Face Off: Will Cantonese eventually die out and give way to Putonghua?

Compiled by Heidi Yeung

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic.This week …

Compiled by Heidi Yeung |

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A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally to help stop Mandarin being promoted to the detriment of Cantonese in mainland China

Patricia Abundo, 18, Auckland University of Technology

It's no surprise that Putonghua has quickly become a very important language in the modern world. Because of this, there is a strong possibility that Cantonese will eventually be a "dead" language.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China is the world's second largest economy, after the US. This proves just how powerful the country is.

Because of China's fast-growing economy, many top professionals and businessmen, from Hong Kong and abroad, visit the mainland regularly. In turn, thousands of rich mainlanders travel abroad for pleasure as well as business.

For this reason, business people, shopkeepers and workers alike have recognised the need to learn China's official language.

According to a student concern group, around 70 per cent of Hong Kong's primary schools use Putonghua as the medium of instruction. Therefore, it is evident that children from a very young age are learning Putonghua. This means that students are more likely to become used to speaking Putonghua rather than Cantonese.

In the past, learning English was thought to be essential. Now, Putonghua is key.

Some 848 million people worldwide speak Putonghua, compared to 62.2 million Cantonese speakers. That figure does not include the astonishing number of foreigners who are learning the language. So the number of Putonghua speakers will continue to grow, and yes, Cantonese will die out eventually.

Lucinda Kam Wing-lam, 19, University of Hong Kong

With China's international status rising in recent decades, more emphasis has been placed on Putonghua.

It's now the most spoken language in the world. Putonghua exceeds speakers of the second most popular language - English - by a ratio of two-to-one.

However, despite its widespread popularity, Putonghua is unlikely to replace Cantonese any time soon.

If you are talking about the fate of Cantonese over the next five to 10 years, it is almost impossible for it to be replaced by Putonghua.

A language requires a minimum of 50 years to be widely spoken by a majority of a population or region. So it's unlikely that Cantonese will fade out within such a short period of time. And it's hard to tell whether Cantonese will die out in 100 years' time. Cantonese is currently classified as a language in need of preservation, so there's increasing focus on it. This means it probably won't be overtaken by Putonghua - at least not for a very, very long time.

Also, some Cantonese expressions cannot be properly conveyed by Putonghua, which makes Cantonese very special.

Putonghua is a precise language: people speaking it sound like they're reading perfectly-organised sentences.

But speaking in Cantonese, as people living in Guangdong province and Hong Kong do, helps express some ideas more vividly.

For example, some expressions in Cantonese like "gah la" and "jor" are used to emphasise the intensity of certain events.

Therefore, due to the different nature of the two languages, I don't think there's any way Putonghua will override Cantonese.