I have recently enrolled in a course called Functional Cantoneses for English Speakers I. It’s not a standard university course – it is given during night and costs HK$900 for students. I hesitated at first to pay for a course, but now I wouldn’t regret it for all the money in the world (ok, big exaggeration, but you get the point).
Let me introduce you shortly to Cantonese. It is one of the main languages in China. If you thought China had only one language, you are sadly mistaken and your homework is to read up. Anyway, Cantonese is one of the largest Chinese languages. It is the language you will hear in almost all Hong Kong movies or in Chinese pop music. In Hong Kong and in the area to the north everybody speaks Cantonese, but most people can also speak and understand Mandarin (called “putonghua” by the chinese). Surprisingly few speak English, and that is the main reason why I’ve started study Cantonese. Another reason is my linguistic interest, and the third is just because it’s cool. I will still try to study Mandarin when an appropriate course is given.
Anyway, although I only have the knowledge of one lesson so far, I will give you a very fast introduction. What makes Cantonese different from other languages is that words differs from eachother depending on which tone they are spoken in. In most European languages, the tone is merely used to mark a sentence as a question (rising tone in French, for example) or to convey a feeling from the speaker. In Cantonese (and other Chinese languages) a different tone can mean a completely different word.
To be able to read Cantonese without first having to learn the Chinese writing system we use a romanised system, a system of latin characters describing the sounds. The system we use are from Yale University.
Finally, I will share some useful phrases in cantonese. I use the course homepage to know how to pronounce these phrases, but unfortunately I haven’t found a way to share theses sound clips with you. Even more unfortunate is that you need special characters to write even the romanised version of the phrases. So you have to try your best without them:
Thank you very much – mgoi saai (Tone going down on “m”, high on “goi” and midlevel at “saai”)
You are welcome – msai, mgoi (Tone going down on “m”, going up on “sai” and down at “m” and high at “goi”)
Good morning – jou sahn (Tone going uo on “jou” and down, low level, on “sahn”)
Seems easy enough, eh? I will keep you posted and try to give some sound clips.