Chinese dialectsCantonese, also known as Yue Yu, is one of the top 20 most spoken languages in the world. The Cantonese language is a Sino-Tibetan language. It originated in Guangdong, which is an area in Southern China. Cantonese is the most influential Chinese dialect after Mandarin, it is spoken by about 100 million people in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi and in neighboring areas such as Hong Kong and Macao, as well as throughout South-East Asia in such places as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cantonese is mostly considered as an oral language. People in Guangdong and Hong Kong use standard Chinese characters when they read and write. They speak Cantonese in daily interactions with people. As a colloquial language, Cantonese is full of slang and non-standard usage.

Cantonese sounds very different from Mandarin, as a result of a combination of differences in both pronunciation and grammar. One of the greatest differences is how tones are employed. Both languages are tonal, by which the meaning of a word frequently depends upon which one of a number of available tones it is assigned. In Mandarin there are five possible tones that a syllable may have, whereas in Cantonese there are nine. In addition, Mandarin syllables generally only ever end in a vowel, or a nasal consonant such as (n), or (ng). In contrast Cantonese syllables may end in other non-nasal consonants, for instance (k) or (p).

The standard written language in Hong Kong is essentially the same Chinese as everywhere else in China. The only difference is that Hong Kong and overseas communities, like Taiwan, have kept what are called traditional Chinese characters, whereas mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters. Traditional Chinese poems are still written in traditional Chinese characters. In an attempt to increase literacy in China, thousands of characters were simplified in a 1950 spelling reform initiated by former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Learn more about Chinese history, people and languages, please visit Why Study Abroad in China