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New Cantonese Textbook!


ParkeNYU
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Hello everyone.

In an effort to learn the language, I am adopting the rather unorthodox approach of writing my own textbook rather than merely reading one. It is called "粵語入門:An Introduction to Cantonese" (if you can think of a better title, please share your suggestions).

I have several aims for this project, besides just helping myself learn Cantonese.

1) Teaching Written Cantonese: Many Cantonese textbooks dangerously claim that writing isn't important for learning the language. A language without a strong standardised written form is destined to succumb to a language that has one (like Mandarin). In this era of instant messaging and texting, Written Cantonese is more essential now than ever to keep the language alive.

2) Promoting Cantonese Phonetic Symbols (CPS / 粵注 / Jyutzyu): As stated in the relevant thread, I believe that CPS is the best way for first-time students to learn Cantonese pronunciation. The most important reason is that Romanisation schemes inevitably lead to phoneme conflation, as many different standards exist, and none–apart from IPA–are truly accurate and suited to the target language.

3) Promoting CPS Tone Marks for Jyutping: The only standard way to mark tones in Jyutping is to append the appropriate tone number to each syllable. This practice is both unintuitive and unsightly. Some textbooks, such as Cantonese For Everyone, have attempted to introduce their own proprietary tone diacritics, but it is of my opinion that their solutions are equally unintuitive and unsightly. While I promote CPS above all forms of Cantonese Romanisation, I also provide Jyutping in this textbook as a convenience to students, as many learning resources use this format. I believe that the CPS tone marks are the most intuitive companion to Jyutping, since they are based on the standard IPA tone letters.

I have compiled the textbook up to the beginning of Chapter 1 thus far, and I welcome any input and feedback, which I would be most honoured to receive. The final product, including the audio and workbook, will be completely free of charge. If anyone wishes to collaborate more deeply, please let me know. My hope is that projects like this help to keep Cantonese alive and kicking.

 

Textbook Prototype: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15757362/AITC_cover.pdf

Sample Dialogue Format: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15757362/UDHR_JZ.pdf

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老實講,我唔係好明一個唔識廣東話嘅人(又或者所謂學緊廣東話嘅人)點樣寫廣東話嘅教科書,又點樣知道乜嘢同點樣先係正確嘅發音,仲話要寫粵語。當然我只係一個識講廣東話嘅人,無做乜嘢研究,學識淺薄。不過連我都覺得寫粵語都幾難,真係唔知你點會有資格去"教"其他人書寫廣東話。總之睇完你個貼就覺得好唔對路啦。

Frankly I don't really understand how someone who does not know Cantonese (or a Cantonese learner) can write a Cantonese textbook, and how that person can know how to pronounce Cantonese correctly, not to mention writing it. Of course I am only someone who speaks the language and I have not studied it nor do I have much knowledge of it. But even I find writing Cantonese quite difficult, so I wonder how you are qualified to do something like "Teaching Written Cantonese". Your post does not feel right.

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Very impressive post, but i have to agree with Skylee that it's hard to understand how you could write a textbook on learning Cantonese if you are only just learning it yourself. If it is purely a way of documenting your progress to help yourself and maybe a free little thing to show others how you did it, that's pretty cool. But otherwise it might be a little hard to really take seriously...

 

Either way,. i had planned on learning Cantonese after i got to a reasonable degree of fluency in Mandarin, so i will definitely be checking it out. Might be interesting. Thank you. And also please don't let me discourage you..... maybe you could elaborate a bit?

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I had a look at your link out of curiosity only as I am not a Cantonese learner or speaker, but was just interested to see what you had done considering you have put your level of knowledge as novice.

 

I was really intrigued to see what a novice would have to offer. I cannot make any criticisms of your work. but I admire your courage.

 

skylee is the one person on these forums that I am aware of that is qualified to offer criticism and i am not at all surprised at skylee's response.

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Allow me to address the elephant in the thread.

 

While I am the chief architect and compiler of this textbook, it would be ludicrous to suggest that I'm without the help and support of native Cantonese speakers, at least a dozen of them in fact, some laymen and others expert linguists, some who teach Cantonese informally and others who teach Cantonese by profession. I also have access to a wealth of Cantonese educational resources from which I continually draw inspiration.

 

I apologise for not making that point sufficiently clear in my opening post. Obviously, it would behoove me to release a textbook with proper confirmation of quality and accuracy. Since the project is open and free, I invite any who are interested to partake in reviewing the material and even offer original content. Ultimately, all who contribute will be credited, and all borrowed content cited.

 

My lack of fluency in Cantonese actually grants me the unique position of arbiter; I can collect suggestions and critiques from a pool of qualified contributors and determine a relatively unbiased compromise, untainted by the quirks of my own natural speech. I may be yet unable to speak Cantonese organically, but I can declare with confidence that I know a fair deal about it.

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I commend the OP for trying. While I agree that it'd be just great to have more fully literate native Cantonese speakers share their knowledge with us, I still appreciate it when another learner is willing to share his study notes. 

 

If you publish anything though, I'd proof-read it very carefully with native speakers, and clearly identify the less orthodox editorial choices (which in itself it's harder to do for Cantonese, as even literate native speakers may disagree on character choices and so on).
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The lack of consensus regarding Cantonese characters is something that I will address inclusively; all popular character forms that are Unicode-compliant will be mentioned.

 

Since work on the first chapter has yet to commence, I understand that there is only so much feedback that can be generated at this time.

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I'm a non-native speaker of Cantonese and a postgraduate linguistics student in Hong Kong. =D

 

While a lot of people have their opinions about whether a non-native speaker is qualified enough to write a textbook, I'll support your endeavours. (I don't need to use the textbook though because I've learnt enough Cantonese already.) I do think it's possible for a non-native speaker to create a well-designed textbook (however obviously help and proofreading from native speaker consultants is essential!).

 

Of course, I figure most people are turned off by your textbook project because it's just such an obvious tool to push your gimmicky transcription system, but if the textbook itself is good, I don't see why people should complain.

 

About point (3) though. Please please please don't. I don't care if you want to use your textbook to promote your gimmicky transcription method. But Jyutping is already a (somewhat) well established standard and within it tone numbers are used. Just so people who are used to Jyutping aren't confused, please use standard tone numbers with it. While I understand you are creating this textbook mainly to support your CPS thing, have you not considered that if your textbook is actually good, maybe there will be people uninterested in CPS who want to use it, and for them, having standard Jyutping transcription is essential because it's what most learners would want. You put down other people creating proprietary tone diacritics but then you do the same thing.

 

About point (2), I personally wouldn't recommend it, only because your system is non standard. Ideally you should use a widely used/government-supported romanization system (Jyutping) and learn it properly without conflating phonemes. I understand that conflating phonemes is a serious problem, but I don't think anyone dumb or lazy enough to conflate phonemes will be happy to learn yet another writing system from scratch (your CPS) just to avoid the problem. If you are going to put in the effort to learn CPS, you might as well put in less effort and simply learn Jyutping properly. You claim that no transcription system of Cantonese is accurate, but Jyutping is perfectly accurate, it accounts for all of the distinctions made in Cantonese. It's unfortunate use of j confuses about everyone and it isn't exactly the nicest looking or easiest to learn transcription method, but you cannot say it's not accurate. Because even Jyutping itself is not /thaaat/ standard (it isn't used by the majority of the native speaking population), I actually don't think it's the end of the world if you use your own unique system and your students are willing to adopt it, but I don't see why anyone would. It is nice of you to also provide Jyutping so people who are uninterested in your system can still use the textbook. (But please please use standard Jyutping as I said above.)

 

About point (1), it's not essential for everyone to learn written Cantonese because it is not widely used by everyone and some people may only be interested in learning standard written Chinese along with Cantonese. I don't have any personal political views on whether written Cantonese should or should not be a common written standard, and I don't think your textbook should push one either. Having said that, it definitely does not hurt to provide written Cantonese characters for all your dialogues, people who don't care about it can simply ignore it, and people who will use it (and there will be many) will use it.

 

Actually In terms of writing, what actually is necessary is to learn Standard Written Chinese with Cantonese pronunciation. (Assuming you only want to learn Cantonese and not Mandarin as well.) There are very few books that provide such resources; most Cantonese textbooks only focus on the spoken language and provide accompanying written Cantonese, but this is not useful for people who want to be able to read anything written in standard Chinese, which is the formal written language for most Cantonese speakers. I had to learn standard Chinese by myself, mainly by using Mandarin textbooks, and I had to use a dictionary to look up the Cantonese reading of each word individually. (Some people laugh at me for caring, but I again think this is an often underlooked but still important skill, especially for people interested in Hong Kong. Some mainlanders on the other hand may only know how to read things in Mandarin sounds and may find reading the written language out loud in Cantonese to be awkward though.)

 

I won't blame you for only providing resources on the spoken language because that's what everyone does, and it's a completely different domain from learning spoken Chinese so many textbooks will only want to focus on one aspect. But I'm telling you, resources for the written language are what is actually needed. When I was just starting out learning Cantonese, there was a period where I was significantly more proficient at written Cantonese than standard written Chinese (because my textbook did not teach the written language), and I think this can easily be a common problem for non-native learners of Cantonese because of the lack of resources for the written language for Cantonese learners. This may be the political goal for some people, but from the learner's perspective, it's more useful to be able to have the knowledge of what is actually used in society.

 

skylee: It is possible, and very easy for a non-native speaker to be able to describe how a language is supposed to be pronounced if the language is well documented and they study this documentation and are simply putting this in their own words in the textbook. Having said that, just because a non-native speakers "knows" how a language is supposed to be pronounced does not mean that they will physically be able to pronounce the words correctly. It generally would be very inadvisable for a non-native speaker to produce audio recordings for people to copy, but I assume the author has hired a native speaker for this.

 

As for written Cantonese: of course you find written Cantonese difficult; you were never formally taught it. However, many young Cantonese speakers however are proficient in written Cantonese because it is a commonly used informal written communication method. Although I did say it was not necessary to teach it earlier, I do not mean that it is necessary to not teach it. Non-native learners of Cantonese who wish to be able to communicate with people who use written Cantonese may find it beneficial to have this material in a textbook. Think about it this way; you already find it so difficult to learn, wouldn't it be even more difficult for us to learn? It's a fact that it's a useful skill (for some social circles), so having it in a textbook can simply help people. In fact, most textbooks already have it because it simply doesn't hurt to have characters as well as transcription. I don't see how this is controversial.

 

EDIT: Wait, you said you are maintaining the high tone distinction in character lists? Where did you find information on which character holds which tone? I (want to) speak Guangzhou Cantonese so I (want to) make the distinction but I am very poor at it except for very common words because literally no resources provide this distinction.

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Think about it this way; you already find it so difficult to learn, wouldn't it be even more difficult for us to learn?

I said it is difficult to write, not difficult to learn. Not sure if you understand it. But for a native speaker it is not difficult to learn to read it. But as you correctly pointed out I was never taught how to write it and there is no real reason to do it so it is difficult for me to write it. Or it was (I wrote that passage above, didn't I?). But I can write it because I have kept on writing in Cantonese. Many native speakers I know can't write in Cantonese because a) they were not taught how to; and b) they lack training and practice. PS - I don't doubt it is a useful skill for some circles. But it is not an essential skill in many other circles.

Also, just to clarify, I didn't say non-native speakers can't write a textbook or describe the pronunciation of a language. I said "someone who does not know Cantonese (or a Cantonese learner)".

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Takeshi, thank you for offering such an honest and detailed critique.

Perhaps this will not sway your stated positions, but I nevertheless feel that it would be beneficial to clarify my agenda and the underlying reasoning:

1) I want to first make it clear that, far from being a Cantonese isolationist, I avidly support—nay, insist upon—education in Standard Written Chinese for any student who is seriously invested in learning the Cantonese language. In fact, although I hadn't yet mentioned it here, the sequel to this textbook focuses solely on learning Standard Written Chinese with Cantonese pronunciations. I hadn't intended to include Standard Written Chinese in the first volume because: (a) I didn't want to overwhelm the elementary student with a parallel set of vocabulary and syntax, and (b) I wanted to emphasise the written form of precisely what the student was learning to vocalise in the first place. Both written traditions play important roles in Cantonese, and I feel that the role of Written Cantonese has been widely undervalued. As I alluded to earlier, as more colloquial conversations take place on digital media, the role of spoken language will inevitably bleed into that domain; in fact, as you yourself conceded, it already has to an extent.

2) I had been working on CPS for well over a year before a Cantonese textbook was even a twinkle in my imagination; CPS has indeed been my priority all along, and I've made no attempt to conceal the fact that one of the major goals of this project is to promote my 'gimmicky' transcription system. I realise that Cantonese has a glut of Romanisation schemes, and while they are helpful for transliteration purposes, I believe them to be ill-suited to the phonology and phonetics of Cantonese. I've reached this personal conclusion through not only my own study of lingustics, but more pertinently through the study of all major Chinese transcription systems, their relationships, and their histories. The bottom line is, I believe that all Chinese Romanisation schemes are flawed, and that, while not perfect, dedicated systems like Zhùyīn fúhào—specifically crafted for their target languages—offer the best solution. To keep my idealism in check, I ensured that CPS was fully compatible with Unicode and minimally contradictory to its Mandarin-based parent script; it felt like nothing short of a miracle that I managed to keep the system phonologically and phonetically consistent to a considerable degree. Yes, with sufficient practice and training, one can learn to avoid phoneme conflation across different varieties of Romansiation, just as someone can be trained to assign the sound /n/ to the letter 'x'; the point is that it's counterintuitive. With CPS, the student learns to assign a specific sound—potentially a sound with which he is yet unfamiliar—to a new symbol. A dedicated script allows the student to thrust himself fully into the initially mysterious realm of the new language—without a seemingly helpful yet ultimately misleading crutch.

3) As I had conceded in my opening post, the only standard way to mark tones in Jyutping is indeed to append tone numbers at the syllable's terminus. Therefore, my proprietary diacritics, along with any other proposed diacritics, are thus far unofficial. May I then presume that you treat other Jyutping diacritic schemes—such as the one introduced in 'Cantonese for Everyone'—with equal disdain on the basis of unofficial status? As it turns out, the 'government' of Hong Kong doesn't care much for Cantonese anyway, whilst the LSHK and HKIEd themselves have separate—albeit similar—standards for Romanisation; who are we to follow then? This isn't even to mention the fact that most paperback Cantonese resources for foreign students still elect to use the old Yale system instead. Unlike the highly tamed linguistic environment surrounding Mandarin transcription, the climate of Cantonese transcription still feels like a wide-open and wild frontier, ripe for exploration and refinement.

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