Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cantonese Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, Dec 4, 2017

Hi Gang,

We spent the entire class tonight covering some basic Cantonese (and Chinese in general) grammar.


(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Is Going On + How Many Times (or a few other adverbial phrases)

As we reviewed from the very end of our previous class, THIS is the basic structure of a Cantonese sentence, with the following clarifications/definitions, and has been shortened this way as a memory aid: (WHEN) WHO (WHEN) WHERE WHAT HOW, or more simply and more often: WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW:
  • WHEN = the specific time when the action of the sentence occurs (now, yesterday, next Tuesday, 3 years from now on a Friday at 4:42 am, etc.). This can appear in one of two possible places in a Cantonese sentence: either at the very beginning before the subject, or right after the subject. It MUST appear in one of these 2 places. It CANNOT appear at the end of a sentence, as in English; though in English, we can say either "Tomorrow I will go to the store," or "I will go to the store tomorrow," in Cantonese we MUST either say "Tomorrow I will go to the store" or "I tomorrow will go to the store." We CANNOT put the time phrase at the end of  a Cantonese sentence!
  • WHO = the subject of the sentence (a person, place or thing)
  • WHERE = the location of the action in the sentence (in New York, at my home, in the classroom, etc.). This will be different from an English sentence: "I attended Chinese class at MS 131" becomes in Cantonese "I at MS 131 attended Chinese class." 
  • WHAT is not a noun, but rather is short for "What Happens In The Sentence" -- in other words, THE ACTION or VERB PHRASE for the sentence. Went to the store; plays piano; will ask for another plate of dumplings; etc.
  • HOW = how many times, or sometimes other similar adverbial phrase modifiers of the verb action of the sentence. *Please note, though it is wayyyy advanced past our current level, "three times a week" will actually split and part will appear at the beginning of a Cantonese sentence and the other part at the end of a Cantonese sentence, when we get to this later on in the course: "I go to the movies 3 times a week" will translate into Cantonese as, "I each week go to the movies 3 times" or "I 1 week go to the movies 3 times."
Because Cantonese sentences are more likely to have the time phrase (yesterday, today, now, etc.) appear right after the subject, except when emphasizing when some action occurs, we can simplify our memory aid to:


If you can remember this and really internalize it and begin to view every single Cantonese sentence we learn or that you learn on your own from now on as fitting into this structure or framework, you will rarely if ever have any issue forming a Cantonese sentence with proper SYNTAX (the grammatically correct word order for the language as it is spoken by educated native speakers).

I suggest that all of you create your own "worst scenario" Cantonese syntax sentence as you learn more and more vocabulary, and then translate it into English preserving the exact word order of the Cantonese so that all of the differences regarding WHERE THINGS GO IN A CANTONESE SENTENCE will be obvious to you. At this point in time, due to our very limited vocabulary and lesson material covered so far, we cannot really do this yet in Cantonese, but we can certainly do this in English, to create a very awkward and unnatural-sounding English language sentence with perfect Cantonese Chinese word order.

Without bogging you down with unnecessary additional Cantonese vocabulary words at this point, my "worst case scenario" English translation of a complicated Cantonese sentence preserving proper Cantonese syntax, off the top of my head, might be:

Sammy last Tuesday afternoon (at) pm 3:30 located in Brooklyn's Hong Kong Supermarket went shopping 2 times...

If we want to go truly crazy, we can even add a WHY to the same Cantonese sentence, creating one long, winding tale just like the stories we might weave in English. This would form a WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW WHY sentence:

...BECAUSE the first time, she forgot to buy noodles; THEREFORE, she later returned (and) thus bought-succeeded her earlier forgot to buy needed things.

As in English, with a bit more polish, we could have also created a more concise WHY (because... therefore...) WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW MANY TIMES sentence:

BECAUSE the first time, she forgot to buy noodles -- THEREFORE, she later last Tuesday afternoon (at) pm 3:30 returned went Brooklyn's Hong Kong Supermarket a second time purchased her forgot to buy needed things.

Once we learn more Cantonese, we can eventually approach making ridiculously long and overly complicated sentences like this. I challenge you all to challenge yourselves as you learn more vocabulary and as your Cantonese studies progress, to constantly evaluate and reevaluate your current level of Cantonese by seeing just how long and unnecessarily convoluted of a sentence you can create while still preserving correct Cantonese syntax and grammar.

In fact, some of the more nerdy types among our Saturday Mandarin III students at ALESN take every opportunity to do just this every time one of our teachers assigns an in-class exercise, asking students to create a sample sentence with a new grammar structure. Why not try to use more (or even all) of your knowledge and test the boundaries of your current conversational ability rather than being content with "Haih6 a3" and other short replies when someone engages you in conversation in Cantonese?

Try to really challenge yourself from now on at each progressive stage of your own Cantonese studies.

From our discussion of the basic WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW sentence structure, we discussed that Chinese, and Cantonese in particular, really does have a set of grammatical structures, in addition to basic syntax/word order.

We proceeded to cover the following GRAMMATICAL concepts for the remainder of class, as mentioned in our textbook:
  • Verb form: absence of subject verb concord: One excellent thing about Chinese, as opposed to most other languages taught in US schools, is an absence of verb conjugations. In Cantonese, we only need to memorize the INFINITIVE for each verb. In the present tense, THE INFINITIVE IS THE VERB IN ALL OF ITS "CONJUGATIONS. Regardless of I, you singular, he/she/it, we, you plural, or they, the verb form in a present tense Cantonese sentence will always be the same exact word, the same syllable(s) with the same tone(s) -- no further modifications needed to mirror conjugations of the same action in English or Spanish or German or whatever language you might also speak.
  • Noun form: absence of singular/plural distinction. Similarly, there is no modification necessary to the word itself or words themselves for any noun in Cantonese to distinguish whether that noun is singular or plural. There is no equivalent suffix like "s" to be added to denote more than one of a noun. Any clarification of whether the speaker is discussing 1 or 53,276 of a given noun will be made with measure words and numbers or other contextual information supplied in the rest of the sentence or in another sentence by the speaker as he or she explains the details of what is being discussed. I provided some elaboration outside of scope of book (di1 as the universal Cantonese plural measure word, for example, which we will eventually cover in class at a later date).
  • Singular and plural pronouns (covered last time): Ngoh5 (I) ----> Ngoh5 DEIH6 (We); Neih5 (you singular) ----> Neih5 DEIH6 (yous guys or all y'all); Keuih5 (He/She/sometimes It) ----> Keuih5 DEIH6 (They)
  • page 40 #4 noun modification: ngoh5 panhg4 yauh5 was the example the book provided. I explained why this is a HORRIBLE example to give right off the bat, because most situations of possession in Cantonese need either GE3 in between the subject and the "owned object," or more often in Cantonese (as opposed to Mandarin and other dialects), the proper measure word for the noun that is "owned." In the case of familiar or "closely connected" objects, such as my FATHER, my MOTHER, my FRIEND, my TEACHER, etc., as long as the "owned object" is 2 or more syllables, if the relationship is considered close according to Cantonese Chinese culture, then the GE3 or the measure word can be eliminated. Otherwise, this should have been either ngoh5 GE3 pahng4 yauh5 or ngoh5 GO3 pahng4 yauh5. Though I explained this more in depth in class, I am going to leave this alone now, because my explanation of the confusing choice of example by the textbook for this point again wayyyyy surpasses our current understanding of the language. So just let my comments here wash over you and maybe eventually remember that I mentioned this, when we get to this during a future lesson.
  • Sentence suffixes (sentence final particles):
  1. We saw that some can convey mood or attitude, such as politeness or pointing out the obvious or surprise or sarcasm.
  2. Others can convey meaning, such as a type of question or an observation that something has changed from the way it used to be.
We have already seen ma3, a3, and ne1.These are all examples of sentence final particles, which your book will refer to as "sentence suffixes." I personally favor the use of the term "sentence final particle," because to me, this better explains the grammatical role of these syllables in Cantonese sentences.

We discussed that these are very difficult for non-Chinese people to learn, because for the most part, we don't really have anything like this in English. As the book points out, the closest we have would be something like, "She left for lunch, don't you know?" or "She just won the lottery -- really?!"

For an idea of where sentence final particles would sit during English language speech, check out this humorous video by two white Canadian guys who became fluent in Cantonese while living in Macau, where they attended school as children.

While very accurately portraying the Hong Kong English accent of many Cantonese speakers, they purposefully add Cantonese sentence final particles to their English language sentences -- in particular a3, wo3, ne1.

What makes this video NOT racist is the fact that both of these guys also speak fluent Cantonese with native accents in between their frighteningly accurate pronunciation of Hong Kong Cantonese-accented English:

A3 was discussed with regards to its 2 usages we have seen so far:
  1. In various types of questions.
  2. In various types of statements to give a neutral statement, especially when an answer differs from the expectation of the questioner, at which point the tone changes and it becomes a1 (bottom of page 41 to top of page 42).
We will discuss a3 A LOT this year, because it is the most common Cantonese sentence final particle and it  has many uses, depending on context and meaning.

Ne1 was discussed, which we have already learned: "how about." Remember that, for proper word order in Cantonese, the ne1 final particle comes after the thing you are inquiring "how about?".

  • To further illustrate the use of our ma3 and a3 sentence final particles in some basic YES/NO Cantonese questions, I drew on board:
Page 42 of your textbook (#6) refers to these structures as Choice type questions. I will call them YES OR NO QUESTIONS.
In other words, we discussed that technically, NEIH5 HOU2 MA3? and NEIH5 HOU2 MH4 HOU2 A3? carry the exact same meaning, and are really two different and equally correct Cantonese grammatical structures for asking the same yes or no question: Are you well? (or How are you?). However, I reminded everyone that in the case of this particular question, Neih5 hou2 ma3? has become the standard, accepted greeting, using the ma3 sentence final particle.

We will review this stuff at the beginning of next class. Please review your notes regarding this part of the lesson and come to class next Monday prepared with any questions.
  • For "Subject is Adjective" type statements in Cantonese, we discussed the basic structure of:
SUBJECT + HOU2 + ADJECTIVE. As I pointed out, the HOU2 in this situation does not necessarily mean "very," and may be translated more to "rather" -- as in "She is rather pretty," instead of necessarily she is VERY pretty.

Because we are getting ahead of ourselves with this particular sentence structure, I will wait until we cover it in the book to further elaborate. This said, though, we did discuss that any yes or no questions asking if someone is pretty or if the bridge is long, or whatever, will follow either the ma3 or the a3 sentence structures mentioned above.

Most importantly, just remember that I said the following: In almost all cases other than when you feel a need to emphasize that someone or something really IS the adjective, a Cantonese sentence will NOT use haih6 (to be) in the sentence when saying that the subject is an adjective IN THE POSITIVE FORM OF THE SENTENCE.

By "the positive form" of the sentence or statement, I mean something like "John IS tall" or "Susan IS fat." In Cantonese, this kind of sentence will use a SUBJECT + HOU2 + ADJECTIVE structure, and will not involve the use of HAIH6 (to be). I will leave this for now, but when we return to it in a later lesson, please remember that I mentioned this now, this past Monday in class.
  • Question word questions (who, what, where, when, why, how, how much/many?)
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO LEARN RIGHT AWAY IS THIS: The structure and word order of any question in Cantonese will be the exact same structure and word order of the answer (assuming you repeat all of the information from the question in your answer, of course). All you need to do is find and remove question word and put the answer word(s) or phrase in exact same spot in the sentence where question word was located -- and you change the subject as necessary from "you" to "I" or whatever might be appropriate for your response. 

Remember: If I ask YOU a question about yourself, you are going to respond with "I blah blah blah." 

We will pick up with ge3 as noun forming boundword on page 43 next time.
Review pages 38-43 and please come to class next time with any questions. 

Preview the various drills on pages 44-47, continuing to preview to page 53 if you are not confused and have time.
Pick some sentences in the current lesson and practice voicing just the tonal contours of the words on an "aah" syllable (see previous blog entry for explanation). This is an excellent way to practice and internalize your tones one by one as well as in succession over the course of one or more sentences, eventually spoken in real time.
Finally, though we haven't had time to discuss yet in class, please watch my friend Cecilie's second Youtube video in her Cantocourse Cantonese learning series. Once we learn more words, the very basic concepts in her cute skits will become clearer.

For example, the single focus of video 2 is YIU3, the Cantonese verb for TO WANT SOMETHING (TO WANT A NOUN). She explains this after the skit finishes. Cecilie also discusses the question word MAT1 YEH5. Next, she mentions some very basic MEASURE WORDS for containers of beverages. Cecilie refers to measure words as CLASSIFIERS. As I have mentioned in class, we will learn more measure words as we learn more NOUNS in subsequent lessons of our textbook. Remember that every NOUN in Cantonese has its own proper MEASURE WORD. This is one of the things that makes learning Chinese a bit more complicated than English:

See everyone next week!

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