- Category: Happy Jellyfish
- Created: Wednesday, 05 October 2016 08:00
- Written by Cecilie
Straight forward, right? You know woman 女人 (leui yan), outside 出邊 (cheut bin) and house 屋企 （uk kei).
But as usual, Cantonese is different from English. Why? Because it’s not English, innit! As I said in the last post, Cantonese follows relentlessly the story, the little film clip. Everything happens in a linear, chronological order.
It’s about the woman, so you start with her. The next thing is house, because you get to the house first, it’s the navigational point, and then you get outside the house. As far as I can see, there are only two prepositions in Cantonese that are actually PREpositions, i.e. come before the thing you navigate from, namely 0係 （hai) “at, in, by” and 好近 （hou kan) – “near.”
Therefore “the woman is outside her/the house, becomes: 女人係屋企出邊。（leui yan hai uk kei chut bin) “woman at house outside.”
And if she was to be doing something outside the house, for example drinking and smoking, it would be:
女人0係屋企出邊飲酒食煙。(leui yan hai uk kei cheut bin yam jau sek yin.) “woman at house outside drink alcohol eat smoke.” You still need the PREposition “hai” before the position, because that’s where she’s AT. And “is” in English doesn’t come into it at all because it’s not about what the woman IS, but where she’s AT.
Remember: The action (not verb; the whole action) is always last in the sentence because that’s what happens last in the film.
So, “I’m sleeping and farting under the table” will then be: 我0係檯下邊瞓覺放屁 . (O hai toi ha bin fen gau fong pei) “I at table underside sleep, fart.”
If you put “table” after “fart”, it would mean you were farting tables, and that doesn’t make sense, now does it? That’s the beauty of Cantonese word order. It always makes sense.
Why this photo? Found it and liked it again, innit.
Anyway, the other day one of my students suggested that I set up some kind of counting device; you know, something like the count-down to the sacred olympics or the one on the Religion of Peace website, counting how many deadly terror attacks this peaceful religion has carried out since 9/11 (I think it’s about 1,200), (whoops! Just went to the site. It’s 15 275) to count how many times a day I speak to a Hong Kong person in perfectly adequate Cantonese, only to be answered in execrable English.
That sounded like a good idea at the time. But then I realised I would probably wear out my fingertips within a week, so it kind of died a death.
So! Last Saturday we did the how to look up Chinese characters course again, with three new converts to our cause. I think world domination is well within reach.
After about 15 minutes of explanation and practice, my victim (student) ah-Lin said with a sigh: “If I’d known it would be this easy, I would have done it ages ago!”
That’s right. It is really easy. In fact the only people going on about how difficult it is are the Chinese, and how would they know?
Having said that; as if Canto wasn’t challenging enough, what with the people laughing at you, answering you in English or just “pretending” not to understand your Cantonese, reading the characters comes with its own problems: What it says in the dictionary isn’t what it actually means.
Take 想， seung, “want to.” In the dictionary it says “think about, miss.” NOT “want to.” But that’s the use of 想 in spoken Canto.
Last Saturday I wrote down a sentence in Cantonese for the novices to try to crack, and when they came to 而家 they got stuck. “But, and” and “home, family”? But of course, 而家 (yi ga) are just the two convenient characters used to write “now”!
So when you come across words that don’t make any sense put together, always say them ALOUD. Then everything will be made clear. That is to say: Another 1% of the puzzle.
Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau: World Domination one word at a time.
I’m doing another course on Saturday! Beginners at 3, joined by people with a little background at 4. Roll up, roll up.
Wei, students and others: I work day and night to make Cantonese a world language. You are my tools for accomplishing this. I would like to hear about your experiences using Cantonese in your daily lives. Set yourselves the goal of posting here once a week and try to beat your old “records.”
Then you can compare notes and become more of a community – the people who think Cantonese is the way forward, not imperialist, communist speech-making Mandarin. Thousands of people around the world would like to read about how you slowly but surely come to grips with the language by incessant trial, error and huge success!
For every word you learn, there will be one more of us (Cool Canto-speakers) and one less of them!