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Understanding dialects

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Sabrina
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Denmark
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 Message 1 of 12
02 November 2006 at 11:24am | IP Logged 
I was wondering if a speaker of Castilian Spanish would be able to understand other Spanish dialects (or languages if dialects offends you)?
Can someone who speaks Mandarin understand Cantonese?
From what I know English speakers have no problems with understanding American English...
What about other languages?

Edited by Sabrina on 02 November 2006 at 11:25am

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lady_skywalker
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aspiringpolyglotblog
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 Message 2 of 12
02 November 2006 at 11:53am | IP Logged 
Speakers of Castilian Spanish can probably get the gist of what's being said in the various dialects and languages on the Iberian Peninsula, with the obvious exception of Basque (since it is a language isolate). It depends on how much those speakers know about the other languages/dialects as not everyone will readily draw connections between the various languages.

Speaking personally, I can read texts Catalan, Galician and Asturian and probably understand at least 40% of it. There are words and idioms I am not familiar with but they are more intelligible to me than I once thought. I'm now aware of the differences in orthography and vocabulary as well as the differences in the basic grammar of these languages so I can often make an educated guess at the meaning of the text I'm reading. Things get a little more complicated with the spoken language as you don't get much time to digest what's being said if it's spoken at normal pace. Spoken Galician is not too difficult for me as long as it's spoken slowly.

English speakers anywhere in the world will more or less understand the other 'dialects', as long as they aren't spoken in a really heavy accent. Again, some words and idioms differ between the various dialects of English but it's nothing major, I feel.

As to Mandarin and Cantonese, these are NOT mutually intelligible. Personally, I feel there's a lot more difference between spoken Mandarin and Cantonese than there is between, say, Spanish and English or German but maybe native speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese may disagree. Mutual intelligibilty is far more assured when it comes to the written language as (theoretically) speakers of all the Chinese dialects are able to read written Chinese as the characters have pretty much the same meaning in any of the dialects (and in Japanese and Korean too).

Written Cantonese, though, is fairly tricky for anyone who is not acquainted with Cantonese due to a slightly differ grammar and the fact that vernacular Cantonese literature makes use of different characters to those use in Mandarin. Again, I'm not an expert so it would be nice if native speakers or people with a good knowledge of both Mandarin and Cantonese could offer their thoughts.

Edited by lady_skywalker on 02 November 2006 at 11:54am

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Sir Nigel
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 Message 3 of 12
02 November 2006 at 1:59pm | IP Logged 
Sabrina wrote:
From what I know English speakers have no problems with understanding American English.


Americans seem to have a problem with understanding most of the middle-class dialects throughout England with Scottish and Welsh English being even harder to understand. I guess it's the combination of the general increased speed and fewer syllables on some words.
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hagen
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 Message 4 of 12
03 November 2006 at 1:56am | IP Logged 
lady_skywalker wrote:
As to Mandarin and Cantonese, these are NOT mutually intelligible. Personally, I feel there's a lot more difference between spoken Mandarin and Cantonese than there is between, say, Spanish and English or German but maybe native speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese may disagree.


While not being mutually intelligible, I've come to believe that they might not actually be so far from each other as German and English. (Perhaps more like German and Danish?)

Both (Mandarin speaking) Chinese and foreigners who know Mandarin seem to be able to acquire some basic Cantonese listening comprehension just by being there and paying attention. (Or listening to lots of TV series.) That's second hand knowledge though, I haven't (yet) tried Cantonese myself.

- Hagen
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lady_skywalker
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 Message 5 of 12
03 November 2006 at 4:15am | IP Logged 
hagen wrote:
Both (Mandarin speaking) Chinese and foreigners who know Mandarin seem to be able to acquire some basic Cantonese listening comprehension just by being there and paying attention. (Or listening to lots of TV series.) That's second hand knowledge though, I haven't (yet) tried Cantonese myself.


The same could be said for any language, though. I picked up some Japanese just by listening to it and watching TV but English and Japanese are not related at all. No doubt that Mandarin speakers can make sense of Cantonese as some words are slightly similar and they already have a good understanding of how tones 'work'. I've tried listening to Cantonese but aside from the odd word here and there, it makes very little sense to me. Then again, I don't bother with Cantonese much as I can't bear listening to it (sorry, Cantonese speakers) so perhaps I haven't had the chance to make a link between the two languages.

Regardless, I still believe that a Mandarin speaker will have to strain a little more to understand Cantonese than a Spanish speaker will have to strain to understand Galician or maybe even Catalan.
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Zelaia
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 Message 6 of 12
03 November 2006 at 8:19am | IP Logged 
I speak Spanish and French, so it is very easy for me to understand Catalan when it is written because it looks like a mixture of both languages. Spoken Catalan is hard to understand.
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Sabrina
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Denmark
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 Message 7 of 12
05 November 2006 at 1:20pm | IP Logged 
The difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is as big as German and Danish? Wow, I see why it's called languages and not dialects.
What about the difference between the Spanish in Mexico and Argentina?

How big is the difference between Indonesian and Malay?
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Raincrowlee
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 Message 8 of 12
05 November 2006 at 9:14pm | IP Logged 
Sabrina wrote:
The difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is as big as German and Danish? Wow, I see why it's called languages and not dialects.


Yes, and all of the Chinese dialects are similarly distant from one another. Knowing Mandarin and/or Cantonese won't help you with Hokkien or Hakka.

Even dialects within the same group have as many differences as the differenct Romance languages. My girlfriend grew up speaking Chaozhou hua, which is a Minnan language, and she says that she only understands about 50% of Taiwanese, another Minnan language. She once taught me the numbers, and 1-5 are different, while 6-10 are exactly the same.

She also grew up with Hakka, and she says that she's heard two other versions of Hakka, which she can't understand at all.

Quote:
How big is the difference between Indonesian and Malay?


From what my Inodnesian friends tell me, not too much. Some vocab, some commonly used phrases are different. No one has made tha analogy, but it sounds like the difference between American and British English. A lot of people basically consider them the same language with a different name, and the differences are similar to the regional differences you'd find in any language.

Then again, there are also a huge number of Indonesian dialects, which are similar but different.


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