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A Transcription for Cantonese Notes on Mr. Yuen Ren Chao's “Cantonese Primer”

  • K. M. A. Barnett

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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page 725 note 1 Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by the Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1947.

page 732 note 1 and occur only in the final particles â (peremptory question), Ihâ (command), ŏh (politeness), Ihŏhpōh (expostulation). -a occurs only in the final particle (injured innocence); the initial particle xa (anger), the proper noun prefix ah and the numeral ra (s e page 729).

page 732 note 2 - (short) occurs only in the interrogative final particle mhe°.

page 732 note 3 -I occurs only in nhe° (interrogative, or marking a pause: not nhe° “There! ” which has ∊:) and -ti° (-er).

page 732 note 4 This is the value for all the words which Mr. Chao writes -ok but not for ok “house”, which really has o-, although it is regarded as rhyming with the others which have -u-

page 738 note 1 kamyat: the usual pronunciation is kanunat and I have so rendered it.

page 739 note 1 This keh is better omitted.

page 739 note 2 Better: toahow xae tongbinn punxbow juh keh. The text order stresses juh, which I am sure is not intended.

page 739 note 8 kox kee-koh zokdey is more natural.

page 739 note 4 Better: xae koak-shaag-loebinn juh keh, for the same reason as3.

page 739 note 5 dhong: better omitted. After Xaklong Koang° a Cantonese would usually repeat the words “saam shaag”. Also after Soiyunx, below.

page 739 note 6 Here the order fansaann juh xae… is permissible owing to the idea of motion. But more natural would be fansaann tow noaydey koak-chuh juh and I have so rendered.

page 739 note 7 dsong… yixloai is sufficient; dzihdsong… yixloai is in my experience seldom used except the intervening words be a whole clause, as “ghoe dzihdsong lai Iengkwoak yixloai” (“Since he came to England”). Here we might have “dzihdsong Mankwoak kaakmeq yixloai”.

page 739 note 8 tou should be tou°; ti should be ti°; nhi should be nhi°.

page 739 note 9 If “born” is to be emphasized I think “shaang” is too weak a word: if not, then the order is wrong.

“Xog Tzix chotshay dzaw hay xae Shaantong keh lhoh,” or

“Xog Tzix hay xae Shaantong shaang keh lhoh.”

page 739 note 10 For the meaning of italics and bold print, see the chapter on Stress, below.

page 739 note 11 Or chahmdhohx, see the chapter on Stress.

page 739 note 12 The usual pronunciation is (—dāi) with a nasal vowel.

page 740 note 1 Or xraimxrai.

page 740 note 2 Or fhannmcheot; the first syllable ends in a doubly-articulated nasal.

page 741 note 1 To avoid the use of asterisks and suchlike diacritical marks, I propose in this Note to distinguish the variant tones in the following way: rising variant, add v; high level, where it is necessary to show it as a variant, add x; falling variant (see examples of this minor variation on page 73), add z. Where the high level occurs in sandhi owing to the occurrence of a high falling tone before another high (falling or lvel) tone (see Chao, p. 26), I suggest that it may be useful to the beginner if the final letter of the word, being the letter indicating the falling tone, is shown in italics. Thus ghourahaann “high mountain”, ghowzhuk “your pupil”, thinracheonq “skylight”, ghonnzhinnxhaaftlhuk “fried prawns”.

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Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • ISSN: 0041-977X
  • EISSN: 1474-0699
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