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Growing up in a Cantonese household as a Chinese-American, my days were accurately portrayed by the following video by Esa Fungtastic.
Never a day went by when friends who I had invited over wondered whether there was an insane fight going on whenever they heard my family talking. “Are they arguing?” and “They sound really angry at you” were things I constantly heard from outsiders in my home.
I never though much of it because it seemed normal to me. However, after getting constant comments from people, I decided to set out to answer the question: “Why are Cantonese people loud and sound angry when they speak?”
Researching on Google didn’t yield too many results. However, there were a number of Quora forums discussing this topic. Here were some of the explanations I compiled.
Elliot Chen, an author and writer who speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese, wrote the following on Quora:
“You are right. Cantonese people talk loudly. Chinese people talk loudly. Cantonese just sounds more forceful by nature because of its sounds and usage patterns. It’s explosive and clipped by nature; it’s a very expressive language. Mandarin is like classical music, gliding up and down in flow, while Cantonese is like rap music, in your face, dynamic and brash.The Cantonese have always been known for being to the point and pragmatic so the language and culture are intertwined.
“To get a proper native feeling in Cantonese you have to add some gusto and volume!”
Clement Chow, a self-described Cantonese speaker, wrote:
“It’s more or less a cultural thing.
“China is a big place, also a lot of people. Imagine talking to a friend in a restaurant or in the street, the noise around you is so loud that you can’t even hear yourself talking in normal volume, you are forced to speak loud.
“OK, now imagine living there for generations and generations, your parents talk loudly, your grandparents talk loudly, everyone is used to yelling at each other, but politely.
“Also, despite the environment, talking softly will be considered as an act of lack-of-confidence, we have a saying in Cantonese ‘鬼食泥 ‘ (straight translation as ghost eating mud) to mock people speaking not loud enough.
“The new generation tend to speak Cantonese relatively soft, but comparing to other languages, Cantonese is still comparatively loud due to the language itself contains a lot of open vowels and diphthongs.”
I can personally echo Chow’s sentiments. Growing up, my father would admonish me if I wasn’t loud enough when speaking Cantonese. Simply put: It appears that the reasons are both cultural and technical, Cantonese people just simply talk louder and the dialect itself is more cacophonous and can be harsh to an outsider’s ears.