At the time of writing, it’s the Chinese Lantern Festival, i.e. the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. And a mere 3 days after that, it’s a day that many Hongkongers either relish or fret about: the western Valentine’s Day! Among local teenagers, being single is a thing often poked fun at, to say the least. So, to celebrate my 21st single Valentine’s in a row, here’s a rapid-fire list of local/Internet Cantonese slang related to love and relationships – so you can save your 我愛你 ngo5 oi3 nei5 (I love you) for your significant other and joke light-heartedly about him/her with your friends afterwards 😉
Superdry – single life in a nutshell.
Sometimes I look back on single life, which felt so dry (thirsty for romance). Whenever people with 愛情嘅滋潤 oi3 cing4 ge3 zi1 jeon6 (the “moistening” of romance) took to the Internet to 曬命 saai3 meng6 (to “sun-dry” life) i.e. brag, or poke fun at me, all I could respond with was 首先…… sau2 sin (first…), which is a shorthand for 首先，你要有個女朋友 sau2 sin1, nei5 jiu3 jau5 go3 neoi5 pang4 jau5 (…but before that, you must have a girlfriend), a self-deprecating joke that’s gotten so overused on the Internet that the first part alone is understood to imply the entire sentence.
Funny question, isn’t it. A word is the thing in a text that stands between two spaces.
But as you know,in Chinese languages you don’t write spaces. And if you caught up with my introduction, the structure of a text and how we look at it differ quite a bit from the alphabetical languages we’re all so used to.
Now let’s dig deeper into the world of “words” – or 字 zi6 – shall we?
We in bilingual schools end up with a lot of inconsistencies in what a ‘word’ designates in Chinese writing and speech – though no real confusion – especially when writing essays. I don’t know about foreign schools, but our exams always had clear word limits: “around 800 words” for an essay, or maybe 200 for a shorter question.
Like it or not, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. At least where it’s available anyway. Even though in Hong Kong we’re still impatiently waiting for it to arrive, this album has gone viral among my friend circles. What it is is an ever-growing list of Cantonese-based puns on Pokémon, created by an Asian-American. Some of them are so culture-specific that learners or lovers of Cantonese might not get them! Since Pokémon and Cantonese are two of my biggest passions, I thought why not take the good stuff that’s there, and share the fun with more of you guys? You never know, you might learn some cultural fun facts 🙂
Disclaimer: these pics are used with permission from the owner Annie@pokemonyc. The game itself belongs to Nintento/Niantic.
What comes to mind when you think of Chinese? Time and time again I’ve heard people saying things like “it’s a picture for every word”, and many a language’s version of “it’s all Greek to me” points to Chinese instead. It’s always this exotic, unknown tongue in a faraway land. In the first article in my new Bel Canton section, I’ll start with the mother of Cantonese – Chinese, breaking it down to you how it’s actually composed, and showing you why it isn’t as mystic as it appears to be.
But before I talk about the structure of Chinese languages, I’d like to briefly describe the structure of the Chinese language family so as to clear up some ambiguities concerning what I’ll be discussing.
The Chinese language family
You won’t believe how many times I’ve had this conversation, but the linguistic status of Chinese languages are pretty much still undefined, especially among Chinese-speaking communities themsleves. The confusion usually comes from the unity in writing: despite the many tongues existing in China, everyone writes the same way, with (mostly) the same set of characters, and can understand one another through the script, even if they don’t share the same speech. This has a long history: for a long time China has used classical Chinese as the written standard, from which the spoken languages deviate, pretty much like Latin and the Romance languages. It isn’t until a century ago that they decided to reform the written standard according to Mandarin, the language of government at the time. Hence to this day, the other spoken languages are still labeled dialects (方言). That’s putting aside the political subtext which clearly influences this choice of terminology, since dialects are subordinate to a language, but this is not the right place for that. Nevertheless, it is indeed said that it’s the “square characters” – our logograms, as opposed to alphabet – that has given us mutual intelligibility in writing and thus engendered a tendency towards unification throughout Chinese history.