Language or Dialect?

A topic which commonly raises its head in Chinese learning forums is whether or not Cantonese, or indeed other languages within China, are languages or in fact dialects.  There is a nice article by Robert Lindsay (not the British sitcom actor) that outlines a dialect requires 90% familiarity with the mother language.  My personal view will always be that Cantonese is a language.

If you are interested in the subject the following two articles are well worth a read, especially the comments at the bottom of the second one:

There are also some interesting maps showing the variety and spread of languages across China, Hong Kong & Macau, Taiwan, and occupied Tibet (original source).  No surprise is that the main boundaries are formed by the former countries which are now collectively referred to as China:


4 responses to “Language or Dialect?

  1. Would you be classifying Wu as the language and Shanghaniese as a dialect of Wu? The local thought that Shanghaniese is a language in itself may come from the dominance of Mandarin. If the various Wu dialects were spoken commonly with the absence of Mandarin people would probably be more whiling to classify Shanghainese as a dialect. This could be their relative perception.

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