With Mandarin’s ascent has come a realignment of power in Chinese-American communities, where the recent immigrants are gaining economic and political clout, said Peter Kwong, a professor of Asian-American studies at Hunter College.
“The fact of the matter is that you have a whole generation switch, with very few people speaking only Cantonese,” he said. The Cantonese-speaking populace, he added, “is not the player anymore.”
The switch mirrors a sea change under way in China, where Mandarin, as the official language, is becoming the default tongue everywhere.
In North America, its rise also reflects a major shift in immigration. For much of the last century, most Chinese living in the United States and Canada traced their ancestry to a region in the Pearl River Delta that included the district of Taishan. They spoke the Taishanese dialect, which is derived from and somewhat similar to Cantonese.