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A Brief Intro on Taishanese (台山)


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I thought I'd write a little intro on Taishan and Taishanese, since many Westerners here are very interested in Chinese and Chinese culture, but don't seem to know much about the Chinese people who live in the same city as them here in North America. I'm talking of course about Taishanese. In recent years, Taishanese and Taishan dialect have become a minortiy in many Chinese neighbourhoods in Canada and the U.S., but Taishan dialect can still be heard and Taishanese continue to live and thrive in their communities.

Often referred to as "The home of overseas Chinese", the first Chinese to settle in North America were predominantly Taishanese. There are more than 1.3 million people of Taishanese descent living overseas, more than the county itself. Taishanese established nearly all the Chinatowns in Canada and the United States, including some of the oldest and largest ones in Vancouver, Toronto, and San Francisco. Taishan dialect was the lingua franca of Chinatowns up until the late 1960's to early 1970's.

First arriving to the west coast of Canada and the United States in the mid-to-late 19th century Most Taishanese worked in heavy menial labour jobs such as laundry, mining and railroad building. Taishanese helped build the Canadian railroad in the late 19th century under gruelling and very dangerous conditions (about 10% of them died during the construction). After the railroad was completed, a $500 head tax was implemented to keep further Chinese from immigrating. Because many of the labourers came to Canada without their wives and families, the head tax prevented them from bringing their families to Canada. Only several months ago had did the Canadian government issue an official apology to those victims of the head tax.

Nonetheless, many Taishanese continue to fluorish in Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Famous people of Taishanese descent include.

- Former Governor Gary Locke of Washington

- Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson of Canada

- Former Prime Minister Julius Chan of Papua New Guinea


Taishanese is gradually dying off in North America, as Guangzhou/HK Cantonese and more recently Putonghua are now dominant. I, along with many of my Chinese-Canadian firends can barely speak Taishan dialect anymore.

Some differences between Taishan dialect, HK/Guangzhou Cantonese and Mandarin include:

They: kek - keui dei - tamen

Where: nai - been do - nali

Who - sui - been gor - shei

Didn't - mang - moh - meiyou

Taishan - hoi san - toi san - taishan

Swear words:

chew hai: b-tch (literally means "stinky vagina"). I learned this one from my grandma.

ew nee guh mah: f--- your mom. Although this is very similar to Guangzhou/HK Cantonese, the difference is that this is not necessarily used to curse someone. Sometimes it just means "damn" (said when something bad happens). For example you can say "ew nee guh mah, I just had a really bad day at work". Sometimes my dad says this to my mom, but he isn't really cursing my maternal grandmother.

Taishan dialect on TV:

The only examples of Taishan dialect that I've seen on TV are from the character Hop Sing on the old TV show "Bonanza", and on an episode of the Simpsons (the one where Otto the bus driver crashes his bus into the sea and gets rescued by some Chinese people who then talk about using him as slave labour)





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yo...good job for posting this info..i'm assuming ur thaishanese? I'm too...

It is a dying language...I struggle to speak to my parents a lot of times when i visit them..

you ever go back ? I think I should go back and check it out...


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Hi Carman, yes I'm Taishanese....I don't consider it that big of a deal though. I just became more interested in it recently because I'm studying Mandarin and I want to know similarities and relationships between different dialects.

I haven't been to Taishan yet, though I'm planning to do so next Lunar New Year because I'm living in Korea right now, which is kinda close to Taishan (or at least closer than Canada is).

Anyway, here are a couple of more links for those interested.




The last one is on Kaiping dialect, but it's very similar.

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For anyone who's interested in learning a bit more, there's a new book which has a vocabulary of Taishanese and explanations of grammar and tones. Called "The Dancun Dialect of Taishan" maybe it's a bit different from what the Hong-ngin (Chinese) in the US chinatowns speak. You can order it from the City University of HK

Link to the contents page:


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