Mandarin and Cantonese in NYC’s Chinatown

Very interesting article in the NYT about the shifting use of Mandarin and Cantonese in Manhattan’s Chinatown. After last week’s poorly-researched and insensitive article about bullfighting in Catalonia, it will take a few more well-balanced articles like this one to win back my trust.

As usual, I found more to ponder in the article’s comment section than in the article itself. I cite this comment from the above article by MB:

When discussing the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin, I’m not sure that “dialect” is the best term to use. Dialect difference usually implies mutual intelligibility. As the article correctly notes, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers more often find the other unintelligible. Cantonese is older. Mandarin is official. The written language is “borrowed” by the Cantonese and many words when read by Cantonese speakers are pronounced differently than when spoken, a result of the written language begin borrowed from Mandarin. What is the difference between a dialect and a language? As someone once noted, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy! Language standards are set for political and economic reasons, not linguistic ones. Thus, Mandarin prevails.

Would love to hear from my Cantonese-speaking peeps from the Metro area. Have you noticed these changes in Chinatown in recent years? How do you feel about the situation? And will you try to learn Mandarin as a result?

One reply on “Mandarin and Cantonese in NYC’s Chinatown”

I obviously don’t live in NYC, but this is definitely happening in Vancouver as well. Although I’m not aware of any enclaves in Vancouver where I “can’t even order food”, as the one dude from the article suggests; almost no one who owns a business here can’t speak English.

While Mandarin speakers outnumber Cantonese speakers by over 10:1, I hardly think Cantonese is in any danger of extinction, although you’ll probably hear very little of it in North America in a couple of generations.

I’m a (poor) Cantonese speaker but no, I have no real intention of learning Mandarin, mostly because I can’t really see how it would benefit me (other than the simple satisfaction of learning a new language/dialect). The only place I really use Chinese is in Hong h Kong, where everyone still speaks either Cantonese or English, and will for my lifetime.

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