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Transformation Continues on All Levels 2


Is Cantonese dying? Last weekend’s visit to Guangzhou was quite depressing in many ways. It’s nothing new that people from all over China migrate to Guangdong province, especially Shenzhen and Guangzhou, to make something of their lives. That’s why we have a lot of people, taxi drivers in particular, who live in Guangdong province without being able to speak the local language Cantonese.

What is new, or rather, a phenomenon that’s only a few years old (I’ve visiting Guangzhou regularly for 27 years) is that local people in the cradle of Cantonese answer me in Mandarin when I address them in their own language. You could say that people in Guangzhou have become like Hong Kong people when it comes to steadfastly, relentlessly and tenaciously answer people in a completely different language than the one they have been addressed in.


It’s not that long ago that Guangzhou people were delighted when I talked to them in Cantonese. Now they look bewildered, almost scared, and keep quacking away in that ear-off-tearing torture sound that is native Cantonese speakers talking Mandarin. And no, they’re not immigrants from other provinces. They are locals.

No, this must be caused by some kind of edict being hammered into them from on high; I’m guessing some kind of tiny little carrot and a rather big stick. The Chinese government is on a mission to wipe out Cantonese and nothing is going to stop them. That is no surprise, after all, the communists started controlling the Chinese people even before they came into power in 1949. But now the local people are aiding and abetting them full throttle. Not only by following “warm prompts” (‘gentle reminder’ in Chinglish) from schools not to let their children learn Cantonese, but also by being afraid to talk Cantonese in general. It has come to this.


I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from foreigners learning Cantonese: “I went to Shenzhen/Guangzhou/Zhuhai but no one could speak Cantonese”. This is not true. I would say everyone except taxi drivers and hotel receptionists can speak Cantonese. They have just been told on pain of death not to speak it to foreigners. Or anyone. But I know a little ditty that will soon put a smile on their face and a Cantonese on their tongue!


Gong Dong Yan gong Gong Dong Wah
Teng m meng jau fan heungha

Cantonese people speak Cantonese
If you don’t understand, go back to your ancestral village

If you want to know how to say it, watch the film below.

(Some people say 廣州話 (Gong Jau Wah). In fact Cantonese has many names. 廣東Gong Dong is the province. 廣州 Gong Jau is the capital city. 粵語(yut yu – Cantonese Language) 白話(bak wah – White Language or vernacular) 廣付話 (Gong Fu Wah – Cantonese Language)

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