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Old and possibly out-of-use Cantonese characters


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This is my first time on this forum, and I would like to say for the record that I do not speak or read any Chinese languages, only interested. I am only looking for the translations of 5 specific characters right now, but they are tough ones.

My question is regarding Cantonese Chinese characters written in a martial arts textbook from around 1930 (鐵線拳), before the standardization of Chinese. None of these exist in any Chinese dictionary I have seen so far. I am looking for English meanings of these words, and if possible the correct pronunciation. MAINLY English meanings though.

Because I cannot type these mystery characters, I will tell you that each of them has the mouth radical to the left, like so:

口+爺 (Ye4?); 口+系 (Hai6?); 口+竭 (Kit3?); 口+霞 (Haa?); 口+弟 (Dai6?)

It is possible that these characters were first written in the 1800's, making them much older than the book I mentioned above.

If anyone has a really, really old PAPER dictionary for Cantonese, maybe they would be listed there. It would be super helpful. I have been looking for the meanings of these for 1 year now. Thanks.


Osaka, Japan

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Cool. Thank you Hofmann. 1 down and counting! I really appreciate your effort. And thank you for that link, I have bookmarked it.

Your other comment is also on target. These are sounds made in a martial arts form. The sounds are believed to help release negative emotions from the organs they get trapped in (5 element/5 organ Taoist theory). And the sound 㖒 corresponds with worry, and is supposed to release worry from the stomach and spleen. I don't know why I didn't think to mention this is my first post.

If it helps, the other characters I wrote are also for sounds:

口+爺 along with 口+霞 (Ye Haa) is said to release sadness from the lungs

口+系 is said to release anger from the liver

口+竭 ... release fear from the kidneys

啲 is said to release cruelty from the lungs, but I have no idea why. It is a point of grammar isn't it?

I know WHAT these are supposed to do and what sounds they make, but my job is to demystify things like this. People have no idea they are just saying "Joy" to get rid of anger. Americans doing gungfu who cannot understand Chinese think they are calling out magical incantations...you know, because Chinese language is "magic". Sorry for my sarcasm, I used to think the same think about Japanese when I was a teen.

Thanks again, hope my new post helps unravel the rest of this.


UPDATE: The link you gave me also had 口+霞 too. Although I cannot seem to get it to encode right in Open Office, it is Haa1 and is the "sound of panting". How fun, "mouth"+"low-lying cloud"= panting. Neat.

Edited by CarlCaizaki
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If it's not too much hassle, it would help if you provide an entire example sentence for each of your characters. Characters with the mouth radical in Cantonese are often non-standard, and sometimes may have even been made up by the author himself, but can be understood better in context. While I understand you want to find the specific characters in question, people may be able to direct you to more "standard" variants for clarification of meaning and usage if they have better context.

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Mugi, thanks so much for your comment. You are absolutely right, and we translators constantly say this to people who ask, "What does .... mean?" However in this case, all I have are these solo characters.

They are not used in a "normal" context. As I mentioned above, these are sounds made in a martial arts form...meaning one actually says "Ng!" when bringing the fists back, or "Kit!" when striking with fingers pointing out. Even within martial arts, this is an odd thing to do, which is part of the reason why so many people find it "magical".

Most of the words make sense in a Taoist sort of way. I can understand breathing "Hoooo" meaning "Joy" to calm oneself down, but I cannot at all understand why someone would punch and say "啲" because it makes no sense given the CURRENT meaning of the character.

Again, I am sorry there are no sentences at all. Even the Chinese text just says, "...and make the sound 「啲」. I would paste some of that book here, but I do not write Chinese.



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Hello again,

I will attempt to upload two scans this morning to show you what 2 pages of this book look like. I am afraid that this won't really provide much more context, but maybe it will put you in "the groove". (chuckle)

Sanskrit huh? In a very ultimate and ancient sort of way, maybe. But generally speaking these are sounds are part of a "Taoist" 5 organ theory, as opposed to a Yogic theory. I assume that Taoism and Yoga masters have probably shared a lot over the centuries, but I "don't think" this is the case here. Based on what I have seen from this sound usage in this form so far, (there are a total of 16 sounds) most of the sounds are nothing special, and not spiritual in origin, even though the principle behind using them is more on the meta-physical side.

Other sounds used in this exercise are 嘩, 喲, 唔,嘻,揸, 呀.啲,吃 which, in my understanding, are mostly just "noises" such as the sound of crying, laughing, sighing or rushing (liquid).

There is a much more well-known Taoist breathing-meditation which uses 6 sounds/noises to heal the organs, but none of these are used in the above exercise. Frankly, this set is really a combination of two opposing principles, it is a hard muscular exercise, using a mental concept that requires calm. One or more guys made this thing, and here 150 years later, people think it is "magic" so they make it a secret, and then knowledge gets lost, such as the fact that the guy is just saying 'surprise!'.

I have really gone off topic here, but only in efforts to try to make for better clarity in what these sounds may be. Kind of like turning on every light in the house to find that left sock you lost. My theory is that 口+爺 is going to turn out to be "old man's laughter" and 口+竭 something like "the sound of effort being made" or something similar.

Anyway, here are the scans.


Thanks much


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Mugi brought up a point that I have also wanted to know about, but is a bit of a side step from this topic: making up characters. That is either really tough to do in Japanese or impossible. People make up new WAYS to read something, called "ate-ji" which is used a lot for NAMES... but in Chinese can you just MAKE UP a new character?

Like I hypothesized a moment ago, "I need a word for old guy laughing...口+爺! Yes! That will work!" How "Ok" is that, or rather is it extremely rare, rare, common or do you need a prescription from your local 漢字master? (heh)


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Hi again Carl,

Thanks for the scans. If there is a native Cantonese speaking gungfu practitioner out there, they might recognize what should be said at that time, even if they don't recognize the character per se.

I suspect that most, if not all, the characters that you're inquiring about are completely divorced from any meaning they may have in another context - as you surmised, they're simply being used for onomatopoetic purposes. As such, 啲 has no connection with its current ussage in Cantonese (a few, a little,...) and could be pronounced as di (dee) or dit, or maybe even dik. I'll check a couple of oldish Cantonese dictionaries I have at home and see if I can find any of your remaining characters.

You may also want to post on Adam Sheik's site: Chinese Cantonese Forums

As for "making up characters", this is quite common in Chinese (especially for dialects), although not so much now in the age of computers as in days gone past. The various ministries of education in Greater China, Japan and Korea have made efforts to limit and standardize characters since the beginning of the last century, but the reason that so many characters exist in the first place is because people were forever inventing new ones!

And Japan was no exception. In addition to creating several now "standard" variants of pre-existing characters (国 for 國 comes immediately to mind), Japan has also traditionally created a whole host of characters, known as 国字, although only a couple of dozen of them have been listed as 常用漢字 (think 畑、込、働、峠...). See here, if you're interested, for the most complete list I have come across.

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Now that you mention it, yes Japan has made up all sorts of characters. I think I should amend my earlier remark to mean that typical people don't feel free to make up their own characters, that would probably be closer to fact than what I wrote this morning.

While standardization does really make a lot of sense, it would be handy sometimes if we could just grab some Chinese, old or new, and slap it into a Japanese sentence NOW, but so many people have enough difficulty just remembering standard Japanese kanji, the last thing they need is a renegade, white-devil throwing Chinese into the mix...but I do my share of using out-of-date characters.

But thanks for the discussion. Like I said, I knew the sounds and what they were meant to do, but I wanted to know what the words meant. Knowing whether the characters stood for the names of gods, requesting they come heal the body, or whether they were simple words like"peace" makes a huge difference to me.

And of course if you find the remaining characters, I would love to see what you come up with. Any guesses on 啲? Doesn't 的 mean "target" in Chinese? "The sound of hitting a target"...hmm.

Thanks again


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Funny you should say that, I actually already started working on a set that uses sounds and movements. It was especially liberating to find out that the sounds were not as important as the reasoning behind using sound in the first place.

Still, for my own notes, if you or anyone reading this, sees the remaining 3 characters in type, please feel free to post them here. 口+爺; 口+系; 口+竭

Thank you guys for your help, I feel just a little bit more educated now.


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  • 1 month later...

The word with the square on the left are probably colloquial form- that means these ware words that are invented using word that sounds in Mandarin. A lot of word spoken in Cantonese have got no written words.

Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese are much older Chinese dialects.

Mandarin is a newer dialects. As such, Cantonese, Hokkien and Hainanese dialects have got no written words for most of the spoken form. Likewise, some of the dialect words have got no spoken use in Mandarin if you happen to see in a chinese dictionary.

Most of the words that you have posted are spoken words and do not have meaning to a Mandarin dialect speaker.

The first word from left to right is spoken like ye, hi, kit, haa and di in English.

I think they are all words that present exclamation sounds spoken in Cantonese, that is why it has the mouth radical on the left.

ye; I think is just an exclamation sound

hi: is meaning true, yes, correct, can be, affirmative.....depending its context in the sentence

kit: do not know.....must see the whole sentence

haa: I think is an exclamation

dai; I think is an exclamation

All the words you have posted is not possible to deduce unless the whole sentence is posted.

I you can sent a complete sentence or attach an image that contains the word then is possible to translate the word.

I am a Cantonese and I am not very good in the written form, but I know enough to help.

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