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Why Cantonese have changed the written form of their language? 文言 > 普通話

There are so many aspects in „Chinese culture” which I can’t understand.  One of them is connected with Cantonese written language.  At the beginning of 20 century people were using (officially) classical Chinese but among Cantonese they used colloquial Cantonese. So if they used Classical Chinese only in written form, why they have changed it into 普通話 , which has much longer form  ? I know that Classical Chinese become completely incomprehensible in spoken form, but if Cantonese were using spoken Cantonese it shouldn’t be a problem for them. Of course I understand that Cantonese from GuangDong and Mainland China had to learn it, but why people from 香港 and澳門 changed Classical Chinese into Putongwa which they also don’t use in spoken form? Couldn’t they still use 文言 for official purposes?



Although I don't quite understand what your question means exactly, I hope the following would help.

Simply speaking, there are two aspects of Chinese, written Chinese  and spoken Chinese.

Starting with the written Chinese, there are two forms, namely 文言文 and 白話文.

文 言文 is used in the past (before the 20th century). Thus most ancient Chinese literature was written in this form of written Chinese. It is quite difficult to read and write in this form. So only well educated individuals know this and many Chinese could not write or even read the books or literature. In order to raise the literacy level of Chinese, 白話文 gained its popularity since 20th Century. It is more similar to the spoken Chinese (despite there is still a big gap) so people can learn to write and read more easily. Soon it replaces 文言文 to become the most common and official basis of written Chinese in ALL parts of China, including Guandong province, HK and Macau. Therefore, as long as you know Chinese, you can msn or email to any Chinese / HK people with ease.

So I guess it is pretty similar to English. Shakespeare didn't write in the same way as people do now. 

For the spoken Chinese, I do not know much about the form used in the past. Nowadays, the two forms are  Putonghua and Cantonese. Cantonese is spoken in Guandong province, HK and Macau while Putonghua is spoken in other parts of China.

Putonghua highly resembles the written Chinese. Thus it is like you write what you say and you say what you write. This makes Putonghua esaier to learn too. However, the resemblance does not apply to Cantonese. Cantonese, to me, is a very random language. It is because it highly stresses on "understanding each other in a communication" a lot more than grammatical rules. Thus there are a very wide variety of expressions. Not to mention Cantonese is one of the msot complicated lanuagea in terms of phonology. However, it is believed that Cantonese was spoken in China in the past (before putongua becomes the dominant one). So I guess it was later replaced by Putonghua due to the higher resemblance of putonghua to 白話文.

****you should note that (Hong Kong + Taiwan) and (China)n adopt different sets of Chinese characters.

Hong Kong + Taiwan use Traditional Chinese Characters. Other parts of CHina use Simplified Chinese Characters. Traditional Characters have been used since the language appeared. However, Chinese Government implemented a new set of the characters, the Simplifed Characters, in 1950s. Simplifed characters have fewer strokes and are less complicated structurally. THus thru this implementation, China gov wanted to imrpove the literacy level of Chinese, considering there are a significant population who still do not know how to write and read.


Well noticed.  People in the Cantonese-speaking area used to write in Classical Chinese for formal purposes and Colloquial Cantonese in less formal communications.  

The use of Written Mandarin had not been attested before the "New Culture Movement', and it soon took over the classical Chinese in many non-Mandarin speaking area. The new written langauge, pronounced in the local vernaculars in the South, was taught alongside the Classical language.  In Hong Kong, where most people had no knowledge in Mandarin, most people from that generation writes in a style that is essentially a mixture of Mandarin and Classical Chinese, with occational Cnatonese borrowings. 

I didn't speak Mandarin before 18, but I manage to write written Mandarin without much difficulty. I think written Mandarin is easier than classical Chinese

Adding my 2 cents worth...

Cantonese did not change their written form.  Mandarin did! it was done to raise the level of literacy like others had explained.  However some of the changes were good but others destroyed the meaning and the cultural aspects of the language making the language into a cultural desert.  Take the character for wind for example.  It full form is 風 vs 风.  Ancient Chinese believe that wind is caused by the beating wings of insects.  Hence you see the insect radical with it wing in the "wave front".  The simpilfied version threw out all that is cultural.  However there are some good simplified forms such as 纔 becoming 才 or 麤 becoming 粗. 

Cantonese is a more colorful language than Mandarin.  Let me rephrase that... Cantonese has more colorful expressions than Mandarin.  It is almost like English spoken in the southern states of the US.  They are simply more colorful ways to express.  Cantonese enjoy Tang poetry better than Mandarin speakers because Cantonese is more akin to the "Mandarin" of those times.  Mandarin has changed with the times.  Mandarin speakers tend to like Sung lyrics more because it resembles more of that of the way people spoke during the Sung Dynasty.Whatever the case may be, Cantonese and Mandarin are distinctive languages even though they belong to the same family of languages.  Cantonese grammar structure are quite dissimilar to that of Mandarin. 

Cantonese tend to use more of the classical Chinese style.  The closest example in English would be the way one writes vs the way one speaks.  People will find it strange if you speak in a poetic style even though they can understand what you are saying!  If you write an essay in the style of script writing (like those in the movies) your essay is unacceptable for submission.  There are many different styles of English writing - prose, poetry, formal, technical, business, humour, etc.

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