Saturday, December 18, 2021

Cantonese I RECAP from this past Monday night's class

Hi Everyone,

Here is a lengthy recap email summarizing what we covered during our most recent class:

After discussing some basic logistics of the class, we reviewed (actually, we did for the first time, because we didn't get to it during our first class) the bottom half of the handout from week one. We repeated 14 basic phrases with some variations toward the end, where we substituted several different language names into the Cantonese question asking, "Do you know how to speak ___[language name]___?"

Nei5 sik1 m4 sik1 gong2 ___________ aa3?           Can you speak ____[name of language]____?

Gwong2 dung1 waa2                                                 Cantonese [speech of Guangdong Province]

Zung1 man4*2                                                            Chinese [lit. language of China]

Jing1 man4*2                                                             English

Again, do not worry if you struggled with any of the words or phrases that we went through at the beginning of last class; we are just starting out, and these intro Cantonese phrases were simply examples chosen to illustrate some of the basic SOUNDS and SYLLABLES of Cantonese, without really being concerned about whether or not you should even remember them at all at this point in tim

From here, we turned to the textbook, and spent the rest of the class going over the initial consonant sounds of the language, located on the back of the title page right inside the cover of the textbook. I was encouraged to see some students with printed out pages from the book; I think 2 students with laptop and tablet respectively; and one student who had even had the entire book printed by Staples on double-sided paper and then spiral-bound like a course pack from a college class. Very cool!

Remember that every Cantonese syllable consists of an INITIAL sound; a FINAL sound; and a TONE.

The first thing that we looked at this past Monday were the 19 possible consonant INITIAL sounds of Cantonese. Remember that b,d,f,g [HARD "G" LIKE "GO" -- never a soft "g" like "George!!!"], h,k,l,m,n,p,s,t, and w are all identical sounds to American English. Gw, kw, and ng all sound like they do IN ENGLISH, but we do not normally begin English words with these sounds. In particular, we discussed the nuance of ng as an initial consonant in Cantonese, and I suggested that you all refer to the following sounds in English to remember how to say this Cantonese initial consonant:

"I am sittiNG_On the desk."

"I am gettiNG_Off the desk."

If you slur these words together while saying these English language phrases, it is the exact sound of the Cantonese word for "I" or "Me," minus the tone [NGO5].

We also mentioned that the j in jyutping romanization sounds like an English language "y" as in the word "yes;" and that the z in jyutping sounds like "DZ" or "DS" as in "It all aDDS up to me." If anyone knows what an ADZE is (it is an archaeological "ancestor" woodworking and farming tool that came before the axe many thousands of years ago), this is the exact pronunciation of the Cantonese [jyutping] "z" sound.

Just remember that the "j" in our Cantonese romanized texts is not "jelly johnny jimmy" but rather "yes yellow you got it." And remember, please, that the "z" is not "zoo," but rather "adze."

The ears of native speakers thank you.

For the final 10 minutes of class, we discussed the concept of Cantonese FINAL sounds (the VOWEL component of each Cantonese syllable that comes right after the initial sound), and in particular of LONG and SHORT vowel sounds in Cantonese Chinese.

In the final 5 minutes of class, we compared and contrasted:

AA vs. A [father vs. butt]

and then

AAI vs. AI [diphthong LONG vs. SHORT vowels]

I explained to the class how diphthongs work in Cantonese...holding either the first or the second vowel out slightly longer depending on if it is a LONG or a SHORT vowel sound. If it is a LONG vowel in Cantonese, the FIRST part of the DIPHTHONG [AA] is held slightly longer and the second half [I] held for a shorter duration; it is is a SHORT vowel, the opposite is true: say the first vowel sound quickly [A] and immediately hold the second part [I] of the diphthong out longer.

If you don't understand this, you were either not in class; in class but not paying attention; or the concept of Cantonese diphthongs is new to you. Have no fear -- we are picking up HERE at the beginning of our next class...

Anywho -- Next,

AAM vs. AM [LONG vs. SHORT vowels]

AAN vs. AN [LONG vs. SHORT vowels]

AANG vs. ANG [LONG vs. SHORT vowels

We then discussed 3 more long and short vowel finals for Cantonese syllables:

AAP vs. AP

AAK vs. AK

AAT vs. AT

For these last 3, I briefly explained and spoke examples of what some refer to as the "Cantonese STOP TONES." These are stops [not all glottal, but stops nonetheless] that can CUT syllables ending in these particular groupings of long and short vowels SHORTER than if the syllables did not finish with these 3 "consonant stops." I explained how the use of these 3 stop sounds at the end of select Cantonese syllables is extremely subtle and MORE IMPLIED THAN ACTUALLY PRONOUNCED ALOUD by native speakers.

To illustrate, I spoke the words:

BAAT3 [the number "8"]


BAAK3 [the number "100)

I explained that BAAT3 BAAK3 means "800" and that when properly pronounced aloud by a native speaker, both syllables sound almost identical, but there is definitely an audible difference between the 2 syllables -- the one that ends with "t" and the one that ends with "k" somehow sound subtly different from each other [in a room without reverb or background noise], even though a native speaker is not emphasizing either the "t" or the "k" final sound.

Don't worry if the sounds of these 3 "stop tones" seemed indistinguishable to you as a beginner student when I spoke them on Monday; we will have plenty of opportunities this year to learn some words that end with each shortened vowel and you will start to get a "feel" for how they work once you learn some vocabulary and once you hear these syllables "in action" in the context of some basic Cantonese phrases, once we move forward in the textbook.

We left off here, so we will review all of these initial and final sounds and then continue with AAU vs. AU and onward next time.

See you all next week!*


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