Thursday, January 12, 2006

I Ate Beef Jerky

Here is an interesting article about how Mandarin is replacing Cantonese as the Chinese dialect of choice in business and conversation in North America. Cantonese, which has far fewer native speakers, is the dialect of the original Chinese immigrants and the dialect of Hong Kong, which was mainland China's main contact point with the west prior to the rise of China's economic market. With plenty of immigrants coming from Mandarin-speaking areas these days and China's rise to prominence in the global economy, it's not surprising that Cantonese is losing its priviledged position. I'm in no position to judge the quirkyness of the Cantonese dialect, though if this is the case, I have even more incentive to study it since I am a big fan of linguistic quirks.

Michelle's family is from Hong Kong/Southern China so they speak Cantonese. Michelle speaks it too, and while she's not fluent, she is better than she lets on. She has taught me a handful of words and phrases in Cantonese that I can manage to pronounce correctly on occasion. I'm still not sure if I have ever pronounced her middle name properly, however. The important thing is that I know the names of a number of different food items. When we make it over to Hong Kong, I fully intend to spend most of my time there eating, so I should be all set.

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution



MDS said...

I read an article once that said Mandarin will soon supplant English as the world's dominant language. I wasn't entirely convinced, but I do think it would be wise to start making Mandarin a much more common part of American education.

dusty said...

There are at least as many people studying English in China as there are US citizens, so supplanting is unlikely (Bryson, Mother Tongue). I think there was however a story in the NY Times this past weekend about an initiative to promote Mandarin in US schools, starting in kindergarten. Apparently some programs in the Portland, OR area have some 7th graders that are fluent after about 8 years of instruction. Nice to see some schools start early with foreign language to ensure that will stick in the long term.

dhodge said...

I don't see Mandarin taking the place of English either, but it will certainly become more and more important. An interesting thing to note about Canada's bilingual policy is that if immigration and fertility trends progress as expected, native Chinese speakers will outnumber native French speakers relatively soon. Unless the Chinese form their own province and threaten secession, I doubt Canada will institute a trilingual policy, but Canadians are so argument averse that it just might happen.

MDS said...

Funny you should mention that. I'm going to be on a sports radio station in Montreal tonight talking about the NFL. I've been on this station before and I really like the host, but I always just feel like it's weird that I'm on an English-language station in a predominantly French city, and then I'm talking about a sport in another country. I wonder how many English-speaking NFL fans in Montreal are tuned in when I'm on.