Since a political advisory body in Guangzhou in southern China proposed that TV stations should broadcast their prime-time shows in Mandarin instead of Cantonese in the run-up to the Asian Games there in November, protest voices have been increasingly raised, with rallies in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Although Mandarin, also known as Putonghua, was declared China’s official language in 1982, there are around 70 million Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong, Macau and China’s southern Guangdong province, and is widely spoken in overseas Chinese communities around the world so it’s easy to see how this recommendation could be taken as an attack on a long-established, widely-spoken language.
Mandarin language lessons became compulsory in schools in Hong Kong after its return to Chinese rule in 1997 and an increasing number of professionals began to learn the dialect after the handover as Hong Kong’s business links with the mainland have grown.
Whilst it’s understandable that the Guangzhou authorities might be keen to ensure that their region benefits as fully as possible from the opportunities presented by the Asian Games by ensuring that media coverage is widely accessible, it would be a great shame if this were a step on the way to the disappearance of Cantonese. With that, it would only be a matter of time before other dialects such as Hakka and Shanghainese which also add greatly to the richness of Chinese culture also vanished.
In the UK we are familiar with campaigns to keep traditional languages and dialects from around the country alive and, at SanTranslate, we would like to know that Cantonese will also continue to be spoken by future generations. It is a lovely dialect that easily allows for the expression of emotions similar to the way that body language can communicate an underlying emotional component to a conversation. For example, simply by adding the word “ga” – which corresponds to the English “isn’t it?” or “it is!” you can convey some subtle nuances.
Whilst Cantonese can present its own challenges in interpretation – especially in formal situations such as in court – we would hate to see this powerful dialect disappear.