Different Characters for Written Mandarin/Cantonese

The characters used for Mandarin and Cantonese share the same roots in ancient Chinese, but Mandarin now uses simplified characters, which were set as the standard by the Chinese government in the 1950s, while Cantonese speakers still tend to use traditional characters. As the name implies, simplified characters are less complex, and have fewer character strokes than traditional characters.

Those who read traditional characters are usually able to figure out simplified characters, but those who read simplified have a difficult time understanding traditional characters.

As an example, ‘dragon’ is written like this in Mandarin (simplified characters): 龙, but like this in Cantonese (traditional characters): 龍. The Mandarin version has 5 strokes, but the “Cantonese version” has 16 strokes! (Taiwanese, i.e. their Mandarin dialect, Hokkien, and other Chinese languages in Taiwan, also use traditional characters.)

Another example is Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, which is written as 广州 in Mandarin, but 廣州 in “Cantonese”. You can tell there are a few similarities, but that it would also be difficult for a Mandarin speaker to understand Cantonese writing.

Written Cantonese

With the spread of electronic communication, a form of written Cantonese was introduced to represent idiomatic sounds and words in Cantonese. These words and characters have no connection with classical Chinese words/characters but are widely used in informal occasions, like online chat, instant messages, network websites, and local magazines, etc.

Examples of Idiomatic (Informal) Cantonese:

Gloss Classical Cantonese Idiomatic Cantonese
They 他們/taa1 mun4 佢哋/keoi5 dei6
Know 會不會/wui6 bat1 wui5 識唔識/sik1 m4 sik1
Speak 說/syut3 講/gong2
? (question indicator) 嗎/maa3 呀/aa3

Source: www.chinahighlights.com

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