One challenge to be aware of is grammar, specifically word order.
In Mandarin, the most common way to say “You take a shower first”* is:
However, in Cantonese, the word order changes to:
*For some reason, this is the example sentence that gets used most often when talking with my students. I suppose since the order of who’s taking a shower is an important issue for students sharing a dorm room.
This also applies to the ubiquitous “taking leave” sentence when you’re leaving someone behind:
The good news is…
Down here in Cantonese Land, people probably won’t care or look at you strangely or think nasty thoughts about your Chinese regardless of which word order you use. The word order is much more flexible since Cantonese speakers are speaking Mandarin as a second (at least) language, and the word order of Cantonese is perfectly acceptable to them in Mandarin.
The bad news is…
An informant who is a native Cantonese speaker might not be as clear on the “rules” of Mandarin grammar. I’ve had native Cantonese speakers tell me that “there are no rules for Chinese word order.” I tried to point out that I thought the following would be unusual for a native Mandarin speaker to say:
= I put the bag on the table
They said, “Both are ok!”
Poll the audience
So my questions for all y’alls outside of Guangzhou are:
- Do you ever hear “xiān” 先 put at the end of a sentence like in my “shower” and “I go first” examples?
- What do you (and your informants) think of the “Both are ok!” statement and the “there are no word order rules in Chinese” statement? Would native speakers in your area be likely to say “wǒ fàng bāo zài zhuōzi shàng le” 我放包在桌子上了?
I’m most interested to hear any feedback in the comments section of this page.