Thursday, April 28, 2011

Basic Course: Lesson 12 Vocabulary

Time is one of the most difficult topics for me to discuss in a foreign language. It’s what you get to discuss here, at least a little, in lesson twelve.

  1. 長 · chïang · long in length and in time, merit
  2. 短 · ōn · short in length and in time
  3. 凍 · ung · cold, chilly
  4. 暖 · non · warm
  5. 多 · u · many, much
  6. 少 · sīau · few, little, seldom
  7. 至 · ji · superlative degree
  8. 最 · dui · superlative degree
  9. 比較 · bī-gau · to compare with
  10. 比 · bī (bēi) (ī) · to compare with
  11. 過 · gwo (go) · than, comparative particle
  12. 該 · kwọi · so, to such a degree
  13. 昨晚 · dọng-mạn (dok-mạn*) (dòk-mạn*) · last night, yesterday evening
  14. 今晚 · gim-mạn · tonight, this evening
  15. 前晚 · tïng-mạn · night before last
  16. 同 · hüng · and, for, with; same, together
  17. 仔女 · dōi-nūi · children, son and daughter
  18. 幾時 · gī-sï (gī-sï*) (gī-sị*) · when?
  19. 嗲 · e · suffix for past tense
  20. 未 · mì · not yet
  21. 尼 · nāi (nīt) · comparative degree

Here’s one character I noted in the dialogue that I wasn’t provided in the word list:

  • 囉 · lō · particle

And a few of these characters are listed with different pronunciations in the Kaiping dictionary.

  • 少 · sīu · few, little, seldom
  • 前晚 · tïn-mạn · night before last
  • 未 · mèi · not yet

As usually, please tell me if I’ve gotten something wrong (I type this stuff up by hand!). Questions, thoughts and suggestions are more than welcome in the comments below.


  1. what's the convention for tones on diphthongs, isn't it usually tone mark on top of the nucleus vowel? e.g. chiäng and not chïang...

  2. That’s a good question! I suppose the [i] in 長 feels more like a nucleus to me than does the [a]—at least it feels as strong to me as the [i] in 少 sīu.

    On a separate note, I’ve been getting sick of tone diacritics. They are sort of annoying to read on Google reader when they don’t display appropriately.

  3. Simple diacritics are not illustrative. For example, there are three 'flat' tones (55,33,22), and there are up/down tone changes on top of that (335, 225, 331, 221). I'm curious how would you represent that with diacritics?

  4. @Stephen: Your point is entirely accurate. Indeed, every diacritical scheme for Taishanese (besides adaptations of the Yale romanization) include seemingly non-iconic diacritics, including my own. In order to model the full complexity of Taishanese tones, each level tone is indicated by either a macron (high level tone), trema (low level tone) or the lack of a diacritic (mid level tone).

    As Dominic noted in the other post, these choices still incorporate some (perhaps esoteric) iconicity-by-analogy. The low tone is marked with trema, “which looks like ‘breathy’ and also ‘level’ at the same time.” (See the IPA diacritic table.) The unmarked vowel for the mid level tone “is good because it’s probably the most common tone (and also the result of a merger of the Upper "Level" [陰平] and "Departing" [陰去] tones).”

    The falling tones are indicated by either a grave accent (mid falling tone) or an underdot (low falling tone). The underdot is inspired by Vietnamese; its position below the letter “reminds you there's some creak to it” and is further iconic because this tone is the absolute lowest tone.

    Due to the beauty of our language, the mid and low level tones can change to rising tones and the mid falling and low falling tones can change to dipping tones. I use the same approach as the Basic Course of following the syllable with an asterisk to indicate this tone change, so ngīn chä with the rise is ngīn chä*. This choice is neither nor iconic nor a diacritic nor visually elegant, but it successfully preserves each tone’s morphological transparency.

    Admittedly, the diacritics that I’ve proposed are not as isomorphically elegant as the tones of Mandarin, but they are for the large part accommodated by the Unicode schema. The success of Vietnamese orthography is ample proof that pitch-track iconicity is by no means a necessity to implement a successful diacritic scheme. I would never demand that anyone else use the scheme I’ve proposed, nor would I force anyone to recognize that they do manage to represent the full range of Taishanese tones, at least in the dialect my family speaks.

  5. Hi Aaron, thank you for your response. I am also wondering what's your thought on picking (or not picking) certain characters for Taishanese syllables as many Taishanese expressions are without a standard written representation. What's your thought on the Korean/Japanese type of mixed spelling/Chinese character representation?

  6. @Stephen: That’s a really good question! I’m personally inclined to using characters wherever possible—but as you’re probably already aware, characters are not always possible. For example, there’s no good character to correspond to kwọi. My friends in China routinely use Roman letters to text words in Taishanese that have no Chinese character equivalent (like kọ). At least for this blog, I’m going to try to use characters until I get pressed up against a wall. As you’ll see in the next lesson I’m posting tomorrow, I’m just about there already!