LINGUIST List 12.2878

Thu Nov 15 2001

Review: Yip & Matthews, Intermediate Cantonese

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  1. Blaine Erickson, Review of Yip & Matthews, Intermediate Cantonese

Message 1: Review of Yip & Matthews, Intermediate Cantonese

Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 16:00:39 +0900
From: Blaine Erickson <>
Subject: Review of Yip & Matthews, Intermediate Cantonese

Yip, Virginia and Stephen Matthews (2001) Intermediate
Cantonese: A Grammar and Workbook. Routledge, xiv+200pp,
hardback ISBN 0-415-19386-9, Routledge Grammars.

Blaine Erickson, Kanazawa Institute of Technology

This book is, in its authors' words, "designed for learners
who have achieved basic proficiency and wish to progress to
more complex language" (p. i). It builds on and goes beyond
the material covered in their earlier book, "Basic Cantonese:
A Grammar and Workbook," though it is possible to use
this book without "Basic Cantonese." "Intermediate
Cantonese" consists of 25 units, the majority of which
focus on specific grammar points (the first three units
focus on pronunciation). Each point is richly illustrated
with examples, many of which are taken from authentic
sources such as movies and television. The points are
clearly explained in language that is free of unnecessary
jargon, and while the basic vocabulary of grammar--words
like "adjective," "noun," and "reflexive"--is used, there
is a glossary at the end of the book that explains some of
the less-familiar terms. At the end of each unit is a
series of exercises designed to illustrate and reinforce
the point of the unit. There is also an answer key at the
back of the book, as well as an index.

The Cantonese romanization used is modified Yale
romanization. This is the system used in many
recently-published dictionaries (e.g., Chik & Ng Lam 1989,
Kwan et al. 1991, Kwan 1996), reference works (e.g., Lo &
Tam 1996, Matthews & Yip 1994) and textbooks (e.g., Tong &
James 1994). Since modified Yale romanization is currently
the most popular system, the target audience of this book
will, no doubt, find it that much easier to use. This also
makes it easier for teachers of Cantonese to integrate the
book into their curricula. As in their other books, the
authors do not use Chinese characters.

Units One, Two and Three focus on pronunciation. Although
some of what is covered in these chapters would best be
approached with the help of a tutor or teacher, much of the
content here is invaluable for making the reader aware of
some of the variation found in modern Cantonese. Unit One,
Consonants and Vowels, focuses on those segments most
likely to give native speakers of English difficulty. The
authors also draw attention to allophonic variation
(without calling it that) and sound changes that are current
in Hong Kong Cantonese.

Unit Two, Tone Contours, provides additional practice for
the tones of Cantonese, "a locus of difficulty for any
learners [sic] of Chinese" (p. 8). The focus is on tones
that are very similar to each other, and also covers the
variation and mergers that one may encounter.

Unit Three, Changed Tones, treats an important area of
Cantonese morphology: the change of certain tones to others
in given contexts. Understanding and being able to use the
changed tones is essential for good communication, and the
explanations and exercises provide a good introduction to
the topic. (Changed tones are covered in great detail in
Bauer & Benedict 1997.)

Units Four, Five, and Six continue the discussion of
Cantonese morphology through discussions of reduplication,
word formation, and verb-object compounds. Unit Four,
Reduplication, covers the basic patterns of reduplication
found nouns, verbs, adverbs, and the so-called adjectives
(which are actually stative verbs, as they function not only
as adnominals but also as predicates). Also included is
reduplication in onomatopoeia and baby-talk.

Unit Five, Word Formation, covers compounding, mainly for
nouns, but also for verbs. The common process of making
abbreviations by using parts of longer words is also
treated here.

Unit Six, Verb-Object Compounds, illustrates that many
Cantonese verbs are always transitive and therefore require
objects, while their English counterparts may be used either
transitively or intransitively. For example, in English both
_I teach_ and _I teach linguistics_ are grammatical, whereas
in Cantonese, the first sentence would have to be rendered
as _ngoh5 gaau3 syu1_, literally 'I teach books.' [see ENDNOTE]
This chapter also delves into modification of VO compounds in
which the modifiers come between the verb and the object,
as well as inverted VO compounds in which the object comes

Unit Seven, Adjectives and Stative Verbs, covers this class
of verbs in Cantonese. Here, the common features of
"adjectives," stative verbs, and verbs are shown; also, the
authors note that some stative verbs may take objects.

Unit Eight, Classifiers Revisited, discusses this aspect of
Cantonese grammar. The word "Revisited" refers to the fact
that the authors discussed classifiers in "Basic Cantonese"
as well. In that book, they introduced different types of
classifiers and some basic usage rules. Here, they discuss
the use of classifiers as definite articles, possessives,
and quantifiers, as well as other uses and alternative

In Unit Nine, Topic and Focus, the authors discuss
topicalization, which is accomplished by putting the word
or phrase to be topicalized earlier in a sentence than it
would normally appear. Also covered is focus, which is
accomplished by the use of certain words and patterns.

Unit Ten, Using Jeung1, starts by comparing the use of this
grammatical functor with its nearest Mandarin equivalent,
_ba_. Significantly, _jeung1_ cannot be used as freely as
_ba_, which is a possible point of confusion for
Mandarin-speaking learners of Cantonese. _Jeung1_ "is most
typically used when the object of the sentence is literally
moved from one place to another" (p. 61). This unit also
discusses the use of _jeung1_ in what the authors call
"High Cantonese," a speech register used in professional
contexts that is influenced by both the written language
and spoken Mandarin.

Unit Eleven, Serial Verbs, covers what are also known as
coverbs. Some coverbs function like prepositions, except
that they can still take aspect markers. Others indicate
simultaneous action, sequential action, or the purpose of
an action.

Unit Twelve, Aspect Markers, covers many aspect markers not
discussed in "Basic Cantonese." Many of these involve
specific grammatical patterns, which the authors state

Unit Thirteen, Comparisons, explains methods of comparison
not covered in "Basic Cantonese." Although some of these
methods are covered in some elementary Cantonese textbooks,
the authors use these simpler methods to introduce more
complicated and more colloquial comparisons.

Unit Fourteen, Resultative and Causative Sentences with
_Dou3_, covers this important part of Cantonese grammar,
including several complex constructions. A number of
colloquial expressions are also introduced here.

Unit Fifteen, Quantification, discusses how the relative
quantities of _all_, _every_, _any_, _many_, _few_, _none_,
and so on are expressed. Many of these patterns require
classifiers, so this chapter reinforces Unit 8. Some of the
patterns require other particles, all of which the learner
should have encountered elsewhere, so this chapter not only
introduces new patterns but also reinforces material the
reader has probably learned before.

Unit Sixteen, Negative Sentences, focuses not just on the
grammar of these sentences, but also on the words with
special functions in such sentences. There is particular
attention drawn to words that, when they appear in negative
sentences, have different meanings from when they appear in
affirmative sentences. This unit, like many others, also
builds on material in "Basic Cantonese."

Unit Seventeen, Questions and Answers, covers a variety of
questions, including negative and rhetorical, and also
special sentence-final particles used in some kinds of
questions. It also clarifies the differences between the
words which are translated into English as 'or.'

Unit Eighteen, Relative Clauses, explicates the means of
forming and using relative clauses. Because relative
clauses can be topicalized, these can be grammatically very
complex sentences, so there are more exercises in this unit
than in most.

Unit Nineteen, Subordinate Clauses, deals with another area
of (potentially) complex grammar. Cantonese has many
different kinds of conjunctions for forming these clauses,
many of which are normally used in pairs.

Unit Twenty, Conditional Sentences, introduces and explains
a variety of conditional words and the constructions
associated with them. Although each section is less than a
page long, the explanations and examples are quite

Unit Twenty-One, Reported Speech, covers some fairly simple
grammar that somehow manages to be excluded from many
beginning-level texts. This unit explains not only the
conventions for both direct and indirect quotations, but
also for verbs of thinking.

Unit Twenty-Two, Cantonese Speech Conventions, covers
essential pragmatic and sociolinguistic information,
including an interesting contrast between English and
Cantonese conventions in the choice of topics for greetings
(the weather in English, and work and shopping in Cantonese).
This unit also includes greetings for special occasions,
introductions, terms of address, and taboo words.

Unit Twenty-Three, Particles and Interjections, covers an
area which is essential for natural-sounding Cantonese:
sentence-final particles. Of course, this is just one of
several units in both "Basic Cantonese" and "Intermediate
Cantonese" that deals with this important part of the
grammar, though it is the only one dedicated to particles.
This unit covers a large number of particles with
particularly clear explanations and examples.

Unit Twenty-Four, Colloquial Syntax, covers the kind of
natural speech that many traditional grammars (and
traditional teachers) would normally rather not acknowledge.
In addition to nonstandard grammatical patterns, it also
deals with nonstandard classifiers, as well as the
exclamatory and expletive use of _gwai2_ 'ghost, devil.'

Unit Twenty-Five, Code-Mixing and Loanwords, covers another
all-too-often ignored feature of Cantonese. Most of the
chapter focuses on mixing with English and partially-
assimilated loans from English, but to their credit, the
authors also include Japanese loans.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is its clear and
concise language. The authors also do an excellent job of
keeping the explanations appropriate for their target
audience: language learners. Everything is explained well,
and yet the prose remains compact and lucid. Another strong
point is the incorporation of real-life examples, taken from
movies, TV, pop songs, and overheard conversation. Also
notable is the use of natural grammatical structures
throughout the examples, including structures that are not
the focus of the unit in which the sentence appears. For
example, sentence-final particles are an important part of
natural-sounding Cantonese, and although only one unit of
the book focuses on them, they appear throughout the book.
The numerous cross-references to other chapters, including
chapters in "Basic Cantonese," make the book more useful
for the curious (or forgetful) student. Also helpful--at
least for Mandarin speakers and typologically-oriented
readers--are the comparisons to the Cantonese constructions
presented and similar Mandarin constructions.

The exercises are relevant for the material presented in
each chapter, and are at an appropriate level of difficulty.
They serve to reinforce the points made, and the learner
who takes the time to do--and check--the exercises will no
doubt be rewarded with improved fluency and understanding.

The authors made the choice to treat the sound change of
initial n > l as a fait accompli--and for the majority of
Hong Kong speakers, it is. Accordingly, all words with
historical /n/- are written with <l>- in both this book and
its companion volume. Any reader who is not familiar with
the earlier pronunciation of the historical /n/- words may
have some difficulty in looking up words in works in which
the <n>- spelling is retained. However, this is hardly a
shortcoming of the book under review; it is, rather, the
consequence of studying any living language, quite simply
because languages are always changing. However, the authors
do explain their usage of <l>, as well as other sound
changes that may cause confusion (pp. 3-5).

The shortcomings listed below are minor, and do not detract
from the book as a whole.

On page 1, the Greek letter theta is substituted for the
similar-looking IPA symbol for rounded schwa, _barred o_.
Rounded schwa is one of the allophones of the front rounded
mid vowel /oe/.

On page 3, the IPA symbol _esh_ (also called long S) is
used to represent the palatalized alternant of Cantonese /s/.
However, perhaps a more accurate IPA symbol is
_curly-tail c_, representing an alveolo-palatal fricative
that is also found in languages such as Japanese, Mandarin,
and Swedish. Similarly, the palatalized allophones of /ts/
and /tsh/ are written with _esh_ instead of _curly-tail c_.

In Units Four and Seven, some Cantonese stative verbs are
referred to as "adjectives." The authors also used this
term in their grammar (Matthews & Yip 1994). As noted above,
the "adjectives" of Cantonese are actually stative verbs.
It appears that some authors call stative verbs adjectives
primarily because they are translated into English as
adjectives, and not because they fit the grammatical
description of adjectives: noun modifiers that cannot
predicate a sentence. Although this may seem to be
nit-picking, I believe it is important. From a purely
descriptive point of view, not all languages have the same
grammatical categories, and the typological diversity of
language is interesting in and of itself. From a more
practical point of view, telling the language learner that
certain target language structures and categories are
different from those found in the learners' native language
can increase their understanding and fluency, whereas
treating such differing categories as "the same" can, in
the long run, only serve to confuse, and possibly retard
their progress.

In Unit Eight, the classifier _di1_ is called a "plural
classifier," but Cantonese has no true plurals. Instead,
_di1_ indicates a group or a quantity. As above, pointing
out differences between native and target languages can
only be in the language learners' best interest.

On page 176, in a discussion of Japanese loanwords, the
Japanese word _ichiban_ 'number one' is written as 'i chi
baan.' On the same page, the Cantonese word _ka1la1ou1kei1_,
from _karaoke_, is written as '_ka1la1ai3-ou1kei1_.' Also,
the authors note that some Japanese loans are borrowed by
using the Cantonese readings of the characters used to write
Japanese words. However, both _yi1ji1baan1_ 'super,
first-rate' (from _ichiban_) and _gaan1ba1de1_ 'cheer on'
(from _gambare_ 'do your best!') are mistakenly classified
as this kind of loan--the Cantonese readings of the
characters are _yat1faan1_ and _waahn4jeung1_, respectively.

This is an excellent practical grammar of Cantonese. It
offers clear explanations on a variety of topics, and
provides relevant exercises that reinforce the material
covered. The writing is compact and perspicuous. The
examples are natural, and there are enough of them to
adequately illustrate the point under discussion. It covers
intermediate and even advanced grammatical constructions,
areas often underrepresented in pedagogical materials. This
book has a welcome place on the bookshelf of every student
and teacher of Cantonese.

Cantonese forms are in Yale romanization, with numbers
representing tones as found in the Linguistic Society of
Hong Kong romanization. See Bauer & Benedict 1997: 471-475
for a comparison of various romanization systems.

Bauer, Robert S. & Paul K. Benedict (1997) _Modern
Cantonese Phonology_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Chik Hon Man & Ng Lam Sim Yuk. (1989) _Chinese-English
Dictionary: Cantonese in Yale Romanization; Mandarin in
Pinyin_. Hong Kong: New Asia--Yale-in-China Chinese
Language Center, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Kwan Choi Wah (1996) _The Right Word in Cantonese (Enlarged
Edition)_. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press.

Kwan Choi Wah, et al. (1991) _English-Cantonese Dictionary:
Cantonese in Yale Romanization_. Hong Kong: New Asia--
Yale-in-China Chinese Language Center, The Chinese
University of Hong Kong.

Lo Wood Wai & Tam Fee Yin. (1996) _Interesting Colloquial
Cantonese Expressions_. Hong Kong: The Chinese University

Matthews, Stephen, & Virginia Yip. 1994. _Cantonese: A
Comprehensive Grammar_. London: Routledge.

Tong, Keith S. T., & Gregory James. (1994) _Colloquial
Cantonese: A Complete Language Course_. London: Routledge.

Yip, Virginia and Stephen Matthews. (2000) _Basic Cantonese:
A Grammar and Workbook_. London: Routledge.

Blaine Erickson received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the
University of Hawaii in 1998. His research interests
include the historical and modern phonology of Cantonese,
English, and Japanese; he has also done research in first
and second language acquisition. His special area of
interest is Old Japanese. He currently lives in Japan,
where he teaches English at Kanazawa Institute of
Technology, and also teaches linguistics part-time at
Kanazawa University.
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