LINGUIST List 12.2878

Thu Nov 15 2001

Review: Yip & Matthews, Intermediate Cantonese

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  • 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

    OVERVIEW 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 first.

    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 classifiers.

    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 explicitly.

    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 sufficient.

    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.

    EVALUATION 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).

    SHORTCOMINGS 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.

    CONCLUSION 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.

    ENDNOTE 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.

    REFERENCES 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 Press.

    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.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.