Authored by: Robert S. Bauer , Stephen Matthews

The Sino-Tibetan Languages

Print publication date:  December  2002
Online publication date:  May  2006

Print ISBN: 9780700711291
eBook ISBN: 9780203221051
Adobe ISBN: 9781135797188


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The term ‘Cantonese’ designates the speech of Guangzhou, or Canton, the name by which the provincial capital has been known in the West; it also refers to the Chinese variety spoken by the majority of the ethnic Chinese population of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which borders southern Guangdong, as well as that of many overseas Chinese communities in Europe, North America, and Australasia. The Cantonese spoken in , a district of Guangzhou, has been traditionally regarded as the prestige form; although both the Guangzhou and Hong Kong varieties are quite similar, differences of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar are to be found. Cantonese speakers themselves call their speech by a variety of names, e.g. ‘speech of Guangzhou’, ‘speech of Guangdong’, ‘speech of Hong Kong’, or ‘plain speech’ (in the romanization system used here a Cantonese tone category is represented by a number at the end of the syllable; tone categories are described in detail in the section on tones; the asterisk marks the high rising changed tone). In the popular imagination Cantonese has regional dialect status even among speakers of other varieties of Chinese, but ‘common speech’, which is based on ‘northern Mandarin’ dialects, is esteemed as China’s national language. In China, Cantonese is classified as a ‘dialect’ of or Yue, one of the seven major Chinese dialect families recognized by Chinese dialectologists; however, given the mutual unintelligibility among these so-called dialects, Western sinologists have usually regarded Cantonese, along with Hakka, Wu, Gan, Xiang, Min, and Mandarin as related languages. The Yue dialects are distributed across most of Guangdong and the eastern part of Guangxi. The worldwide number of speakers of Yue dialects exceeds 40 million.

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