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Limited resources for written Cantonese! How can I learn written grammar?


Kaim Argonar
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Hello everyone. It's my first time to the forums. :)

I took one year of spoken and written Mandarin, but I preferred Cantonese and want to switch now. Because I must continue learning written grammar, I am obligated to find a resource which teaches spoken Cantonese, using audio tracks and Yale Romanization, alongside the traditional characters. However, most resources do not include characters.

What is my best approach for learning spoken Cantonese and written grammar together, using self-teaching tools?

Thanks!

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Cantonese isn't a written language so it's a bit harder a task than putonghua. Not speaking for myself, but rather my Cantonese wife and friends here in Guangdong. No one knows cantonese pinyin at all, although jyutping seems to be a more popular method than yale from what I have observed on the net. Maybe it is used in HK some, but everyone uses hanyu/putonghua that I have ever met for the standard writing system. I can spell in jyutping better than any chinese person I have ever asked about it, and I barely know any haha. That is probably why you are having trouble finding resources that include characters rather than cantonese romanization. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but if all the locals are speaking canrtonese and writing mandarin, it's might be easier to do the same.

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Cantonese isn't a written language... everyone uses hanyu/putonghua that I have ever met for the standard writing system.

This is not quite true - no offence, BrandeX :)

While you'd be hard-pressed to find official documents written in Cantonese, some people do write in "colloquial" Cantonese - for example, personal blogs, the late Cantopop lyricist and writer Wong Jim, and the HK tabloid the Apple Daily.

I know of quite a few Cantonese learning materials which use characters, to name a few:

  • Intermediate Cantonese: Themes for Listening and Speaking, Phillip Yungkin Lee
  • Living Cantonese for Intermediate Learners, Esther Chow & Conrad Chan
  • Sidney Lau's Cantonese textbooks
  • the Cantonese forums and CantoDict
  • Cantonese.hk

A number of the the above include comparisons between spoken Cantonese and (standard) written Chinese and use Yale (hint: users can opt to have CantoDict display Yale rather than Jyutping :wink:).

As for the best approach to learn spoken Cantonese and (standard) written grammar at the same time, I'm sorry I can't help you, as I learnt Mandarin for several years before starting Cantonese, but good luck :)

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To add to the above post, I found several old Stephen Chow movies on youtube. A few of them (i.e. god of gamblers 2) have the rare and odd spoken cantonese subtitles. I'm guessing it'll aid you faster in grasping the grammar. I suggest you download them or get them before they are removed from youtube.

That said, do not neglect standard written chinese! It has been crucial to improve my cantonese listening lately. You need to know both spoken cantonese and written chinese to really progress in cantonese.

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Thank you for the advice and links, everybody. However, if I am restricted to using Mandarin resources to learn written Chinese, then it seems very time consuming. :oops:

Suppose I learn to say, "It's raining" in Cantonese. I'd have to...

1. Learn the Cantonese speech,

2. Translate it to English,

3. Translate it to Mandarin,

4. Write the Mandarin phrase in simplified characters,

5. Look up the traditional characters.

How do children in Hong Kong study Chinese? I would assume they learn to write the official Mandarin grammar but pronounce each character in Cantonese.

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How do children in Hong Kong study Chinese? I would assume they learn to write the official Mandarin grammar but pronounce each character in Cantonese.

This is correct. And when they learn classical Chinese, they learn it as it is but pronounce each character in Cantonese.

If you want to learn Cantonese, learn to speak it. Personally I do not support writing in Cantonese. BrandeX has given you good advice, though I doubt he knows Jyutping better than I do. :mrgreen:

And, switching between simplified and tradtional characters is probably not a must. I would think that there are a lot of resources for learning to write in Mandarin in both scripts (think Mainland and Taiwan). And Cantonese is spoken both on the Mainland (e.g. Guangzhou,simplified characters) and in HK/Macau (traditional characters).

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BrandeX has given you good advice, though I doubt he knows Jyutping better than I do.
I'm sure your absolutely right Skylee. My knowledge extends to the spelling of all of about 5 or 6 words, which is 5 or 6 more than any chinese person I have ever mentioned this topic to.
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While you'd be hard-pressed to find official documents written in Cantonese, some people do write in "colloquial" Cantonese - for example, personal blogs, the late Cantopop lyricist and writer Wong Jim, and the HK tabloid the Apple Daily.

That's right. Modern written Chinese is relatively a "new" invention dated back to a few centuries ago and only became the standard last century, but written Cantonese was not unknown throughout the history. A lot of official documents and shengzhi in the Taiping Rebellion were actually written in a hybrid language of Hakka, Cantonese and Wenyan. Cantonese book is fairly common in hong kong too, although it's generally regarded that written Cantonese are vulgar nowadays.

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I've yet to find material that's 100% written based on spoken cantonese. When I do, it's usually limited to simple things. Come more complex subjects, people start reverting to more formal language that is not exactly spoken. Here, it's harder to classify whether its chinese or cantonese...

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  • 2 weeks later...

As far as I understand, and I'm surprised no one mentioned this, formal, written Cantonese uses the same grammar as Mandarin. For example, I don't know any Cantonese, but I can read Hong Kong newspapers. I saw this discussed on a Hong Kong ex-pat website. I'm sure there are exceptions, but like I said, in formal, written documents, Cantonese and Mandarin seem to be the same. In fact, it's required that all government documents in Hong Kong be written in formal Chinese, meaning it's the same as Mandarin, and not colloquial Cantonese. This may be the reason you're having such a hard time finding things about written Cantonese.

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You can't really write cantonese the way you speak it in fromal stuff and books. Though for Blogs or MSN or other similar stuff people don't care so if you really want to Write in cantonese, just learn to speak it. It's not that different from putonghua/manderinn in grammer though it sounds very different.

Basically writing chinese is writing chinese, not much difference between a manderin speaker and a cantonese speaker.

EDIT: Didn't check the page before typing, the person above me says the same stuff.

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Has nobody seen the Wikipedia articles written in Cantonese? Here's one on Beethoven.

Also, since nobody has mentioned it (I think), these forums have got some written Cantonese.

Another thing is that what many call "formal Chinese" is vernacular Chinese based on Beijing-Nanjing-ish speech.

What is formal and what is not, depends on what is written, not what language it's written in.

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What's interesting about the way HK folks learn chinese is it's old school style. A long time ago in china when chinese people only had a common written language, they learnt it using their respective dialect as the medium of communication. Then came the ascendancy of modern written chinese (mandarin) and the national language policy which saw teaching chinese via local dialects decline and now almost nil. Both Kuomintang and PRC enforced this policy widely. Because of HK's different situation, it was able to preserve the old way of teaching chinese although the official language of its education system is english!

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