Language Profile: Cantonese

Travel around the world with us each Tuesday as we take a closer look at a different language every week!

language profile Cantonese


Classification: Sino-Tibetan, Chinese Languages

Closest Relative: Other dialects of Chinese, including Mandarin

Official In: Hong Kong, Macau

Also Spoken In: PR China, Singapore

Linguistic Quirks:

  • Six or seven tones, depending on the form of Cantonese
  • Retains many consonant sounds from Ancient Chinese that Mandarin does not
  • Third most spoken Chinese dialect after Mandarin and Wu, with over 60 million speakers
  • One of the few non-Mandarin dialect to have developed a recent written form

Famous Speakers:

  • Bruce Lee, martial arts legend
  • Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China (2011-15)

Want to learn?
You can find Cantonese being taught at SLE Columbia this spring! In case you are not a Columbia student though, there are plenty of resources available to learn Cantonese online, such as LearnCantonese!, Fluent in 3 Months, or CantoneseClass101

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