Cantonese is not dead yet

« previous post | next post »

Not by a long shot, judging from several recent articles in the South China Morning Post:

"American professor speaks up for Cantonese to preserve Hong Kong’s heritage: Robert Bauer from HKU is writing a Cantonese-English dictionary that will include colloquial terms, believing language represents cultures" (Heyling Chan, 5/21/17)

"Hong Kong vloggers keeping Cantonese alive with money-spinning YouTube channels:  While many fear Cantonese may be in decline, for Hong Kong’s online stars it has opened a gateway to thousands of followers and lucrative careers" (Rachel Blundy, 6/10/17)

"Use Cantonese as a tool to extend Hong Kong’s influence, academic urges:  Chinese University linguist says better teaching of the native language is the vital first step in raising the city’s profile in Beijing’s trade initiative" (Naomi Ng, 5/4/17)

"In Vancouver’s ‘Cantosphere’, a sense of responsibility and an identity under siege:  Artists and academics in Vancouver are carving out a space to examine both the fate of Hong Kong and the diaspora identity" (Ian Young, 5/19/17)

All four articles evince a keen sense of the centrality of Cantonese language in maintaining the cultural identity of its speakers.  I urge anyone who is interested in Cantonese to read each of these articles to gain a better idea of the vital issues of language education and preservation that members of the Cantosphere are facing, wherever they are.

In this post, however, I wish to focus on the first article, that about the Cantonese-Dictionary edited by Bob Bauer.  In many previous Language Log posts on Cantonese topics, I have quoted from Bob's early drafts of the dictionary (e.g., here, here, and here), and many readers have expressed their eagerness to see the book in print.  I am happy to report that Cantonese aficionados won't have to wait another decade for what promises to be the most comprehensive and definitive dictionary of their favorite language ever compiled.

Just today, Tom Bishop of Wenlin Institute, who is handling the computing and typesetting, delivered the pdf of the dictionary to the University of Hawaii Press.  The pdf is about 20 megabytes and the page count is 2,361.  Bob tells me that it he still has about 200 pages of notes that need to be entered (his shirt pocket is habitually bulging with pencils, papers, clippings, and little notebooks), but that's one of the things that makes this dictionary so special:  it includes up-to-date and colloquial expressions that have never been incorporated in any lexicon of Cantonese.  Bob collects these expressions by scouring Cantonese (and I do mean Cantonese) newspapers and magazines, watching Cantonese films and television shows, and listening to Cantopop.  We will all be in for a bountiful feast when the ABC Cantonese-English dictionary is published, hopefully within a year.

[h.t. Geoff Wade]

Update (7/19/17):  Cameron L. White, "Cantonese isn’t dead yet, so stop writing its eulogy", Quartz (6/26/17)


  1. Chas Belov said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 4:47 am

    It appears the University of Hawaii Press can be counted on in the fight to preserve Cantonese. I have and have greatly enjoyed browsing their voluminous Dictionary of Cantonese Slang.

    While I'm here, since I can no longer comment on the article No word for “Community Room”?, I'll mention that it turned out that KWillets was correct, that Chinese translations were swapped between two signs. There is a corresponding sign near the service window which has something very much like “If you need any assistance or to use the services, please inform the staff.” in English and Spanish. And the Chinese on that sign is 5 characters, the last of which is "室" (room).

  2. Cyberiagirl said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 5:53 am

    20 megabytes is a very small file for print publishing when there are so many pages… perhaps 20 gigabytes?

    But anyway, sounds exciting!

  3. Bob Chan said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 11:24 am

    Hunan people still talk with Hunanese, Beijing people still use Beijingese… There is room for local dialects and the national sound to co-exist.

  4. Eidolon said,

    June 12, 2017 @ 4:06 pm

    All four articles seem specifically about Hong Kong, which is curious, given that most speakers of Cantonese do not live in Hong Kong, but in nearby Guangdong. Is Cantonese less associated with identity in Guangdong than in Hong Kong?

RSS feed for comments on this post