This section is meant to clear up some misconceptions about Cantonese.
Q: Is Cantonese is only a spoken language?
A: No, Cantonese can be written with Chinese Characters, even if some characters aren't standardized. Some magazines, newspapers, comics, and books are written in Cantonese.
An example of a sentence written in Cantonese: 你而家搵緊乜嘢呀? 'What are you looking for right now?'
Q: Is Spoken Cantonese is full of slang words?
A: Depends on what you consider slang. All dialects in China, or anywhere for that matter, have so called "slang" words that are considered non-standard. English for example, has tons of "slang" words. One could say perhaps some of the terms are quite "colorful" and "vulgar".
Q: How many tones does Cantonese have?
A: The general consensus is 9. The first six are vowel or nasal endings, while the last three are for -p, -t, -k (入聲) endings.
Q: Was Cantonese spoken in early Chinatowns?
A: Depends on what you consider Cantonese. Cantonese as a dialect group consists of the many dialects in the Guangdong area. Many of the early Chinatowns were established by people from the Taishan (台山) area of China, which speaks a dialect that is grouped under Cantonese. However, this dialect is not the same as the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. In fact, there are a quite a few differences in pronunciation between the two.
Q: Is Cantonese is closer to Vietnamese than Mandarin?
A: Grammatically, that is absolutely untrue. In fact, Cantonese and Vietnamese are in two different language families, while Cantonese and Mandarin are part of the same language family, the Sino- branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages. Again, pronunciation-wise since Vietnamese is tonal and have many Chinese loanwords, there might be some resemblance.
Q: Is Cantonese related to Korean?
A: Korean borrowed a significant amount of words of Chinese origin, making their lexicon full of Chinese loanwords. The pronunciation of some these words is somewhat closer to Cantonese than Mandarin. However, the grammar structure is totally different. Cantonese and Korean also belong to different language families.
Q: Do Cantonese speakers write differently than they speak?
A: For the most part, yes. The written language used in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou is Standard Written Chinese, which is close to Mandarin. Official documents and academic papers are definitely written in Standard Written Chinese; however, as mentioned above, for some personal letters, magazines, newspapers, books, written Cantonese can be and is used.
Q: Do people talk like the way they sing in Cantonese songs?
A: No, the majority of Canto-pop songs are written in Standard Chinese, although there may be a lot of dialectal expressions added into the songs. Some rap songs are written in Colloquial Cantonese, however.
Q: Is Cantonese closer to Middle or Old Chinese than Mandarin?
A: The general answer is NO, since both languages have undergone a lot of change. Phonetically speaking, certain aspects of the Cantonese sound system have undergone less changes than Mandarin has, so in those respects, it would be closer. Nevertheless, Middle Chinese pronunciation is still a long way from Cantonese pronunciation. Certain vocabulary has been preserved, while others have not. Grammatically, there are definitely differences. If you traced the two dialects back to Middle Chinese, you will find that both have undergone significant change.