Languages Inside Languages

Back in the era of the Iraq War, it was often repeated that Arabic was a “valuable” language to know, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

In the post-Iraq-War era, Arabic remains highly relevant to America, but it seems like America may have new strategic challenges ahead.

It kind of depends on whether you see the glass half full or half empty.

If you think the glass is half full, the USA and China will cooperate on everything and there will be blinding economic prosperity, for many.

If you think the glass is half empty, the USA and China will repeatedly butt heads, and increasing levels of confrontation will be the order of the day.

And here enters the subject of Cantonese, a Chinese language much older than Mandarin (the language favored by the government of China).

Cantonese happens to be spoken by many Chinese dissidents, and it’s currently being used to disseminate anti-government messages inside China.

One could characterize it as the “language of resistance” inside China, and abroad by older generations of the Chinese diaspora.

If the glass is half empty, it makes me wonder if Cantonese might soon be one of those “extremely valuable” languages, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

Weighing in its favor, it’s more of a greenfield language right now.  If you’re applying for a relevant government job, you’re less likely to be competing against an entire room full of Cantonese experts for that job (as compared to Arabic).

Weighing against it is the fact that many Cantonese speakers tend to also know English (technically, the same can be said of Mandarin).  Thus, the necessity isn’t quite as high.

But also weighing in its favor is the fact that the severity of the potential conflicts between the USA and China is quite high – probably a lot higher than conflicts where Arabic was relevant.  This fact alone sort of promotes the value of the language up several notches.

I know next to nothing about Cantonese, but several things in that article fascinated me.  One of them is that Cantonese can be expressed very similarly to Mandarin, while retaining a completely different meaning.  This almost suggests a degree of steganographical potential.  Furthermore, it suggests that automated censors will not be able to handle this.