Any work of Mr. Chao, “the father of Chinese phonetics,” must command respect. It is not, therefore, without a sense of the boldness of my under-taking that I venture in the following pages to suggest ways in which it is possible to improve upon the system of transcription he has laid down for Cantonese.
The introduction is worth careful study by the student of any foreign language. In it Mr. Chao says, with great justice: “The problem which an Occidental student of Chinese has to face first is to learn what the language and writing are and not what they might better be… the most practical point of view is the scientific, empirical one of learning about what is.” There-fore a book about Cantonese intended for the student of Cantonese should describe Cantonese as it is: there should be no attempt to normalize the irregular, to simplify the difficult, to rationalize the irrational; it is as dangerous to strain the links between Cantonese and National Chinese by over-emphasizing analogies as it is to deny the existence of the links and analogies altogether. Many foreign works on Cantonese reflect the antipathy towards the NgoaykoangIhoo which the authors have absorbed from long residence in Kwangtung: so that any turn of phrase which betrays Kwoakyux influence, any modification of pronunciation which tends to obscure any of the divergencies between the tongue of Canton and that of Peiping, are regarded as deviations and not simply condemned but, what is worse, ignored.
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