i remember long ago watching an interview with a chinese actor wherein the interviewer asked how the actor learned to speak such good english –
i wouldn’t normally indulge in a soap drama but this is “educational” and – what luck – got to start watching from the beginning. (chinese dramas are fun since they run for just a few seasons. then you can pick up the entire drama on 13 dvd’s and have a marathon-session.)
in other news, i learned why it’s utterly valid to mimic a mandarin-speaker by liberally tacking “r”s. in a concept called er hua (兒化), er modifies the word it follows while in cantonese you just use a different word altogether. i thought i was being blatantly stereotypical but it turns out there was a true basis for it! (on a side note, er hua also translates to “son methodology,” yet another example of sexism in the society??)
a lecture held in chinese is remarkably cool. falling into taking notes in chinglish because the lecture is in chinese is likewise very cool. we discussed different variants of mandarin, how they are spoken differently in disparate regions.
if only cantonese words mapped to mandarin, like my chinese name, 慧, is wai (cantonese) or hui (mandarin). if “w-” would always map to “h-” and “-ai” always map to “-ui,” that would just be too logical and easy, wouldn’t it? =S
whether you do or don’t speak a chinese dialect to begin with, learning mandarin, with the highly standardized pinyin system, is just a spelling lesson. “beef” is no longer spelled “gnau” (cantonese) but “niu,” and “flesh” is no longer spelled “yook” but “rou,” and all the associated, whacked way to prounounce “r”s and “-ou”s in the blessed language. pinyin “-ou”s actually sound more like “-oe” in the english word “toe.” so the translation process for me goes something like this –
- see a character, 肉
- simultaneously think “flesh” and “yook,” the cantonese pronounciation
- remember that it is “rou” in pinyin, the mandarin “spelling”
- tell myself that a pinyin “-ou” actually sounds like an english “-oe”
- expel the sound from my vocal track and hope it came out okay, but remember how i’m tone deaf.
just great. extraneous levels of translation for the language i learned before english. if an immigrant has to go through this much translation, i whole-hearted admire their pluck to move to an english-speaking country….!
there are three major differences between cantonese and mandarin and are hence stumbling blocks for lifetime cantonese speakers to learn the “common language” (普通話) : (1) canto-speakers don’t curl their tongues and trip up immensely on words starting with zh-, sh-, ch-, and r-… besides the fact that we’ve long ago learned the incorrect pronounciation for common words like “what” (甚麼); (2) the fifth tone in mandarin is a non-tone and from our own dialect, we are pretty lousy at making that non-tone; and (3) we don’t have that blessed er hua that is not only a foreign concept, one that even formal cantonese doesn’t use, but the tongue-curling action required by the r- is just another tongue-twister that taunts us.