(1/2) Hello! I recently began learning Canto &--living in Canada--I have encountered a LOT of people who speak both Canto and Mandarin. Whenever I mention to someone that I'm trying to learn Canto, they ask why I don't learn Mandarin. Now when I was learning Vietnamese and French, locals and expats were SOSOSOOSOSOS!O!OO!!!! excited for me to learn their languages. Yet every Canto-speaking person I've met has discouraged me. This obviously makes me more rigorous re: studying, but I'm wondering--
(2/2) if you’ve ever heard this from any of your friends who are learning Cantonese. Also, when I spoke with someone about saying in Canto how beautiful or handsome someone is, she paused and said “No, that sounds too local.” ??? Like??? Is that not a huge success in learning a language? I’m just really curious to hear your thoughts.
;;;;;;; this was really upsetting to read as a Cantonese speaking Canadian, because this idea extends to a lot of ABC/BBC/CBCs, specifically ones who speak non-Mandarin Chinese varieties. Some Cantonese-speaking CBCs have a slight disdain for Cantonese bc:
1) It means they might not have learned Mandarin growing up and therefore must learn it now as a teenager/adult, and thus they may lag behind their Mandarin-speaking CBC peers in their Mandarin proficiency. A bunch of my friends actually feel this way. They have a distaste for both Cantonese and Mandarin bc they feel like Cantonese dragged them behind, but at the same time, they see Mandarin as something forced onto them
2) They may have struggled with their Chinese identity because people made them feel less Chinese because they couldn’t speak a standard language they were never taught (i’ve experienced this before; monolingual Mandarin speakers have asked me why I can’t speak Mandarin well, despite being a Chinese person)
3) Some of my friends have grown up with the “ching chang chong” stereotypes associated with Chinese languages (particularly with Cantonese), and all those memes on the internet about how harsh and angry Cantonese sounds, and I genuinely think that that has really affected how many CBCs view their own heritage language. It’s seen as ugly, annoying, hard on the ears, etc, and for some speakers, there is not much pride in speaking their own language. The same applies to many second-generation Vietnamese speakers as well, I’m sure.
4) I’m not from GZ or Guangdong so I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but there is some stigma associated with Cantonese, especially since kids are required to speak Mandarin at school (I’m particularly thinking of that one poster that was like “Speak Mandarin, Be a Civilized Person”). You did mention that some of your friends speak both Canto/Mando, and from my experience, most of the people who grew up bilingually in those two languages had parents who came from outside of HK, or they themselves came from somewhere in Guangdong/Guangxi, and maybe that stigma associated with Cantonese got carried on to them.
A lot of people grow up thinking that Cantonese is just a mere dialect, and that to be successful, you need to know Mandarin, which might be why you have received so much negative feedback about why you’re learning Cantonese. A lot of people don’t even see Cantonese as anything special; it’s just the language that their relatives speak in and they occasionally hear on the radio/TV, but it’s not as “impactful” or “useful” as Mandarin, so maybe they are confused about why a foreigner would want to learn such a “useless” language.
I’ve also spoken to a LOT of Cantonese people about the nature of our language and our writing system (written Cantonese - which btw, not many people know about outside of HK), and I have met very few people who take it seriously. The problem is that written Cantonese is still seen as HIGHLY informal and that Cantonese is simply a spoken language that doesn’t necessarily need to be written out. As well, speakers who write in written Cantonese are often aware of the variance in our written form, since there is no standardization, but very few people are bothered about it and don’t see a point in standardizing it, since we already have a written standard (aka Written Chinese), which as you probably already know, reflects Mandarin thought and speech very well, but not so well for Cantonese speech and thought. It’s just concerning to see this kind of apathy in Cantonese speakers. ;;; although it’s actually MUCH worse in many other Chinese varieties, since most varieties do not even have anything close to a written form (particularly with languages in the Wu and Min varieties).
Just to bring back a sense of optimism to this post though, I think the linguistic situation in HK is still quite good. Of course, there will always be Cantonese speakers who view their language negatively, but there are also many speakers who are extremely proud and enthusiastic (including myself :’D) and want to continue spreading their language to future generations and Cantonese learners.
I am so so so happy that you chose to learn Canto (im gettin the warm fuzzies just thinking about how ppl actually want to learn it), and I really hope you keep up with it. Don’t let the negativity keep you back from achieving your goals!!!! Just remember that there are many many Cantonese speakers who are proud of their language and will be VERY excited that you’re learning their language! (And if you live in a larger city like Toronto or Vancouver, you will encounter more of these speakers who view their language in a positive light.)
Btw I don’t exactly get the part about sounding “too local” lol, maybe your friend isn’t that proficient in Cantonese? I would be THRILLED if a person learning Cantonese surprised me with a native-sounding phrase, so maybe she’s just embarrassed that she didn’t know it? LMAO was it “佢好靚仔/靚女” or did you use the word 好索 😏 ?