A Word on Word Order

It seems to be that one of the biggest problems in Canto, especially for native English speakers, is word order. But that’s what you should pay the most attention to in my opinion. Look at the picture above, for example.

It’s so tempting, isn’t it, to say 水牛玩0係草原 (seui ao waan hai chou yuen) water cow play in field, because that’s what it would be in English. If, however, you can accept that Cantonese is not like English, half the battle is won.

It took me ages to work out why the word order is like it is, but once I had, it was a huge epiphany.

But of course!

Every sentence is like a film clip.

If you can visualise the story as it unfolds and say the words as they pop up in the story chronologically, then you will always get the right word order.

Take the buffalo. It’s about the buffalo, so of course you start with that. 水牛。But if you’d gone on with the sentence like in English, it would mean “The water buffalo is playing (with) (something called) In The Field. Whatever you put after “play,” is being played or played with. Also, it starts with the buffalo, it walks into the field, and only then can it start playing!

The sentence should be: 水牛0係草原玩。Water cow in field play.

Let’s say the same buffalo wanted to swing around for a beer at The Fat Pig bar in Wanchai  at 7 tomorrow night . If you followed the English word order it would be all messed up. He would start drinking beer, then he would get to the bar, then starting to look around for Wanchai, after which it become the point in time when all this happened. Impossible.

But see the story in your head, (in garish technicolour) as it unfolds, and it becomes clear it must run like this:

水牛聽晚七點去灣仔肥豬吧飲啤酒。Seui ao teng man chat dim heui wan tsai fei jyu ba yam beh jau. (Water cow tomorrow night 7 o’clock go Wan Chai Fat Pig Bar drink beer.) It all happens in sequence!

Good one eh? Cantonese: Probably the most logical language around.

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