When I was younger, my father taught me that we spoke Cantonese, but that our family’s dialect was Seiyap 四邑, while other people in Chinatown spoke Saamyap 三邑. In high school in the suburban Midwest, Cantonese speaking students flatly informed me that I didn’t speak Cantonese. I remember going home to my father and telling him that he had lied to me! But the truth, I found out later, wasn’t quite so simple.
We speak a dialect that I will refer to—at least in this post—as Taishanese 台山話. This variety of Chinese is related to Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong, and is properly classified under the Cantonese or Yue 粵 grouping of Chinese dialects. Taishanese was the dominant language of the first wave of Chinese immigrants, from the 1860s through the 1960s. Subsequent waves of immigration displaced Taishanese with Cantonese as the dominant language, and now Mandarin.
I spent five years studying linguistics at UCLA and Northwestern University. College proved to be the perfect opportunity to explore the dialect my family spoke, where I dug up every single resource that I could find. For example, it turned out that there are many, many different names for this dialect, and that even the “boundaries” of what constitutes my family’s dialect may vary from person to person. I also learned of plenty of Chinese Americans in the United States who were eager to learn about their history. At the time I graduated, my goal was to write a dictionary, pulling together all my experience and resources.
But then life happened.
Enchanted by the world beyond academia and theoretical linguistics, I quit my doctoral program to become a computational lexicographer, eventually winding up as a business analyst. (FYI, a linguistics education is a fabulous way to develop top-notch analytical skills.) My already poor Chinese skills deteriorated even further. Links with academia faded away. A wonderful career in business consulting also began consuming all of my spare time.
Only recently did I decide to take another stab at Taishanese. This blog is aimed to supplement that work. When I have an article I’d like to share or bookmark, I’ll post it here. This blog is also potentially an archive of bits of information that I’d like to remember, but don’t know what to do with otherwise. I also encourage comments—I’d love to hear from other Taishanese linguists and enthusiasts.