29 May 2010


Dear TCG,

How many dialects of Chinese are there? I know theres Mandarin, Cantonese, Min, Hakka, Xiang, Wu, Hui, Gan and Jin. What are the differences between them? and can those who understand one dialect understand others? Like how those who speak American-English can understand British-English and vice-versa?

Kevin B

Would you accept an answer of far too many to list? since each of the above can be subdivided several times and then subdivided again and again.

Effectively they sound different and have slight variations on grammatical structure which would take me a long time to explain here are some piss weak examples:

for example is a posessive word

You say 我blah blah blah 嘅 to denote it is mine this is NOT used in Mandarin at all(probably why everybody ends their sentences in lah in Singapore, HK, Taiwan etc , except taiwanese blokes sound like poofs).

The do they understand each other? Is hit and miss as people are educated to different levels and therefore understand certain things because they have learns and it is hard to ascertain without special experiments which TCG has by accident performed, in HK there is an old peoples' home I sometimes visit (I don't have any relatives there but it is customary to say hello to an old family friend there who is very very old). A general rule is the farther away a dialect and or location is the bigger the difference and difficulty of understanding each other. Hakka and Cantonese live in Southern China along the coast and it is very close I feel anyway. But Shanghainese and Beijing Mandarin are different. Even my Taiwanese girl I have difficulty speaking to her sometimes though she speaks Cantonese too, which makes me life easier.

Anyway she is Hakka, her room mate is Cantonese, while her next door is from Beijing, while another one is from Shanghai all of them are completely illiterate and can't even read or write their own names. But they were youngsters in 1920 so it is hardly a surprise this happened.

Absolutely none of them can understand each other at all, fragments get through, as there are some similarities yet also some differences.

Cantonese people call their grannies = Ah mah
Hakka people call their grannies = Ah poor

Even in various close locales there are variations, Hakka for example I can speak relatively well and understand easily. I go north o the border around Shenzhen where a variation of Hakka is spoken (TVB had a Caucasian woman who spoke Guanzhou Hakka and I was ????? when listening to her speak) and I don't understand. Even though the PRC is attempting to subvert everybody to Mandarin and use simplified characters to promote literacy and understanding they are not making great progress.

My own spoken Chinese everybody thinks is weird as I strip out words mix and match, you don't for example hear me ever say Bah see (bus) or Yeen Saw (insurance) which you can probably tell are borrowed from English words.

I say Gwang gwang Che for bus for example.

However here is some British comedy about Northern Ireland Dialect if you can call it that.

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