Cantonese Language Association


CLA Newsletter Volume 3.1 September 1996


Message from the General Secretary

It has been several months since our last newsletter and we continue to see strong growth and interest in the Cantonese Language Association. Indeed, I receive inquires almost daily from people around the world who have interest in some aspect of Cantonese. In response to wide interest from CLA members and others, we begin with this issue a series of Cantonese materials reviews, something that we hope will become a regular feature. We encourage all interested members to submit reviews on Cantonese teaching materials, references, and other items of interest to members. A selected list of Cantonese learning materials can be found at the CLA website: or obtained by request to the CLA office. You may also contact Professor Matthew Christensen at the address below for further information on reviews:

Matthew Christensen Asian and Near Eastern Languages Brigham Young University Provo, UT 84602 (801) 378-5303

For those who did not renew membership this year, we invite you to do so now by sending the US $5 dues to the CLA office as on this newsletter. We also invite interested non-members to formally join the association by filling out the membership form in the back of this newsletter or printing the membership form from the CLA web site. Renewals are normally called for at in December of each calendar year for current members. Note also that the membership list is maintained on the CLA homepage and printed with the newsletter at the end of each calendar year.

I would like to remind all members that we are now taking nominations for a new executive board member to replace Dr. James Dew whose term on the board comes to an end this year. Members are encouraged to nominate for consideration other CLA members that they think would make excellent candidates for the board. It will also be helpful if you would first ask potential candidates if they would be willing to serve if elected before submitting their names. All nominations should be received at the CLA offices no later than September 30, 1996 to be considered. You will receive your ballot with a one-page CV for each candidate shortly thereafter.

We welcome your participation in the association and in this newsletter. Your contributions--both monetary and otherwise--help us to maintain and expand services such as the newsletter and the webpage Please send along any items that you think would be of interest to the group for consideration in the next newsletter. Keep on eye on the homepage for further information on materials.

Best Wishes.

Dana Bourgerie, Editor and CLA General Secretary


Reviews of Cantonese Materials

I have selected three elementary-level textbooks on spoken Cantonese to review. Two of the texts were published recently, while the other has been around for awhile. All are similar in that they deal with beginning spoken Cantonese based on audio tapes and printed material. We welcome any comments you may have about these texts and the reviews below.

Tong, Keith S.T. Gregory James. Colloquial Cantonese. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. vii, 248. (two cassette tapes).

Since the authors make no statement about the purpose of this text, one can surmise, judging from the content, that its intent is to teach standard colloquial Cantonese to beginning learners of the language through dialogues and simple exercises.

The text begins with a brief introduction that explains some grammatical features, vocabulary, and the sound system of Cantonese. This is followed by fifteen topically arranged lessons. Each lesson includes a vocabulary list with valuable cultural and social explanations, dialogues, explanations of idioms and structures, exercises, and concludes with a short section entitled "Recognizing Characters." An answer key to the exercises and a handy glossary are found at the end. A slightly amended version of Yale romanization is used.

The language used in this text is authentic, engaging, and typical of the average Cantonese speaker in Hong Kong. It is replete with an abundance of particles, common idioms, and other characteristic and useful expressions. Despite the authentic language use there are some problems with the cultural contexts of some of the lessons. In one particular dialogue a mother, very sweetly and kindly asks her children to help with some chores around the house. In some cases the children agree, and in other cases they politely decline. This overly polite behavior is exaggerated and simply not authentic in this kind of situation in Cantonese culture.

The explanation on tones and pronunciation in the introduction is far too brief. A great deal of additional supplementary material would be necessary to enable beginning students to understand, practice, and master pronunciation skills, especially tones.

Unfortunately, the audio tapes also leave something to be desired. About half of the exercises in the book are geared to complement the tapes; however, the tapes do not allow sufficient time for the student to repeat after the words or phrases that are modeled. It seems that the tapes were almost an afterthought and that the text was geared toward listening comprehension and not speech production. The tapes certainly do not play a sufficiently adequate role of the native model. Furthermore, the models on the tapes do not speak with authentic fluency; rather, their speech is slow and unnatural, obviously hypercorrected for the benefit of the Western learner. It is a shame that such good, authentic language is not modeled as such. Finally, the text seems to lack the comprehensive and rigorous nature that is expected of a college-level text.

Man, Chik Hon. Everyday Cantonese (§È±`ºsFÐ). Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong. 1980. Pp. 317. (4 cassettes)

Though this text was first published fifteen years ago, the language is still engaging and interesting. It contains a total of twenty-six lessons, the first two on the Yale romanization system and on the sounds and tones of the language. The explanations are brief but adequate, though the exercises are far too scant. This area would need to be heavily supplemented by the instructor in the form of drills and exercises in pronunciation, with special attention on the tonal system.

The twenty-four lessons that follow are arranged by situations, such as greetings, taking a taxi, telephone conversation, seeing a doctor, and so on. Each lesson begins with a short introduction that outlines what will be learned in that lesson. This is followed by engaging dialogues based on real situations. A vocabulary list, useful expressions, and grammatical notes are also included. The drills and exercises contained in each lesson tend to be the rather mechanical substitution, pyramid, translation, and question-and-answer type. Each lesson includes the dialogue in Chinese (Cantonese) characters, as well as some supplementary vocabulary listed in both romanization and characters. The language used in this text is authentic with a good number of particles and common idioms. The language aptly conveys Chinese culture. In one dialogue, a younger person compliments an older women on her cooking. She promptly replies that she is old and worthless and that he is just flattering her. This kind of behavior is closely tied to Cantonese culture and is important for learners to know.

The text is designed to be used in conjunction with the four accompanying audio tapes. The tapes do a good job of modeling the dialogues, vocabulary, drills and exercises from the text. Native speakers speak at natural though clearly enunciated pace. However, these tapes do not allow time on the tape for the learner to repeat the vocabulary, drills, etc. The tapes seem intended for listening comprehension only. Without providing time for practice, the tapes are vastly underutilized.

Though this text should be applauded for its use of authentic language, it lacks the comprehensive and rigorous nature that would make it readily usable at the college level. The narrator on the tape does specify that the program is not intended for academic perfection, but rather as a useful tool for learning basic Cantonese--to enable the learner to communicate in Hong Kong and Canton.

Liu, Victoria and Joseph Durra. Let's Talk Cantonese. San Francisco: JBD Publishing, Inc. 1994. Pp. xviii, 251. (4 audio cassettes).


The most recent of these texts is also the weakest. It is also the least rigorous and seems to be geared toward the tourist who just wants to learn a few useful phrases. Furthermore, it is not based on sound pedagogical principles. For example, concerning Cantonese tones, the preface advises: "Do not let the tones discourage you. We'll let you in on a secret. Even if you get the tone wrong you will probably be understood!" The authors further state that basically two tones need to be learned, rising and falling. They also suggest that the student really only needs to learn ten of the fifty-one vowel sounds. Needless to say, this is not my nor my students' experience with Cantonese pronunciation. The authors do introduce the full Yale romanization and tonal system, but merely give it a passing glance, making no further mention of pronunciation or tones throughout the remaining text.

The book is composed of two sections: level one, basic lessons, which consist of thirteen units; and level two, dialogues, which consist of twenty-three units. The level one lessons are based on grammatical patterns or phrases such as Nïgo haih ____., Yáuh tùhng móuh, Yìhgä Géidím? and so on. These lessons consist entirely of romanized Cantonese (Yale) phrases with English equivalents.The authors comment that the philosophy is to learn Cantonese by speaking full sentences without the encumbrance of vocabulary and grammatical explanations. The level two lessons comprise a dialogue in romanization and English, a vocabulary list, sentence patterns (simple sentences in Cantonese with English equivilents), brief grammar notes, and the dialogue presented in Chinese (Cantonese) characters. The lessons are noticeably brief, and they lack any thorough explanations or discussion of cultural issues or the cultural implicaitons of the language.

The language used in the text is stiff and textbook-like, lacking idioms and sentence-final particles beyond the basic ma, në and a. Much of the language in the "Basic Lessons" section is also not very functional. For example, one exchange reads as follows: ngóh haih m`hhaih Máh Laih? Am I Mary? Haih, néih haih Máh Laih. Yes, you are Mary. It is not very useful to practice phrases that will seldom if ever be spoken. In the dialogue lessons, the language is better but still sounds artificial and unnatural at times.

Because I did not have the audio tapes available at the time of this review, I cannot comment on them other than to say that the authors state that the tapes do allow sufficient time for the learner to repeat after the models. This would be a welcome, though not redeeming, feature of this program.

As I have mentioned in the above reviews, all three of these beginning-level texts in spoken Cantonese share four main problems. First, the tapes (at least for Colloquial and Everyday) are inadequate in that they do not allow sufficient time for learners to repeat after the models. They seem to be geared toward listening comprehension and almost completely ignore the building of speaking skills. Second, they all contain brief introductions to the sounds and tones of Cantonese but do not provide nearly enough detail or exercises to learn the system adequately. Third, all three texts lack any cultural discussion or explanations. There is little if any connection mentioned between the language and the culture. Everyday comes the closest to addressing this area, with some brief explanations of why certain words or phrases are used in Cantonese in certain contextxs. Fourth, these texts seem to be geared toward the casual tourist or traveler learning Cantonese independently. If any were to be used at the college level they would need to be heavily supplemented.

Our field sorely needs good, rigorous, academically oriented materials. Though there are other existing materials out there (the Speak Cantonese series from Far Eastern Publications, the Sidney Lau Hong Kong government series, and the now out-of-print FSICantonese: Basic Course ), they seem to lack authentic Cantonese and a good communicative-oriented approach. Materials with sounder pedagogical frameworks, more effective methodologies, and good, updated authentic Cantonese are needed.

Matthew .B. Christensen , Brigham Young University





CLA World Wide Web Home Page

CLA now has a CLA World Wide Web Home Page. The home page includes the following:

The address is as follows:


For those of you who are not familiar with World Wide Web (WWW), it is a graphical, menu-based interface to the Internet. Even those among you who are not particular Software to access the Web is be available from most college and university computing centers. Most centers also offer training and help in getting started.


1997 Meeting of the Yuen Ren Society


Papers on Chinese dialectology are now being accepted for the next meeting of the The Yuen Ren Society. As in past years, the meeting will be held in conjunction with the American Oriental Society annual meeting, some time between 22 and 26 March, 1997 in Miami, Florida.

The loose theme this year is Chinese dialect comparison - although we will consider papers on any Chinese dialectological topic as long as it is fully supported by data.

The deadline for submitting either finished papers or readable drafts, including (most important) a representative sample of data, is 30 November, 1996.

(This year, submissions to the Society's journal, the Treasury, will be handled separately from the regular meeting - watch for announcements. The deadline is 31 October.)

As always, all submissions, to both the Treasury and the YRS meetings are reviewed anonymously. We will be happy to send you a list of suggestions and our style sheet. For more information about the organization see the society's web page at:

Please use the following addresses to send submissions or requests for information:


regular mail: The Yuen Ren Society David Prager Branner, Director Department of Asian Languages and Literature Box 353521 University of Washington Seattle, WA 98195-3521

fax: [USA]-(206)-685-4268. Please write The Yuen Ren Society, c/o BRANNER at the top.


'96 ACTFL/CLTA Conference CLA Business Meeting

The annual CLA business meeting will again be held in conjunction with the Chinese Language Teachers Association/ACTFL meeting in Philadelphia on Friday, November 22, 1996, 1:15 to 2:30 pm, in Room 112A of the Convention Center. There will be a notice in the ACTFL program under "Cantonese Language Association Business Meeting." All members and potential members are welcome to attend.



The Ninth North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics will be held May 2-4, 1997 at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

CALL FOR PAPERS Deadline for abstract submission: Nov. 15, 1996

Abstracts are invited for 20-minute talks on all aspects of Chinese linguistics using any theoretical framework. The abstract should be typed on one page of 8.5" by 11" letter-sized paper using a size 12 font (for English). A second page may be used only if references and/or brief examples are included. Abstracts will be anonymously reviewed. Notification of acceptance along with a preliminary program will be sent through email or snail mail (where email is not available) by February 15, 1997.

Registration fee is $60 Canadian Dollars ($45 US) before April 1, 1997, and $70 ($52 US) after. Languages for the conference are English and Mandarin Chinese.

Send three copies of your abstract, one with the author's name and affiliation, and a 3.5" by 5" index card with the title of your paper, your name, affiliation, address, email, fax, and phone number to:

Dr. Hua Lin Chair, NACCL-9 Organizing Committee Department of Linguistics University of Victoria P.O. Box 3045, Victoria, BC Canada V8W 3P4 Phone:(604)721-6643; or (250)721-6643 in 1997 Fax:(604)721-7423; or (250)721-7423 in 1997

INTERNET URL: Updated information about the conference and about travel around the Garden City of Victoria:


Report on ICCL-5 Cantonese papers


The following are Cantonese-related papers from the program of the Fifth International Conference on Chinese Linguistics held this past July in Taiwan.


Report on Conference of Southern China: Lingnan Lineages and Literati


A conference on the genealogy and culture of Southern China was held on the campus of Brigham Young University on August 13-15, 1996, jointly sponsored by Brigham Young University (Dept. of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and the David M. Kennedy Center) and the Utah Genealogical Society. Nine papers were read in Mandarin, including the following:


Also in attendance were Prof. Lam Mong Ling of Feng Chia University and sons, Liu Jianhong (Mrs. Huang Xunba), Mrs. Lee Li-shin and children, Mrs. Edward Peng, and Dr. Loren Singh (Chan), former Associate Professor of History at San Jose State University and author of Sagebrush Statesman: Tasker L. Oddie of Nevada (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973). Professor Guan Lin, President of South China Normal Teachers University, Guangzhou, was forced to cancel at the last minute due to administrative duties. Dr. Dana Bourgerie introduced the Cantonese Language Association, passed out copies of the newsletter, and recruited several new overseas members.

Even above touring the Great Salt Lake and its environs, the highlight of the conference was a visit to the Family History Library at the Utah Genealogical Society. Melvin Thatcher gave a presentation on the sources in microfilm on South China, and each delegate had the chance to do a computer search of his or her personal genealogy. Mr. Hou Yuexiang was especially fortunate in finding and copying a rare genealogy of the Hou clan. In all, the library includes 910 genealogies, 266 histories, 8 examination records, 248 court records, and 33 biographies from Guangdong province. Other materials on South China in the collection include 1021sources on Fujian, and 392 sources on Guangxi.

Copies of the following books were presented by the delegation to the BYU and/or Utah Genealogical Society libraries:


Requests for copies of the papers, including that of Melvin Thatcher, may be addressed to David B. Honey in care of the Cantonese Language Association.


China Books Call

China Books is expanding its publishing program, and would be interested in recieving book proposals from interested teachers. Some areas where we have received requests from customers include:

1) Cantonese phrasebook for tourists--; simple introduction with minimal grammar, explanation of tones, etc., intended to help the casual learner get around, shop, get help, with easy pronunciation guide and characters to point at when unable to communicate otherwise. See the Mandarin book Essential Chinese for Travelers for reference.

2) A book on current Hong Kong/Canton/Overseas Cantonese slang--should be somewhat lighthearted, can contain vulgur words. Cartoons or other art a plus. See Outrageous Chinese and Mutant Mandarin for reference.

3) Business Cantonese--could be either a text for classroom use or for self-study. Audio tapes necessary, with realistic dialogues.

4) Cantonese for Children--a simple approach for grade0school children, with illustrations, and preferebly an audio tape

Interested parties should contact:

Editorial Dept China Books 2929-24th St SF CA 94110

P.S.--We can't publish scholarly texts


Charles E. Tuttle Development Grants


Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Company is offering materials development grants of up to $10,000 for development of language texts and other language reference materials. They are especially interested in Cantonese and other less commonly taught languages. For more information, please contact Edward Cordero at the following address:

153 Milk Street 5FL Boston, MA 02109 Fax: (617) 951-4080


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