Cantonese Chinese Language: Etymology and Prevalence in the World

The Chinese language has many different varieties, of which Cantonese is one. It is the most widely used variety of the Chinese language in China and the world and is the de facto official spoken form of the Chinese language in the city of Guangdong and its neighboring areas. It is the standard form or Yue Chinese – a major subgroup of Chinese – as well as a traditional prestige variety of the Chinese language. Hong Kong, the government, the courts, and the tribunal, as defined by the Hong Kong Basic Law also use Cantonese Chinese as an official variety of the Chinese. Alongside English, it is used in the schools as well.

Cantonese Chinese in The World

Cantonese is the most widely spread Chinese variety in the world. It is spoken by a large number of population in Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as in Singapore and Cambodia. Also, this form of Chinese is mostly spoken throughout the Western world. In North America, there are approximately 2.9 million Chinese speaking people out of which 458,840 speak Cantonese actively. [source]

As we previously said, the Cantonese belongs to the prestige variety of the Chinese language, however, often when spoken about it, it refers to the entire Yue subgroup of Chinese, including related but largely mutually unintelligible languages and dialects such as Taishanese. If these related Yuehai dialects combine with the Cantonese, there are approximately 80 million total speakers of the language.

Roots of Chinese language

Linguists that study Chinese with all its varieties tend to classify the language as part of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is believed that its roots lie in the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language that supposedly once existed as an original language similar to the Proto Indo-European.

Cantonese as a variety has a large historical influence in China since it is a language with a very rich history that is 2000 years old. This is why it is called the “Traditional Chinese” and has a big influence in the country, even though Mandarin is now largely represented amongst the Chinese people.

The Written Language

The Chinese itself as a language consists of 40,000 characters with about 30 strokes, which means that each syllable’s meaning depends on the intonation with which it is pronounced. The Cantonese has between 6 and 9 of these tones.

People mostly mistake Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, since these are the varieties that are the most commonly used, however, although they do share some similar vocabulary, these two varieties are different in the written form, in their grammar, lexicon as well as the pronunciation.

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