After Shanghainese, Cantonese is the second most widely spoken dialect.  Like all the major dialects in use in China, Cantonese is a collection of dialects spoken mainly in Southeastern parts of Mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong.  It is also used by Chinese minorities living in Southeast Asia and a large number of overseas Chinese originally from Cantonese origin also still retain use of it.  The term Canton came from the Romanized western name for Guangzhou. Cantonese is understood by over 80 million Chinese speakers.

Cantonese is a completely separate language from Mandarin. It sounds quite different from Mandarin, mainly because it has a different set of syllables. The rules for syllable formation are different; for example, there are syllables ending in non-nasal consonants (e.g. "lak"). It also has a different set of tones. Mandarin is considered to have 4 (or 5 if the light tone is considered) tones. Cantonese is generally considered to have 6 or 7 tones, the choice depending on whether a traditional distinction between a high-level and a high-falling tone is observed; the two tones in question have largely merged into a single, high-level tone, especially in Hong Kong Cantonese. Many (especially older) descriptions of the Cantonese sound system give a somewhat higher number of tones, e.g. 10. This is chiefly because, in these accounts, a separate tone category is assigned to syllables ending in p, t, or k for each of the three pitch levels in which such syllables occur. Most linguists today consider this an unnecessary complication.  Mandarin's vowel system is somewhat more conservative than Cantonese's, in that many diphthongs preserved in Mandarin have merged or been lost in Cantonese.  Other common characters are unique to Cantonese or deviated from their Mandarin usage, they include: , , , , , , , etc.  The words represented by these characters are sometimes cognates with pre-existing Chinese words. However, their colloquial Cantonese pronunciations have diverged from formal Cantonese pronunciations.

A problem for any student of Cantonese is the lack of a widely accepted, standardized transcription system. Another issue is with Chinese characters: Cantonese uses the same system of characters as Mandarin, but it often uses different words, which have to be written with different characters. For Chinese writing systems, there are add on’s required for Cantonese to account for the additional words used in Cantonese. At least this is the case in Hong Kong, but in the Canton area of mainland China, Cantonese is written with the exact same characters as Mandarin, though the characters stand for words not actually used in Cantonese.

Although Cantonese is spoken broadly, most universities in the US do not and have not historically taught Cantonese. Mandarin is offered in language classes most of the time due to it’s status as the official dialect of both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan.
 (Outside of Hong Kong, in southern China, Cantonese is considered to be a second, “local” language used in addition to the national language - Mandarin) Further to this, Mandarin was the court dialect formerly used in Imperial China. However, Cantonese courses can be found at a few US universities. The University of Hawaii is one example. Unusual for a non-Mandarin language, Cantonese has its written form consisting of a number of unique characters that cannot be found in standard written Chinese.  Readers who are not familiar with Cantonese find it’s written form odd and unintelligible.  However, written Cantonese is commonly used informally among Cantonese speakers; through instant messaging services, advertisements and subtitles to Hong Kong movies.  Legal document records also use Cantonese now and then to be able to exactly record a witness’ statement.


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