UN Combats False Claims on Cantonese

Multiple recent posts on Facebook and Twitter that claim that the United Nations (UN) has officially defined Cantonese as a language and not a dialect and that it is not recognized as one of the six “leading languages in daily use” has turned out to be false. The UN told AFP Fact check that the posts, which have been shared thousands of times, are inaccurate, and that the UN does not define the status of languages and dialects. The UN also stated that Mandarin, not Cantonese, is one of its six official languages.

An example of one of these posts can be found here.

Translated to English, the post in traditional Chinese characters reads in part as: “The United Nations officially define Cantonese as a language, not a dialect, and it is recognised as one of the six leading languages in daily use, which are English, Chinese, Cantonese, Russian, French, Spanish and Arabic.

“Cantonese is a language with its own characters and pronunciation.

“Presently, Cantonese has become the fourth most commonly used language in Australia (the most commonly used languages in Australia are English, Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic), the third in Canada (the most commonly used languages in Canada are English, French and Cantonese) and in the US (the most commonly used languages in the US are English, Spanish and Cantonese).

“Cantonese also enjoys the official language status in Hong Kong and Macau!”

In an email to AFP on September 25, spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric wrote:

“[The] UN intergovernmental bodies did not define Cantonese. The existing mandates define the official languages of the Organization, but do not define the status of languages and dialects. The United Nations General Assembly therefore did not provide guidance on the status of Cantonese.

“In the United Nations context, such a category (leading languages in daily use) does not exist.

“Mandarin, and not Cantonese, is one of the six official languages of the UN and is therefore in use at the UN on a daily basis.”

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