HONG KONG - A call by officials in southern China to ditch Cantonese in favour of Mandarin for prime-time TV shows Wednesday sparked fears about the future of the dialect.
Nanfang Daily, a mainland newspaper, reported that the People's Poliitical Consultative Conference in Guangzhou had written to the local government calling for the change on local TV ahead of the Asian Games in November.
Adopting China's official language, also known as Putonghua, would promote unity, "forge a good language environment" and cater to non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese visitors at the huge sporting event, authorities were quoted as saying.
But the move has lead to fears among some Cantonese-speakers, who fear the decline of a language which serves as the mother tongue in Hong Kong, Macau, China's southern Guangdong province, and which is widely spoken throughout overseas Chinese communities.
Mainland China made Putonghua the country's official language in 1982, leading to bans on the use of the country's myriad dialects at many radio and television stations.
"Is the change really necessary? If television stations cannot broadcast in Cantonese, the new generations of Guangdong people would not know how to speak their own language in the long run," a Guangzhou resident wrote online.
"All young people in Guangzhou can speak Putonghua. But the dialect presents the Canton culture. We have to support and use it in daily life," Luo Bihua, a clerk in Guangzhou, told the Post.
TV stations in Guangdong, which has about 110 million people, are allowed to broadcast in Cantonese only because of its proximity to Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post.
Guangzhou once spearheaded China's economic reform, but was soon overtaken by cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. The city is now filled with migrant workers from other parts of China who do not speak Cantonese.
Local authorities see the Asian Games an opportunity to remake Guangzhou's image and reaffirm its status as one of the mainland's key cities.