status of Cantonese: a survey-based study

The latest new release from Sino-Platonic Papers is one that I think will be of particular interest to readers of Pinyin News. It’s an extensive study of not only the attitudes of speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin toward the status of Cantonese but also their beliefs about its future, especially in Hong Kong: Language or Dialect–or Topolect? A Comparison of the Attitudes of Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese towards the Status of Cantonese (650 KB PDF), by Julie M. Groves.

This study reports on a comparative survey of three groups of Chinese: 53 Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, 18 Mainland Chinese Cantonese speakers, and 72 Mainland Chinese Putonghua speakers. It was found that the Putonghua speakers held more ‘classic’ views, the majority seeing Cantonese as a dialect. In contrast, only just over half the Hong Kongers and two-fifths the Mainland Cantonese speakers considered it clearly a dialect, while one-third of all respondents favoured a mid-point classification. The differing perspectives held by the groups can be traced to their different political and linguistic situations, which touch issues of identity.

The author notes, “The uncertainties in classification also reflect a problem with terminology. The Chinese word usually translated dialect, fangyan (方言), does not accurately match the English word dialect.” Groves recommends the adoption of Victor Mair’s proposed English word for fangyan: topolect.

Although this focuses on the dialect vs. language debate, it covers much more than that. Those being surveyed were also asked questions such as:

  • Where do you think the best Cantonese is spoken?
  • Do you think Putonghua will eventually replace Cantonese as the main, everyday language of Hong Kongers?
  • Do you think it is possible for someone to consider themselves to be a Hong Konger (or Hong Kong Chinese/Chinese Hong Konger) without being able to speak Cantonese?

The results of the study may also prove useful for those interested in the future of other languages of China and Taiwan, such as Taiwanese and Shanghainese.

Here are a couple of the many graphs found in the study.

HK Cant = Hong Kong Cantonese speakers
MCant = mainland Cantonese speakers
MPTH = mainland speakers of Mandarin (“Pǔtōnghuà“)

graph of responses to the question 'Will Putonghua replace Cantonese as the main language of Hong Kongers?' Most say 'no' -- and this is strongest among mainland Cantonese speakers

graph of responses to the question 'Can a person be a Hong Konger without speaking Cantonese?' Most Hong Kong Cantonese speakers say no; but the answer is closer to a tie for mainland Mandarin speakers

English + Chinese characters for Cantonese: Number 1!

Andy Lau being presented with the calligraphy scroll discussed in this postJoel of Danwei has posted about an interesting calligraphy scroll presented to Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau.

The characters read “You Are No. 1!”

That’s not a translation: the Cantonese pronunciation of the characters 腰呀冧吧温! (”yiu a nam ba wan!”) approximates the English sentence.

I just love stuff like this.

Read in Mandarin this is just gibberish, especially the character .

Read the whole post for details.

The technique also recalls the cover of Visible Speech, by John DeFrancis, which renders part of the Gettysburg Address phonetically in various scripts, some more closely than others (see the bottom line for Chinese characters with Mandarin pronunciations):
'four score and seven years ago' in lots of different scripts

source: If you can read this, you’re Number One!, Danwei, December 6, 2007

Hong Kong moves to increase teaching in Mandarin, decrease teaching in Cantonese

The Hong Kong government’s Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (“Scolar” — heh) yesterday launched a HK$200 million (US$25.8 million) campaign to help schools use Mandarin as the medium for instruction.

Half of the money will be used to hire extra teachers, with the other half used to bring in mainland teaching experts.

To qualify for this funding, schools must demonstrate competence in teaching “Chinese” in Mandarin and be ready to switch 40 percent of “Chinese language teaching” from Cantonese to Mandarin within three years. The scheme is expected to start at the beginning of the next academic year and last for more than three years.

Each year about 30 primary and 10 secondary schools will be added to the program.

Scolar Chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said that his committee “has agreed that Putonghua [i.e., Mandarin] should be used as a medium of instruction for Chinese language subjects in the long term.”

This does not bode well for the future of Cantonese.


software to test Mandarin pronunciation

Chinese scientists have developed a computer program to test how well people speak Mandarin Chinese.

The technology will help improve oral testing of Chinese and promote Mandarin Chinese both at home and abroad, said Fu Yong, former deputy director of the State Language Work Committee.

The technology was jointly developed by the Acoustics Institute and the Software Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Lab experiments show that more than 98 percent of the results given by the computer evaluation system were as same as the results given by linguists, said Ju Qi, deputy director of the Acoustics Institute.

The system will be introduced to Mandarin Chinese examinations in Hong Kong’s middle schools and universities.

source: China resorts to computer to test Mandarin Chinese, People’s Daily, via Xinhua, May 23, 2007

results of Hong Kong tests in Mandarin and English

The government of Hong Kong has released the results of February’s proficiency exams for prospective teachers of English and of Mandarin. A total of 1,836 candidates took the English exam, while 2,209 candidates were tested in Mandarin.

Here are the percentages of candidates attaining level 3, the basic proficiency requirement for language teachers, in 2007:

  • English
    • 78.8% in reading
    • 38.3% in writing
    • 80.4% in listening
    • 47.7% in speaking
    • 92.7% in classroom-language assessment
  • Mandarin
    • 39.6% in listening and recognition
    • 56.5% in Pinyin
    • 35.6% in speaking
    • 83.4% in classroom-language assessment

Percentages of candidates attaining level 3, the basic proficiency requirement for language teachers, in 2006:

  • English
    • 85.5% in reading
    • 45.9% in writing
    • 74.3% in listening
    • 37.0% in speaking
    • 92.7% in classroom-language assessment (exactly the same as in 2007 — strange)
  • Mandarin
    • 54% in listening and recognition
    • 50% in Pinyin
    • 38% in speaking
    • 85% in classroom-language assessment

sources and further reading:

Hong Kong’s pride in Putonghua

Pride in the Mandarin language (Putonghua) in Hong Kong has risen from 18 percent in 1996 to 34 percent today, according to the results of a survey of survey conducted in October by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Center for Communications Research.

The center surveyed a total of 1,013 people about their feelings of pride associated with various Chinese things. A five-point scale was used to record the answers, with 1 representing a complete lack of feeling of pride and 5 representing an intense feeling of pride. (1 fēn dàibiǎo wánquán wú zìháo gǎnjué, 5 fēn dàibiǎo yǒu hǎo qiángliè jì zìháo gǎnjué / 1分代表完全無自豪感覺,5分代表有好強烈既自豪感覺).

Percentage of pride was calculated as the sum of the percentages of respondents giving 4 or 5 points when asked about their feeling of pride towards a certain icon.

Here is the breakdown for the recent survey question on Mandarin:
Where 1 is a complete lack of pride and 5 is very strong pride, the responses in 2006 were as follows: 1: 25.4%; 2: 9.1%; 3: 30.0%; 4: 17.6%; 5: 14.4%; don't know/no answer: 1.4%;

And here is how pride in Mandarin has changed over time:
1996 18.6%, 1997 21.3%, 1998 19.9%, 1999 28.0%, 2002 25.2%, 2006 34.0%

Of course, if a response of 4 or 5 indicates pride, it may well be that 1 or 2 indicates a lack thereof, in which case those without pride in Mandarin (34.5%) still outnumber those with pride in it (34.0%).

Unfortunately, related questions on pride in Cantonese and English were not asked, so we don’t know how feelings about Mandarin stack up against those for the two other important languages of Hong Kong.

On the other hand, the survey covered other areas, which may be useful for purposes of comparison:

Almost half (48 per cent) of those questioned said they felt proud of the national flag and anthem of China compared to 30 and 39 per cent of those questions in a survey in 1996, one year before the former British colony became part of China again.

More than 28 per cent admitted pride in the China’s People’s Liberation Army compared to 10 per cent in 1996….

However, pride in Hong Kong remained higher with respondents grading their love for their home city at 7.52 on a scale of 1 to 10, compared to an average of 6.49 for China and only 2.91 for the Communist Party.

The Great Wall elicited some of the most positive feedback with 73 per cent saying it made them feel proud while the Chinese mainland security officials came out as being one of the most unpopular things in China, evoking pride in only 6 per cent of those questioned. (DPA)

I’d like to thank those at the Center for Communications Research for providing me with the data on Putonghua and answering various questions.

additional resource: Proud To Be Chinese – But Hongkongers Still Love Their City More, DPA, November 2006

smuggler learns importance of proper Pinyin

A 28-year-old Taiwanese woman has been arrested in Hong Kong on charges of drug smuggling. Customs officials there found that the woman, who had arrived from Cambodia, had 3 kg of heroin hidden inside preserved plums. (I have a hard time thinking of these as “prunes” because they are so different than the U.S. prunes I grew up with — or rather avoided as best I could as I was growing up.)

One of the things that alerted the suspicions of the officials was that the lettering on her seven packages of plums (chénpíméi, 陳皮梅) read, in part, “Cnan.”

Yī míng 28 suì Táiwān nǚzǐ, jiāng zhěngzhěng 3 gōngjīn de hǎiluòyīn cáng zài 300 duō kē chénpíméi lǐ, zhǔnbèi yóu Jiǎnpǔzhài yùnsòng dào Táiwān fàn shòu, túzhōng zài Xiāng Gǎng jīchǎng bèi hǎiguān dāngchǎng dǎizhù, bèi jīyā zài Xiāng Gǎng kānshǒusuǒ, wànyī zuìmíng chénglì, xiánfàn jiāng miànduì 10 nián yǐshàng de yǒuqī túxíng.

Xiánfàn shì yī wèi cóng Jiǎnpǔzhài dào Xiāng Gǎng de 28 suì Táiwān nǚzǐ, jìhuà jiāng dúpǐn yùnsòng dào Táiwān fàn shòu, zhěngzhěng 3 gōngjīn de hǎiluòyīn jiàzhí 560 wàn yuán, qiǎomiào de cáng zài 300 duō kē chénpíméi lǐ, kěshì yīnwèi bāozhuāng shang “chénpíméi” de Yīngwénzì pīncuò le, yǐnqǐ Xiāng Gǎng hǎiguān de huáiyí, jiēfā zhè qǐyùn dú àn.

Xiāng Gǎng hǎiguān jiāndū Lǐ Zhāngróng biǎoshì, xiánfàn bǎ chénpíméi zhōngjiān de hé[tao] wā chūlai shōucáng hǎiluòyīng, dànshì yóuyú chénpíméi Yīngwén pīnyīn shì Chan, fàndú jítuán pīnchéng cnan, zāodào hǎiguān rényuán huáiyí dàibǔ.

Mùqián zhè wèi Táiwān xiánfàn bèi Xiāng Gǎng jǐngfāng yǐ fànyùn wēixiǎn yàowù zuì, jīyā zài Xiāng Gǎng de kānshǒusuǒ, 4 yuè 24 rì jiāng zài Xiāng Gǎng fǎyuàn jiēshòu shěnxùn, wànyī zuìmíng chénglì, xiánfàn jiāngyào miànduì 10 nián yǐshàng de yǒuqī túxíng.


US students abroad

The Institute of International Education has released its 2005 “Open Doors” report on U.S. students studying abroad.

The top twenty destinations for study abroad by U.S. students during the 2003-04 school year were, in declining order, Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, China, Costa Rica, Japan, Austria, New Zealand, Cuba, Chile, Greece, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Russia, and the Netherlands.

Britain was by far the leader, with 32,237 U.S. students. China was ninth, with 4,737.

Fear of SARS resulted in numbers for parts of East Asia dropping off for the spring and summer of 2003, so the 90 percent increase for China is not so much a dramatic increase as a return to pre-crisis levels.

In 2003/04, overall U.S. study abroad in Asia (13,213) increased by 36%, with American student numbers in China exceeding pre-SARS levels (4,737, up 90%), and increases in students going to Japan, (3,707, up 7%), Korea (879, up 19%), Hong Kong (487, up 6%), and Taiwan (195, up 32%). However, even with all of these increases, only 7% of all Americans studying abroad selected Asia for their overseas academic experience.

I don’t know how those numbers are reached. Taiwan certainly has more than 192 Americans studying here. Perhaps the figures are related to official university-level study-abroad programs.

Nonetheless, the figures do represent an increase, especially for places such as China, where many are studying Mandarin. Indeed, being in an environment where the target language is spoken is especially important, given how many Mandarin-learning programs (in both the West and Asia) are badly imbalanced toward memorizing Chinese characters rather than learning the language itself. So environment is especially important for those wishing to learn Mandarin.

For what it’s worth, I’ve lived in both China and Taiwan, and I recommend Taiwan.