Monday, April 18, 2011

Basic Course: Lesson 11 Vocabulary

How’s the weather? A very useful question to ask, especially if you’re talking with overseas Taishanese, who live all over the place!

  1. 天氣 · hing-hi · weather
  2. 今日 · gim-ngìt · today
  3. 昨日 · dọng-ngìt · yesterday
  4. 前日 · tïng-ngìt · day before yesterday
  5. 近來 · gìn-löi* · recently, lately
  6. 三伩仔 · lham-mīn-dōi (lhai-mīn-dōi) · child, son
  7. 幾 · gī (gēi) · quite, a few, several, how?
  8. 非常之 · fi-sïng-ji · extremely, extraordinary, exceedingly
  9. 高 · go · tall, high, superior
  10. 大 · ài · big, large, old in age
  11. 細 · lhai · small, little, young in age
  12. 肥 · fï · fat, bulky, greasy
  13. 瘦 · sau · skinny, thin
  14. 冷 · lang · cold, chilly
  15. 熱 · ngìk · hot, warm; heat
  16. 矮 · āi · short in height
  17. 忙 · möng · busy
  18. 疚 · gau · tired
  19. 覺得 · gok-ak (gok-āk) · to feel
  20. 得逮 · ak-dài · too, intensive degree

The term 得逮 ak-dài “too much” corresponds to the Cantonese term 得滯, both of which are placed after the adjective. The character 逮 corresponds to a character pronounced as dai in Cantonese; Deng Jun for his part applies the character 濟.

There was one character I spotted in the dialogue that I didn’t see in this list:

  • 涼 · lïang · cool

Some words have different pronunciations in the Kaiping dictionary, and I’ve provided these below:

  • 天氣 · hin-hei · weather
  • 今日 · gem-ngèt (gem-mèt) · today
  • 昨日 · dọng-ngèt · yesterday
  • 前日 · tïn-ngèt · day before yesterday
  • 近來 · gèn-löi · recently
  • 三伩仔 · lham-mēn-dōi · child, son
  • 非常之 · fui-sïang-ji · extremely, extraordinarily, exceedingly
  • 肥 · füi · fat, bulky, greasy
  • 冷 · lang · cold
  • 熱 · ngìt · hot

The word 冷 is one I usually pronounce as lạng, with a low falling tone—except in the expression 好冷 hō lang, where I pronounce it with a mid level tone.

For the word 三伩仔 lham-mīn-dōi, Deng Jun instead writes 三明仔; this other “spelling” is useful, since is a relatively uncommon character.

If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions, please drop me a message in the comments!


  1. 三伩仔 is a cognate of the Cantonese term 細蚊仔. 'lhai mun' is assimilated to 'lham men' with the 'i' dropped and 'min' deemphasized to 'men'. My personal preference for cognates is to stick with the Cantonese written form, otherwise we would create many different versions as Taishanese itself has regional accent and pronunciation variations. Perhaps we should consider a pseudo-Japanese system that has the pronunciation placed on top of the characters or put into parenthesis following it.

  2. I agree that the Cantonese 細蚊仔 is the likely origin, and I would further agree that in most cases it’s preferable to stick with the Cantonese written form.

    In the case of this particular blog, I’m trying to transcribe the Basic Course exactly as it was written, within the constraints of the Unicode character set. When confronted with these limitations, I’m inclined to follow the suggestions proposed by the Chinese linguist Deng Jun 鄧鈞, who has spent much more time than I have thinking about how to put Taishanese into print form.

    The only cases where I might be disinclined to use the Cantonese term is where the correspondence is imprecise. So, for example, I am fine writing the word lhai as 嗮, but reluctant to write it as 哂—while these words are pronounced the same in Cantonese, they should be (and are) pronounced differently in Taishanese.

  3. By the way, you pointed out the pronunciation differences of some words. There's a vowel shift (i->ei) among Taishanese speakers. I'm not sure which sound is the 'original' but Taicheng speakers are i speakers. I suspect assimilation to Cantonese has something to do with it. My observation is that ei speakers choose ei or i mostly according to their cognates' pronunciations in Cantonese while i speakers stick with i in most cases (regardless the Cantonese cognate is ei or i).

  4. Thank you so much for your comment. You bring up a point that I actually hear quite commonly in the Taishanese American community. There’s a lot more to say about the i-e alternation than I can put in this post, but I would quickly note that I doubt the influence Cantonese plays a role in this particular case.

    I’m inclined to believe the i pronunciation predates the ei pronunciation (again, for more reasons than I can list here), but the i > e alternation also occurs in some places where you don’t find it in Cantonese, such as in syllables with a final consonant. Note 七 tet, 筆 vet, 先 lhen and 心 lhem. Not only that, we ei-dialect speakers also have i-words which are ei-words in Cantonese, such as 飛 fui and 幾 gi, and also where Cantonese has a short a, as in 十 sip.

    My sense is that the e(i) arose independently from contact with Cantonese, specifically since its distribution is at once quite regular and predictable, but also significantly different than its distribution in Cantonese.

    Thanks again for your comment—I’ve made a point to write a little more about this alternation this weekend.

  5. This is a wonderful blog, and once I have a bit more time to learn after getting my Hokkien up to scratch, I'll start having a look at Hoiping using your work as a guide.

    I was wondering, do you get the chance to speak much to old Hoiping or Hoisan speakers who were born in the US or Canada? The reason why I'm asking is that I came across an article on Hoisan a few years back with some transcribed conversations of US Hoisan speakers from the 50's, which had different vocabulary from the DLI coursebook. Three examples I remember well were:

    唐山 - Hung-san used for "China" - not 中國
    衙門 - Nga-mun used for "government office"
    金山 - Kim-san used for "America" not 美國

    Now, I learn Hokkien, specifically the variety spoken in Northern Malaysia, and many words like this are still used there in everyday speech (the first one is very common)that have died out in China and Taiwan.

    Just looking at this list I noticed
    天氣 hing-hi, which in Malaysian Cantonese and Hokkien is still 天時

    So what I was wondering is whether there is a variety of "emigre Sze-Yap" spoken in North America that preserves original Hoisan/Hoiping words that have changed in China because of Mandarin influence (perhaps vis HK Cantonese)?

  6. @Kim-mô• Âng-mô•: I grew up with both these sets of words. According to a friend who grew up in Kaiping in the 1940s and 1950s, you would hear both “local” and “standard” variants, such as 日頭 and 太陽 for “sun.”

    Some of these words are still preserved by older Siyi immigrants, but I would bet that the majority of Siyi/Sze-Yap speakers are more recent immigrants, relatively fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, and who probably don’t adhere to these older forms as much. At least in my experience, I get strange looks whenever I use 銀 for “money” or 毛 for “hair.”

  7. Thanks for your answer Aaron.
    Guess what....I love these old words! I'll bet they are all alive and kicking somewhere in the world as the normal everyday words for things. I was amazed at first to hear people saying 紅毛 for a Westerner and 唐人 for a Chinese in Southeast Asian versions of Hokkien and Teochew, but these are still the ordinary everyday words. Even teenagers use them!

  8. In my grandparents' circle, 紅毛 was specifically reserved for Brits and Canadians (Canada was still part of UK then). For my generation, 銀 is definitely out but 毛 (for 'hair') is alive and well: We still call haircut 剪毛. 太陽 sounds too formal, 热头 or 日头 (I don't know which one is supposed to be right) is typical.