Often when I interact with chinese folks coming from mainland China, they called cantonese "white language" (Ba Hua).

Maybe my understanding is incorrect.

Can anyone let me know if I'm mistaken and if not, why is it called White language?

  • 1
    Never heard of that, but it seems you're right. 白话 (粤语). – user4072 Nov 22 '17 at 9:26

Standard Cantonese speakers like myself sometimes call '广东话' as '白话', which literally means "plain speech", in contrast to all other regional dialects (方言) and local dialects (鄉下話) within Canton province.


in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as among overseas Chinese communities, the language is referred to as "Guangdong speech" (广东话; 廣東話; Gwóngdūng wá)

"Guangdong speech" (广东话; 廣東話) is "plain speech"(白话) to us.

  • thanks @tang-ho. Why plain speech though? – Andy K Nov 22 '17 at 10:08
  • 1
    "Plain speech" implies "everyone can understand". In this case, Everyone in Canton province. There are many different dialects in Canton, technically they are all "Cantonese", but strictly speaking, they are "Cantonese dialects " – Tang Ho Nov 22 '17 at 10:13
  • many thanks for your detailed explanation @tang-ho – Andy K Nov 22 '17 at 10:14

I also want to add that written Cantonese is different to spoken Cantonese. Spoken Cantonese (less formal) is often referred to as「白話」。(white language).

  • Written Cantonese is the attempt to match spoken Cantonese to writing. I think what you mean is written Chinese. – dROOOze Mar 24 '18 at 14:00
  • Yes and no. Written Cantonese is very similar to Mandarin but also quite Cantonese, containing many words that the normal MSM speaker would not recognize. – Mou某 Mar 25 '18 at 14:25
  • Each dialect has their own local slang, even in mandarin. Ie. mandarin spoken in Mainland China would have different slang or terms used than in Malaysia, eg. The word for taxi, waiter/waitress etc. – what not Mar 25 '18 at 18:41
  • The same goes for written Cantonese. In Cantonese the word for dumpling is 水餃, or (less common) 餃子 - the 2 are interchangeable, with the former being most commonly used for all dumplings. In mandarin, 水餃 is only used to describe dumplings that have been boiled or come in a soup, otherwise it's 餃子. Also, for the phrase 'call a taxi': cantonese = 叫的士, mandarin = 打的 – what not Mar 25 '18 at 18:55
  • This website explains a bit about the differences, including how written Cantonese contains over 5000 characters specific to Cantonese due to how the different dialects have developed over time tutormandarin.net/en/… – what not Mar 25 '18 at 19:05

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