The following is the script used by Paul and Ben in their talk show at Harbour City last Saturday. The show was delivered in Cantonese. Of course, during the actual delivery, they would sometimes deviate from the script.
HONG KONG CANTONESE
Paul: Hi, Ben, you’re very chok today. Actually, to use the expression I learnt two days ago, you are chok 到痺.
Ben: Are you praising me or mocking me?
P: Of course I’m saying this as a compliment. But actually I’m a bit confused. When chok first came about, it didn’t seem to express a compliment.
B: About a year ago, we had a TV actor called Lam Fung. He was famous for chok 樣. Later, people extended its use and said chok聲. And indeed chok did have a negative connotation initially.
P: Later, we had such usages as ‘好chok’, ‘chok出新天地’. The meaning seems to have changed. So has the part of speech.
B: Today, most of the time it has a positive connotation, as in好chok. But sometimes, it may not have any meaning. People just use it because it’s trendy, like chok出新天地.
P: By the way, is chok originally English?
B: I don’t think so.
P: Neither do I. But some time ago, when I asked this question in my blog, a reader replied to me seriously, saying that chok was derived from the English word choke.
B: Oh yes, we used to say choking the middle air, which in Cantonese we would say chok住度中氣..
P: But this meaning of chok is different from the one in chok樣. But anyway, these examples show that Cantonese is a fun language. Take chok, we would insist on writing it as English.
B: If we want to, we could invent a written form in Chinese for the word. But people would rather write it in English.
P: This reminds me of some other examples. Let me test you to see whether you are familiar with this orthography. How do you write fing?
P: How do you write chur as in ‘chur 到盡’
P: How do you write ‘hea’ as in ‘hea答?
P: How do you write ‘lur’ as in ‘children lur their mothers to buy a toy for them a toy store’?
B: L-U-R. But I have to add that indeed there is a written form for ‘fing’, which is揈. One newspaper in HK did use it for a while, as in揈頭丸, but switched back to F-I-N-G, because as you said, it’s more fun to write these popular Cantonese words in English.
P: Other than the meaning which shows how creative speakers of HK Cantonese can be, I have also noticed how syntactically creative and generative they use some vogue words. Examples are:
chur到盡, chok 到痺, hea 答, 超搞笑…, lor3爆, 潮玩, 潮遊, ‘你都超想的話’,
B: We can say我波士好chur, in which case chur is an adjective. We can also say chur到盡, in which case chur becomes a verb. We say佢好hea, in which case hea is an adjective. When we sayhea 答, hea becomes an adverb.
P: But these constructions are concise and fun. I sometimes think how much more long-winded it will be if we are to say’潮遊’ and ‘hea 答’ in Standard Written Chinese or Putonghua.
B: We will have to say something like很跟潮流地遊覽, or很滿不在乎地答.
P: Cantonese, especially HK Cantonese, is lively and fun. So we must do everything to撐 it. Ben, you are a staunch supporter of Cantonese. And I十卜U.
CODE-MIXING IN HK CANTONESE
B: And of course, another feature of HK Cantonese is its code mixing. For example, one student wrote to me in an email saying:
佢都係for你好, 你for 佢定for 我
I have heard two students in New Asia saying:
男: 西環o個d街好窄加嘛, 同埋…
女: 咪住, 等我load load 先.
P: I remember code-mixing used to be frowned on by teachers and professors, maintaining that language use should be ‘pure’. Code-mixing was considered an indication of a lack of competence in using a language. But very often HK people code-mix not because they’re good at neither English nor Chinese. On the contrary, it is an indication of creative use of language. And also, sometimes they deliberately code-mix to create a special communicative effect.
B: Another interesting phenomenon is how they use all English words in Chinese structures. I have seen this sign at a shop in Stanley Market. Do you know what it means? It says “No buy, don’t touch’.
P: I think it means唔買唔好摸.
B: I have seen another sign in Wong Tai Sin estate, at the bottom of an escalator, saying “To up”.
P: Yes, it means往上. Well, that’s pretty neat, isn’t it?
BEWARE OF PSEUDO ENGLISH
B: But what about this …? In the section that sells oysters in a large supermarket in Quarry Bay, there is a sign that says ‘Buy four, get one’.
P: This one is a bit tricky. I guess foreigners will still understand it. But the literal meaning is of course wrong. The correct sign should be ‘Buy four, get one free’. But if you think about the Chinese phrase買4送1, buy four get one sounds like the correct translation. Only that送is not the same as get.
B: We have to be careful about this kind of word-for-word translation, because the resulting sentence may not be proper English. There was once a café in Times Square that sold freshly baked cakes that customers could pick up themselves. The Chinese warning sign said小心燙手, and the English sign said Beware of your hands. An English speaker might think: What’s wrong with my hands?
P: This example reminds us that while we appreciate code-mixing in HK Cantonese, we also have to distinguish it from genuine English. For example, we often say ‘thank you你’ in daily conversation. But it doesn’t mean we can say ‘thank kyuu you’, or let me say it in Hong Kong English, fan kill U,in an English conversation.
B: When we say ‘thank Q you’ to another HK person in our daily Cantonese conversation, it’s perfectly OK. But if we say ‘thank Q you’ to an English speaker, they will find it strange. We have other examples of English used in HK which are not authentic English. One example is ‘How do you call this?’
P: Yes, in Cantonese we say你點樣叫呢樣嘢. But we can’t translate 點樣 into How directly. We will have to say What do you call this.
B: In Cantonese, we say 我有一件好消息…And then some HK people would say ‘I have a good news to tell you’.
P: I used to have a former student who wrote to me on Facebook saying “I have a good news to tell you.” I wanted to remind her of the mistake tactfully. So I replied: “The word news is uncountable.” She wrote back: “I have a good new to tell you.”
B: Sometimes it’s inaccurate choice of word. At the MTR exit turnstiles, they ask you to ‘touch your Octopus card’. Of course, if you simply touch your card, nothing will happen. What they should say is ‘tap your Octopus card’.
P: I have also seen on their website ‘wave your Octopus card on the sensor’. Again, if you do that, nothing will happen.
B: And I have seen in the promotion pamphlet of a bank: “Every time you dood your Octopus card”! Anyway, I can see that our time is almost up. We should 將時間交俾the next speaker.
P: I have heard MCs often saying in English ‘now, I will give the time to …’. Again, this is a direct translation from Chinese. In English, we don’t have this expression. We will have to say ‘now I will hand/pass (you) over to … Interesting, though we cannot ‘give the time …’, we can give the audience a person, that is, the next speaker. In an event, when you introduce the next speaker, you can say ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I give you …’. So for example, if I am to invite the next speaker, Dr June Leung to take the stage, I can say: “Ladies and gentleman, I give you Dr June Leung’.
B and P: There are many other interesting examples in our new book, and also in the previous one. If you’re interested in features of HK language, and also want to avoid making grammar mistakes in English-English communications, check out the book. Now, we need to ‘give the time back to …’, oops, hand you back to …