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Hey, this is Annie from all the way from Hong Kong. Yes, I am abroad, as a former AAA member asked my good friend and Barnard VP for AAA, Ai-Lin today. But wanted to bring forth an article that hit the front page of the NYTimes Page today. This has been happening for years: Mandarin is eclipsing Cantonese as the dominant spoken language in Chinatown! An influx in the Mandarin-speaking population as well as an increasing interest in learning the Mandarin language have shifted demographics. Cantonese, for those who are unfamiliar with Chinese languages, is a dialect of Souther China; Mandarin is the official language of China, and the two are quite different dialects. While the written characters are the same for the most part, the dialects are such that a Cantonese speaker may not understand a Mandarin speaker, and vice versa. In addition, many of those in Chinatown are Taishan speakers: Taishan is a dialect of Cantonese which Cantonese speakers may not understand!

Now why am I concerned? Part of it is a personal reason; Chinatown is where I was born and raised, and still consider home today. I've grown up using my broken Cantonese/Taishanese to buy groceries, wander around, talk to my parents, etc. Put in context, my parents are Taishanese, and speak Cantonese. My mother speaks a bit of Mandarin, while I believe my dad does not understand it at all. As the article mentions, historically it was Cantonese speakers who immigrated to this country and made lives here. Chinatown, especially, is a place where one can make friends, connections, a living, and generally have all you need-- without learning another language. We've seen problems at the voting polls because of language barriers and limited resources (side note: you all should consider helping AALDEF on Election Day with its Poll Voting Survey! more information is linked). This already underrepresented group (albeit increasing in awareness and political clout) is beginning to be alienated from its home, Chinatown!

And it's not just a problem in Chinatown; this has worldwide implications for whole groups of people who've lived their lives with only one language. In Hong Kong already, there are schooling shifts to teaching Mandarin and English, as Cantonese is not as widely used, primarily only used in Southern China. (The Chinese dept. at the University of Hong Kong, on a side note, only teaches beginning Cantonese to exchange students, while Mandarin is available through an intermediate level). Now I am not saying demographic shifts or the teaching of different languages are a bad thing; Chinatown was once a Jewish and Italian neighborhood, and I understand completely the role of cultural diffusion. What I am saying is that something needs to be done to make sure these communities are not alienated and eventually endangered or exploited. This is especially applicable to the Asian-American community, which has such a diverse number of languages. I understand it may be inevitable that Chinatown shifts in languages as more Mandarin speakers arrive in America, but yeah, I'll be helping my dad translate throughout. I just hope that if and when Chinatown and other places like it change, as is inevitable, that others will be helping those like my dad, my fellow Chinatown-ers and those beyond its limits.


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