Cantonese vs. Mandarin

All Chinese speakers speak the same language, right? Not so fast! Although both Cantonese and Mandarin are widely spoken in China, one is not a variation of the other.

Firstly, it is important to understand where each is spoken. Mandarin is the most widely spoken dialect throughout the country, while Cantonese is one of myriad minority dialects, including Taiwanese, Shanghainese, and Hakka. Approximately 5% of the Chinese population speaks Cantonese, compared to a staggering 67% who speak Mandarin as their first language.

Mandarin is the official language of China, spoken, most notably, in the north and central regions of the country, including Beijing, the country's capital. Mandarin is spoken in the southeastern end of the country, as well as the special territorial regions of China, including Hong Kong and Macau.

Mandarin and Cantonese are languages written with characters, rather than individual letters, with each character representing a word or part thereof. These characters share the same roots in ancient China, with Mandarin uses a simplified set of characters, which were declared as standard by the Chinese government in 1950s. Conversely, Cantonese uses the traditional characters. With Mandarin being also known as "Simplified Chinese", and Cantonese as "Traditional Chinese", the names explain the complexity of each language, and the the characters they use.

Perhaps most curiously, Cantonese and Mandarin are not mutually intelligible, which opens room for discussion as to whether they are different languages entirely. Even though the character-syllable base used is the same, pronunciation can differ entirely. In general, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers can't maintain a conversation with each other.

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