. A slight adjustment in tone can mean entirely different words. In fact, many of the best jokes of the language are based on puns of close sounding words. Then again, Catonese is far from refined. It’s a language of the argument. Almost every Cantonese speaker is out to prove a point (as best evidenced by this video entitled: bus uncle). Kids are best scolded in Cantonese and co-workers best jostled in Catonese. Catonese TV rely heavily on soap opera-ish shows that have a lot of arguing. The language is rather emotional as well due to its best use in arguments. There are a whole series of verbals sounds (such as sighs) that go along wtih the words themselves in expressing frustration. The most pure speakers of the language (found in Hong Kong) are best at placing the accents and working the variety of vowels. That said, the language does not fair well in song with a lot of short, choppy words that pepper the pop music scene.

See if you can distinguish the dialect the next time you are in Chinatown…

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