Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Discussions on the Cantonese language.

Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by iserlohn »

Cantonese itself is not a harsh language. It is very similar to MC (Middle Chinese), and most of the poetry that is written in the Tong/Tang Dynasty sounds wonderful in Cantonese and sound terrible in Mandarin.

It all depends on how the language is spoken. Even in English the different dialects gives a different feeling. The southern accent (of the US) is rough and sweet at the same time, while in Cali the words just flows and RP is commanding and businesslike.

How well Cantonese sounds depend on how the tones match when the words are used. That's why there are very strict rules in most forms of poetry. These tones are also why the language is very hard to learn, and also very hard to rap in :) !! Canto-rap sucks.

The color of cantonese is not in how it sounds, but in how it is used. Because each sound has many (6) different tones, there are a variety of colloquial phases and word puns making use of this which makes the language fun and interesting. Also alot of the vocabulary that is used in ancient times still being used today in Cantonese is lost in standard Mandarin.

Unfortunately most of the people I know who don't like Cantonese (the language and the people) are Chinese (from the mainland). China is made up of a fusion of a number of cultures (from different peoples and *times*) and more should be done to promote our heritage, rather than blindly following the beat of "national unity" which functions as a mind control device and has no other purpose.


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Norty »

of course its not a harsh language. I think german and russian are more like it..

Cantonese is a kewl language. There are heaps of ppl learning Cantonese in Malaysia. Because They think it sounds nice and funny.


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Chaseme »

As someone who has learned Japanese, Mandarin and now (dabbling in) cantonese, I find that I just have to agree that Cantonese is a bit harsh. My friend thought Chinese sounded "nasty" when he watched a bit of a Chinese program, but that's because the speakers were using Cantonese. Cantonese is also a very confusing language, with different spoken and written usages, it is really quite baffling, which is probably just fuel for the fire.

However I don't want to say that Cantonese can't grow on you. At first I found Japanese to be quite gutteral and sounded like a series of grunts and moans, but that comes more out of the highly stylized nature of japanese acting (especially by males). When Japanese people speak in a strait conversational way, it sounds quite lovely, like a wonderful poem. I also thought Mandarin was a rough language that sounded like chickens clucking, until I watched some Mandarin films (spearheaded by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.") which changed by opinion about Mandarin. Now I think it sounds like a song. Conversely to Japanese, when Chinese people spoke to each other in a conversational way, they tended to speak too quickly, and with a lot of force, whereas when the speakers talk more softly, and flowingly, the true beauty of the language is revealed.

Regarding both of these languages, it's up to how it is spoken. Neither Japanese, nor Mandarin Chinese produce sounds that are inheirantly unpleasant. Even Mandarin with it's "ch", "zh" and "sh" said with the tongue rolled up, don't sound bad when spoken, only different from what we're used to hearing in English. Though, if the tones are exaggerated too much in combination with speaking too quickly, it does sound a bit abrasive.

So my conclusion is, were not speaking German or Russian here, no one sounds like they're hacking up a damn hairball, they sounds made in the language are quite lovely and poetic, so (not to play the devils advocate here), but I'm sure as with Japanese and Mandarin, Cantonese will surely grow on me given time.


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Linda »

Just because Cantonese have so many tones and colloquial elements,It's very difficult for non-Cantonese to learn it.I think it's not good for the communication.I like Cantonese because of my boyfriend,who is a HK guy.I learn Cantonese for him and he learn Putonghua for me.Usually I am confident on my ability to learn language,I can learn English,Japanese very quickly,but unfortunately,the Cantonese seems so hard for me.

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Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Mark »

Most of those who said "Cantonese is caccophonous" have been misinterpreted, I think. Generally, they mean that Cantonese doesn't have the same phonetic rules that most languages have that tend to regulate the flow of words so that it won't sound unnatural to say one word after another. "ng oi nei" does sound a bit strange, as does "si hau mot yun yi yi" (mainly in the yi yi, but the transition between mot and yun doesn't sound exactly nice either, nor does that between yun and yi)

More examples:

dong si go jung yi sat yin
ending a word in NG and then starting the next word with Y doesn't sound very good. ending a word with T and starting the next with Y doesn't sound very good either.

ng chin nin dik fung wo yu a chong lyu do syu mung
Well, this sounds almost pleasant! NG LY doesn't sound very good. Y doesn't sound that great if a voiced consonant comes before it (in any language), NG doesn't sound very good if a nasal (M, N, NG) or a liquid (R, L, the "D" sound that's somewhere in between) comes after it)

James Campbell

Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by James Campbell »


I have to disagree in some areas. If you read into some morphophonology, you'll find across many of the world's languages that points of articulation for consonants pronounced in succession tend to merge, and not just for articulation, but in manner as well (cross-feature). One good example to look at is Korean (for example hap-ni-ta is read hamnida, and ak-ma is read ang-ma). There is plenty of this happening in English as well (for example, non-voiced alveolar stops and fricatives followed by palatal approximates or vowels pull the stops and fricatives back and merge into a postalveolar fricative, as in the pronunciation of 'tion' in action or 'sion' in succession).

>NG doesn't sound very good if a nasal (M, N, NG) ... comes after it

Normally, a velar nasal (ng) followed by another velar, whether nasal or not is very natural and should not be unpleasant to the ears. In fact, most languages merge sounds in this way indicating preference.

It helps sound better if the sounds in succession belong to the same points of articulation such as palatals (/c/+/j/), velars (/ng/+/k/ or /g/ or /w/), alveolars (/n/+/t/ or /d/), (/t/+/s/ or English /r/), (/d/ + /z/), (/s/ + /t/), labials (/m/ + /b/ or /p/). It's more natural to put stops before fricatives (the creation of affricates) rather than the other way around. And when it occurs across features, it becomes problematic for some speakers, such as /k/ + /s/ is a lot more easier than the unnatural /s/ + /k/.

But since Cantonese p, t, k stops occur only in syllable final position and are unreleased, there is an unavoidable addition of a glottal stop /?/ before any following vowel. This creates an overall choppy feeling to the language. The reason why you don't hear this in Minnan is because morphophonemic changes are taking place already. For example, 'an-tsuaN' is read 'annuaN'. Occlusive endings are reduced to glottal stop in many cases, depending on the following vowel or consonant, and therefore the language sounds overall much smoother between words.

French and English make use of ellision between words, so that in many cases syllable- or word-final consonants undergo phonemic change with the first consonant of the following word, making these languages sound much smoother. For example, the natural pronunciation of 'would you' is more like 'woodzhu'.

Mak Zai 麥仔 wrote:

The Min3nan2/man5nam4 閩南language or what Taiwanese people call tai2yu5/toi4yu5 台語

I can't be sure what your tone numbers are referring to. Taiwanese people call Minnan as ban2 lam5 oe7 which is read as ban1 lam7 oe7, and taiyu as tai5 gu2 which is read as tai7 gu2 (Zhangzhou/Tainan accent) or tai7 gi2 (Quanzhou/Taipei accent).



Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Joe »

I think Cantonese is fun to speak and it has alot of slang. If I say "eat banana" to someone who speak contonese, he would know what I mean. but to someone who speak Mandarin they don't have a clue.


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by yue »

joe, does "eat banana" means suck my d......?


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by noodle »

Well what a boring topic of conversation. I'm english but can also speak thai, cantonese, english & french. I have no problems with cantonese whatsover. It's a great language for expressing yourself and having fun and it's got so many colourful expressions but maybe some hong kongers do sound as thought they are arguing when they are talking. Actually i think Cantonese has got one of the most richest and colourful range of slang expressions of all the languages on the planet. i always like to joke in any language and cantonese is as much fun as any other language when you are in the mood to be a pain in the ass or a sweet talking hustler.


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by Sunset »

I have leanrt cantonese for about 7 years now and am fluent, but I am not chinese. i must be fluent cause people are always asking if I was born in Hong kong cause I sound so local.
"Harsh" this word is totally subjective. There is no right or wrong. One thing I have to say is, besides harshness, the more important issue is of cantonese grammar and how different it is. Personally I cant find a parrallel in other languages, not even other chinese dialects. And the grammar really influences my native language. If you look a above, I wrote

"Harsh this word" - Cantonese grammar. It should be "The word harsh". Even though I am white and native english speaker I often now use Cantonese grammar in English. just by accident, not on purpose.When I speak, people think I am not even a local!

So be careful, the grammar of cantonese can ruin your other languages!

Oh, let me tell you what I really love in Cantonese. The grammar is soo much more flexible than english. You can just throw a few words together, use lots of "" to connect your sentences and it is already very local!


Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by :-) »

Cantonese is the 12th most widely spoken language on earth comparable to the numbers who speak French (the 11th most widely spoken language on Earth). With so many northern Chinese learning Cantonese the numbers will surpass French in ranking in the very near future.

If Cantonese was such a harsh language, then why do so many people speak it or want to learn to speak it?

I think Black English is harsh but many wannabes want to learn this language but I don't because it's an unexpressive language in my opinion. When a Homeboy speaks to another Homeboy, it sounds like they are always arguing but to them they're not.

Those who say Cantonese speakers sound like they are always arguing may actually be witnessing an actual arguement. To me, an arguement in Mandarin is just as harsh as an arguement in Cantonese as is in any language. Poetry in Mandarin sounds just as pleasant as poetry in Cantonese. And sadness is similarly expressed in both Cantonese & Mandarin.

I believe the rest of world only gets a glimpse of Cantonese through the lenses of the fast-paced society of Hong Kong. They've yet tasted the other flavors of Cantonese from the countryside which is a variation of Cantonese which is much slower, smoother, relaxed, and not in your face.


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Re: Is Cantonese a harsh language?

Post by nidhai »

As someone who speaks both Cantonese & English fluently (but not Mandarin), I find these two languages are not entirely compatible. I've heard of many anecdoctal reports of how people from HK who speak Cantonese who cannot adjust to NOrth American culture because of this linguistic barrier, as opposed to someone who speaks Mandarin who nonethless could acculturate relatively easier in spite of a greater cultural gulf between mainland China and NOrth America.