Learn About The Differences Between Cantonese and Mandarin

Surely, you know or have heard about the Chinese language, but do you know what are the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin?

Differences Between Cantonese and Mandarin

Cantonese and Mandarin are both varieties of the Chinese language, and are both tonal languages. They also use the same writing system, with a few exceptions. However, that is where the similarities end. These two languages are mutually unintelligible, and even though they are both tonal, their tones are completely different.

Mandarin holds official status in Mainland China and Taiwan, and is the primary language spoken in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore (learn more about Mandarin translation services). Cantonese, on the other hand is spoken mainly in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong, where the capital is Guangzhou or Canton. It is also the most widely spoken variety of Chinese spoken by Chinese communities abroad. Click here for Cantonese translation services.

Here are some of the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin:

  • The Tone: Mandarin only has four tones, while Cantonese has six (or nine, depending on how you count). One would need a very trained ear to pick up the tones that are in Cantonese and not in Mandarin. The tones in Mandarin are typically “moving” up or down. They either go up, down, down-then-up, or stay up. Cantonese tones tend to be more musical and are distinguished between high, middle and low.
  • Final Consonants: In both languages, each word is one syllable. What syllables are allowed in each language is different. In Mandarin, syllables usually have an initial consonant that is followed by a vowel. In Cantonese, syllables can end in a consonant.
  • Isochrony: (or a language’s rhythmic division of time into equal proportions) Cantonese is syllable- timed, which means that ideally, each syllable takes up the same amount of time. On the other hand, Mandarin is stress- timed, placing the same amount of time on stressed syllables.

These are the basic differences between Cantonese and Mandarin, and if you need more help with translating or interpreting either one, give us a call at Language Direct.