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Is the Cantonese language dying out?

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Summary

UBC linguistics researcher says Cantonese is slowly being eliminated in favour of Mandarin

You need to look beyond the number of speakers to analyze the state of a language, says Zoe Lam

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – If 70 to 100 million people speak a language, you make think it’s a little crazy that someone says it’s dying.┬áBut a UBC linguistics researcher claims Cantonese is slowly being eliminated in favour of Mandarin.

“The message is ‘Speak Cantonese or other regional languages, and it’s uncivilized,'” says Zoe Lam.

She says the Chinese government has enacted laws to limit the use of Cantonese in the media, and many kids aren’t allowed to speak it at school.

“When children get this kind of idea when they’re little, they will associate Canonese with negative images, like ‘Only country bums speak it.’ But they would associate Mandarin with positive images, like urban people… or good job prospects.”

Lam says when you look at the state of a language, you don’t just look at the number of speakers.

“We also look at how the government thinks about the language and how the speaker thinks about the language. Because if we want to pass a language to another generation, it’s all about whether the kids speak the language.”

She says Cantonese speakers in Vancouver learned the language from their parents but when they have children, it’ll probably be English only around the house.