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Monday, April 19, 2010

Learning the Tongue Twisting Cantonese 2

After a few days of racking my brain checking out if I left out a few Cantonese terms I know, I have created a small list again ^.^

But before that, I would like to explain my background.

I want to make it clear that when I say I'm a Filipino-Chinese, I mean I'm 100% Chinese by blood but I still consider myself as a Filipino because I am a Filipino citizen and more importantly I was born and raised here in the lush archipelago of the Philippines. Even though I don't look like the typical Filipino (Malay race), I still consider myself as a Filipino. It's almost the same when we say Singaporean-Chinese but the Filipino Chinese population here in the Philippines is relatively smaller compared to Singapore. 

I learned Fookien and Filipino side by side as I grew up, later on Mandarin was infused in my academic curriculum because I studied in a Chinese Episcopalian school in Binondo called St. Stephen's High School. However, I also grew up watching Mandarin films alongside with Cantonese films but I was really frustrated with Cantonese films because I can't seem to follow what they're saying, it's so much easier to follow Mandarin dialogues so I just opted to watch more Mandarin films but of course now I regret not learning Cantonese. Going back to my Chinese schoool, I also learned to read and write Chinese, more importantly I learned to create Chinese calligraphy- it's a dying art like the abacus because no one seems to practice it anymore but I hope it will be revived.

The Chinese language spoken in the Philippines is quite unique as compared to the other variations in Asia; our Fookien accent is not the original Fookien accent in China or Taiwan. Our accent has changed due to the Spanish, English and Filipino influence; I think in the Filipino term our Fookien accent has become more malambing  but it's still has a distinct accent apart from the Filipino accent. I find the original Fookien accent to be more stiff and straight, they also use deeper words and terms that sometimes it's hard to understand what the others are saying even if we speak the same language. However, China and Taiwan's Fookien speaking population can fully understand what we're saying but Filipino Chinese can't fully comprehend what they're saying. Philippine born Chinese incorporate Spanish, English and Filipino words and we speak it naturally like how we speak Chinese. This might be interesting to take note of, we have Chinese dishes that are named in Spanish terms like camaron when it's our Chinatown's famous deep fried shrimp coated in batter, we refer to spoon and fork 'teng si' and 'tsiam ma' but sometimes we interchange it with cuchara and tenedor, sometimes we use the Spanish term referring to numbers and time like uno, dos, tres, alas-singko, alas-kwarto etc. We also say business terms like buena mano haha! My mother can speak better Spanish even if she's Chinese because back in her days Spanish is incorporated in their school curriculum. In my perspective interchanging various terms in various languages something that comes naturally that I don't even think there's a border between Spanish terms and Chinese terms anymore. 

My father also said that Hong Kong's Cantonese accent is different from what he is using; my family Cantonese accent is the Taishan (Tai-San) variation. I can't truly point out how the accent is different but perhaps that might be the explanation why sometimes I understand Cantonese and sometimes I don't.

I always wondered how come I find it difficult to learn Cantonese though I know Fookien and Mandarin already, later on I'd learn that Cantonese retains more of the ancient complex Chinese language and Mandarin is simplier. Cantonese has more variety in terms of intonation and each intonation would change the word's meaning; the same rule applies in Mandarin but Mandarin has less intonations and variations.

I'm not very familiar with the social situation in China, I'm more familiar with the social situation in Hong Kong and Taiwan because I have relatives in these two islands. I'd be hopping back and forth Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines every now and then. I'm not sure but I think as of now, the Chinese government promotes Mandarin to be the primary language, I also suggest that if you would like to learn one Chinese language, go for Mandarin because it is widely recognized and used everywhere. However, in my case, my goal is to learn and be familiar with Cantonese because as I've said it's my family's dying tradition. Cantonese is my fifth language, I'm quite old to start learning but still it doesn't stop me from learning and widening my horizons.

Okay, so here's a small list of Cantonese terms and translations:
*I'm not sure if I've repeated some of the terms before but that's okay, better to repeat it again and again so it would be stored in my brain*

hai = 是 (yes)
yiu = 要 (want)
yao= 有 (have)
ngam = 對 (correct!)

*Chinese words typed courtesy of my friend Abi <3*

Sin sang- sir, mister
Siu tse- miss
Tai ko- big brother
Ko- brother
Ku ma- aunt
Pang yaw- friend
Siu pang yaw- literally means small friend but it just means 'friend' but you address this to kids
Lam pang yaw-boyfriend
Noi pang yaw-girlfriend
Low po-wife, in Mandarin it's Law pwo

Sek fan lo- time to eat/ kain na!
Tip- plate
Wun- rice bowl
Fai Chiu- chopstick
Tsi kang- spoon
Tsa- fork
Lo mai- sticky rice/glutinous rice
Lo mai Kai- a food that's similar to ma-tsang (sticky rice with some minced meat wrapped in a lotus leaf)
Po- hotpot
Soi kuo- fruits
Ping o- apple
Lai- pear
Tsang- orange
Ling Mung- lemon
Pa tsi- potato (but we also say this when we refer to French fries)
Tai pa tsi- big potatoes
Siu pa tsi- small potatoes
Nei yaw mai siu ngo me?- did you buy roasted goose?
Yaw ah- there is/meron
Mow ah-nothing/wala

Lau soi-leaking water 
Lau- floor ex. 'sam lau' means third floor
Tsi so- restroom
Tam lok lok- Tam means wet, lok means going down. I'm not sure if this is Cantonese but I often hear my father pertains this to the wet ground, he usually say this when there's a drizzle and the ground is wet.

Ping ko- who is?
Ping ko nei ku ma?- who is your aunt?
Me si ah?- What is it? 
Tsaw tim?- what is?/who is? (I'm not really sure if this means 'who are you finding?')
Tim kai?- Why?

Leng leng (pronounced as lieng lieng)- beautiful/pretty, my father also used to say this during my childhood
Siu-smile, in Fookien 'tsio'

Soi- years old, example: yi sap soi means twenty years old, in Mandarin it's 'swei', in Fookien it's 'heh'
Nei hou ma?- how are you?
Ngo hou hou- I'm fine
Hou mo hou?-good or not good? in Mandarin it's 'haw pu haw?', in Fookien it's 'ho bo ho?'
Twei um tsei- sorry
Siu sum- take care, in Mandarin "Xiao sin"
Kong- talk, speak
So yi- so
Fai tit- hurry up, another term my father used to say
Mou i si (pronounced as mow eee see)- it's nothing
Mou man tai- no problem
Mou tso lo-that's right/not bad
Mou ta la- stop fighting already
Um tak ka- no way
Ho lin- pitiful, in Mandarin "khe lien", in Fookien "Kho din"
Lai- come
Tsoi la- get out
Tsow- go
Tsam ka- join
Hou kan tan-it's easy/simple
Hou lo man- so romantic
Hou la- okay
Siu san-take care
Tsow meng ah- help!/ saklolo!
Pat yaw- help/aid/tulungan
Pan fa-solution 
Tang- wait ex. Nei tang ngo means wait for me
Tsow san- goodmorning
Kong hei nei- congratulations to you
Um koi Sai- more polite form of thank you, you say this esp. when someone does you a favor
Kam nei ne?- how about you?
Yaw mou yat ah?-somebody there? May tao ba?
Tso lei la- come out
Tsong tswo- please take a seat
Tson pei- prepare
Hou to tsin- so much money
Muy kai-accounting 
Fa ta la- we're rich!
Tsa yow ah-work harder, keep it up, in Mandarin it's Tsia yow ah
Sa- kill
Ki fan-marry
Pai- worship, same term in Fookien
Yiu- want
Um yiu- don't want

Yi Seng- doctor
Sam lei-psychiatry
Yi- treat (medically), in Fookien it's pronounced as 'eee'
Sam lei yi seng-psychiatrist 
Tsi sin- crazy

Fei Kei- airplane
Tow- degrees 
Si kan- time
Lak tim pun- 6:30, in Fookien 'lak tiam pua'
Pio/Sou pio- watch
Tsam man- last night, it sounds near to the Fookien term Tsa-am
Mow- dream, in Fookien "Bang"
Ngo yiu fan kao/kaw la- i wanna sleep
Ngo hou ngan fan la- i'm sleepy

Chok khaw- football
Phaw- Run

Yi fu- clothes

Tong fat- animals
Kaw- dogs
Ma- horse
Chu- pig
Ha- Shrimp 
Ka tsam-cockroach, in Fookien 'ka tsua'

Um sek thieng- I can't understand

Hyong Kong- Hong Kong
Hyong Kong Tek Si Lei/Dek Si Nei- Hong Kong Disneyland
Pa Sei- Brazil
I Ta Lei- Italy
Fei Li Pan- Philippines
Ma Nei La- Manila
Mei Kwok- USA
Ow Tsaw- Europe

Ngo yiu hui Hyong Kong Dek Si Nei- I want to go to Hong Kong Disneyland

Thanks so much to my friend Abi and Jennifer Hui for correcting my Cantonese and teaching me more words ^.^ 


  1. Chelle,

    I find this post very interesting since I'm getting my masters degree in Linguistics now. I've actually studied the language you are talking about, and I carried out a small experiment about it to see how mutually intelligible it is with Fukien (Taiwanese) language. My Filipino friend who participated in the experiment said that the language was called "Lan Nang Oe"--if you read Chinese, it's something like 人民話.

    I did the experiment as an undergraduate in college, so my results may have been a little skewed. I found that Lan Nang Oe and Taiwanese language for the Taiwanese and Filipino speakers in my study was not completely mutually intelligible--probably more like 60 to 70%. As you said, there's a big Spanish and Phillipine language influence on Lan Nang Oe and that's what confused the Taiwanese speaker the most. Also, it seemed like it took longer for the Filipino speaker to figure out what the Taiwanese was saying, perhaps because of cultural differences of different common expressions (like greetings which can be expressed in many different ways).

    Also, I very much agree with your point that language carries the essence of a culture, so it's admirable that you want to learn Cantonese for your family tradition. I myself only speak Mandarin and English, and wish I can learn more languages even though I'm in my late twenties already. So, I'll be learning Cantonese at the same time as you ;-) Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your post. I love your blog's variety of post content! <3


  2. Hi Ping! Glad you like this post! ^.^
    Yes it's true Taiwan's language and the Filipino Chinese language are the closest because both speak Lang Nang Oe/人民話(Ren Min Hwa)/Fookien

    Lang Nang means "Chinese", Oe means "language" so it's a very loose term but it often refers to the norm Chinese language spoken in a society or place; here in the Philippines when we say Lang Nang Oe it means Fookien because almost every Filipino Chinese can speak Fookien, the next more popular language is Mandarin and only a small part of the Filipino Chinese population can speak Cantonese. In my whole life I haven't heard anyone apart from my family who can speak Cantonese.

    Haha! True true, because of the cultural difference it's sometimes hard for us to connect with each other despite the fact that we're technically speaking the same language; there would be variations in terms. Taiwan's Fookien retains more traditional terms while Filipino Chinese' Fookien is adjusted to our culture here in the Philippines.

    I also wish you luck in learning more languages! ^.^ It's nice you made an undergrad experiment on languages... Thank you very much for reading my posts! <3

  3. Hi Chelle,

    Thanks for the nice comment you posted on my Learning Cantonese blog. You were too kind. I have not been able to update it as much as I want.

    FYI, like you I was also born and grew up in the Philippines. However, I do not have a Chinese background.

    Vince A

  4. hi Vince A! =) thanks for dropping by! It's okay really, I've been learning a lot from your blog ^.^ Glad to know you grew up in the Philippines too!

  5. hi chelle,
    thnks for sharing your cantonese to english translation.actually I'm just looking for a word how to pronounce or say some words in cantonese and i see your message i find it interesting.thanks again for sharing it.godbless...

  6. hi =) no problem! ^.^ It's a pleasure, hope this helps!