Mandarin Becomes Talk of Chinatown

Cantonese-speakers sidelined by new generation of immigrants
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2009 1:20 AM CDT
Members of the Wang Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute, a martial arts group, march through the streets during the Chinatown Lunar New Year parade in New York.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
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(Newser) – Goodbye "Leih Hou Ma," hello "Ni Hao Ma." The language most often heard in New York's Chinatown and in Chinese communities across America is quickly changing from Cantonese to Mandarin as new immigrants from mainland China outnumber those from Hong Kong. Even Cantonese-speaking parents are pushing their children to speak Mandarin as China's influence on the world soars, the New York Times notes.

As a southern Chinese dialect, Cantonese is often impossible for Mandarin speakers to understand and vice-versa, leaving some elderly Cantonese-speakers in Chinatown increasingly isolated as their language is eclipsed. Most see the rise of Mandarin as inevitable, however, noting that Cantonese itself replaced the Taishanese dialect as the language of Chinatown last century. "Chinatown—it's always changing," said the principal of the New York Chinese School, where Mandarin classes now outnumber Cantonese three to one.