In an interesting linguistic study published in June, Tyler Schnoebelen of the language data company Idibon looked at hundreds of languages and evaluated them against one another according to 165 features shared by at least 100 languages. What he came up with was a “Weirdness Index” — downloadable here — that ranks 239 languages according to how odd they are, i.e. how different one is from the others. (Perhaps a better word would be “distinct.”)
With all that said, this is still surprising, as noted by the SCMP: standard Mandarin is among the 25 “weirdest,” while Cantonese was among the 10 “least weird.”
Unlike Cantonese, Putonghua has “uvular continuants” and some limits on “velar nasals” (as in the ng sound), which are features considered rare worldwide, said Schnoebelen. This could have contributed to its higher ”weirdness“ values.
In an e-mail to the South China Morning Post, Schnoebelen further explained:
An example of a “uvular continuants” in Mandarin would be something like “和” [often pronounced as hé, meaning "with"]. Mandarin is one of only 12 out of 567 languages that have a uvular sound but it is only a continuant – a continuant has continuing airflow. Cantonese doesn’t have any uvular consonants at all.
Please note, once again, that the study compared languages to one another, as opposed to, say, the sound of a violin, or the soughing of wind, the metronomic patter of rainwater off scuppers, or the tintinnabulation of Eastern European chapel bells. If the mellifluousness of langauge were the criteria, we can only assume that Cantonese would have come in dead last — deader than a trilobite, laster than zyxt in a dictionary – where it belongs.
No offense, Hong Kong friends.