From The Boston Globe:
This transition from Cantonese to Mandarin was inevitable. There just aren't that many people who speak Cantonese compared to Mandarin. As you can see on this map, only people in the magenta part of China speak Cantonese:
The little boy answered the teacher's question in perfect Cantonese, which until recently would have earned him praise at the Kwong Kow Chinese School in Boston's Chinatown.
But the teacher shook her head.
"No," said Catherine Lui, peering at the boy over her eyeglasses as he stared up at her from the front row. "You have to use Mandarin."
Say hello - or better yet, ni hao - to Chinatown's rapidly expanding language, Mandarin. The official language of mainland China is sweeping into Cantonese-speaking enclaves across the United States, the result of increased immigration from across China and an urgent push by parents to teach children the language of one of the world's most powerful nations.
China's growing global clout, already inspiring suburban parents of varying backgrounds to enroll their children in Mandarin classes, is now looming large over tiny Chinatown, where 9,000 people are squeezed into a bustling neighborhood of shops, red-brick tenements, and narrow, winding streets. Mandarin is being heard everywhere, on subway platforms, under the blow dryers at hair salons, and at the 93-year-old Kwong Kow School.Read On
Historically, a very large portion of Chinese emigrants to America came from southern China and the Hong Kong area. Wikipedia has a good explanation as to why this was the case:
Chinese people were some of the early immigrants to live in the U.S., but then were banned from emigrating between 1885 and 1943 - when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Immigration of Chinese was heavily restricted until 1965. During the 1970s, the vast majority of ethnic Chinese immigration into the United States was from Hong Kong and followed by Taiwan with relatively few immigrants coming from mainland China, which almost completely banned emigration for most of the 1960s. During the 1980s, in part due to the liberalization of emigration restrictions in the mid-1970s, immigration from the mainland China became a larger fraction of ethnic Chinese immigration into the United States.But now that China's economy is growing and mainland China has liberalized, the demographic of Chinese Americans is changing. More and more Chinese Americans will be speaking Mandarin instead of Cantonese in the future.
As Peter Kiang, the director of the Asian American Studies Program at UMass-Boston, said in the article:
"Everyone just realizes that Mandarin is the language of the 21st century," he said.It makes me feel better that my study of Mandarin has the chance of being useful in America as well as in China. Now I just have to get my Chinese more fluent so I can chat with any Chinese person I encounter. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.