Speaking English with an 1860s Cantonese-English phrasebook
Speaking English with an 1860s Cantonese-English phrasebook,
4.58 minutes video, Chinese Museum/Zhong Hua TV joint production, 2013.
Museum of Chinese Australian History Inc, 2013
In this short video Nicholas, David and Sophie read passages in Cantonese dialect from Zhu's phrasebook, English through the Vernaculars of the Canton and Shiuhing Prefectures and discuss how it might have been used by Chinese during the gold rushes.
Note that Cantonese is spoken differently now to how it would have been in the mid-nineteenth century and there are differences in the way in which Cantonese is spoken in different places.
Nicholas Chee Yoong Chin is a fine arts graduate interested in traditional and contemporary Chinese art and is a regular volunteer at the Museum. He was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and speaks Malaysian Cantonese.
David Au was born in Hong Kong and speaks Hong Kong Cantonese. He was a police officer in Hong Kong before moving to Melbourne where he is now retraining as a teacher. David works as an instructor in the Chinese Museum's Travelling Museum program.
Dr Sophie Couchman is Curator at the Chinese Museum.
In this video, Cantonese speakers David and Nicholas attempt to speak English phrases using the pronunciation guides in the 1860s Zhu phrasebook, English through Cantonese and Zhaoqing.
Hearing the words spoken aloud, we begin to appreciate the challenges Chinese immigrants faced making themselves understood.
David, Nick, Sophie (in English)
Sophie: So in the front of the book there is a whole lot of different place names. If you choose one David, and Nick, and then the other person has to guess what it is.
David: Alright Nick, I will start with an easy one, okay, 'mei-au-bin'
David: Correct! 'na-la-lat'
Sophie: Oh you won't guess it!
Sophie: Say it again
Sophie: I'll give you a hint. It's also an Australian animal.
Nick: It sounds like an Australian animal
David: I'm so zoologically ignorant! Yeah, kangaroo, yeah.
Sophie: Okay, so let's do the phrases. Let's do the first one.
David: 'Why did you si-ta-jin-gai-mei'
Sophie: So 'Why did you strike me?'
David: 'Hei did ah-way my gai-lim'
Nick: 'He tuk wah-way my gai-lim'
Together: He took away my claim
All: Why did he strike me?
He took away my claim
Sophie: The thing that's interesting about these is how it brings out the different kinds of conversations that they think Chinese are going to be having which is, claim jumping, violence.
David: Yeah. You know I am starting to get the hang of it. You know when they group these four characters closely together it suggests that it is the same English word so might want to read it in a faster pace.
Sophie: So have another go at 'strike'.
David and Nick: 'si-ta-lai-gai', 'sitalaigai'
Nick: He's trying to say the four syllables in one go.
Sophie: So you've got to say four syllables in one go.
David: Strikgei, strike.
Sophie: Yeah. It works, you're right. So let's have a go at this one here.
Nick: 'I li-fe in de po-pe'.
Nick and Sophie: I live in that poop.
Sophie: That's not too bad. And how had it translated it because 'poop' is not a word in English that many people will be familiar with.
Nick: The ship's back
Sophie: The back of the ship.
David: Or the small room at the back of the ship. Most of us do not live on board anymore, that sounds a little bit unfamiliar to us.
Sophie: So what are some of the other ones. Ah, this one is great because I think this one is also very, very Australian. Have a go at this one.
David: Yes, very. 'Fie-ar is-si a de-li-fu thing'
Nick: 'Fi-ar is-si a de-li-fu thing'
Sophie: Fire is a dreadful thing.
David: Very dreadful.
Sophie: In terms of being useful its very difficult to understand what the English is. So they almost are useful just to remind you of what the sound is rather than to help you to say it to begin with. So if I say to you, 'fire is a dreadful thing' and then you practice, and then have this. It helps you to remember, 'ah that's what the sound is'.
End screen text (on screen)
This video was created for the Culture Victoria website: www.cv.gov.au.
The 'Language, A Key to Survival: Cantonese-English Phrasebooks in Australia' project is supported through funding from the Australian Government's Your Community Heritage Program, and by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
Special thanks to Nicholas Chin and David Au.
Zhu, 'English through the Vernaculars of the Canton and Shiuhing Prefectures', c1862
Stedman & Lee, 'A Chinese and English Phrase Book in the Canton Dialect', New York, 1888
Sun, 'The Self Educator', Sydney, c1892
Sun, 'The Self Educator', 2nd edn (enlarged), Sydney, c1892
Mo, 'Chinese Pronunciation of English Words/The Tallyman's Vocabulary', 9th edn, Hong Kong, 1923
Locations listed in Zhu's 'English through the Vernaculars of the Canton and Shiuhing Prefectures'
Guangzhou and Surrounds
Maa Louey (1835-1915) and his family
Maa Louey, undated
Georgie Ah Ling's house (1968)
Georgie Ah Ling's house (2012)
Donald is my home: George Ah Ling (c1884-1987)
Phrasebook use in China
Introduction to Chinese and Cantonese dialects
Speaking English with an 1860s Cantonese-English phrasebook
Learning English in 1950s Australia: Mr Ng’s experience
Learning English in 1930s China: Mr Leong's Experience
Arrival of the first gold escort, Melbourne, 1852
Arrival of Chinese immigrants to Little Bourke St, Melbourne, c1866
Opening of the new Chinese joss house, Emerald Hill, 1866
Chinese leaving for the diggings from Newstead on a Cobb & Co coach, c1865-1871
Chinese sluicing, near Beechworth, c1864
Chinese man working a mining cradle, Upper Ovens district, c1878
The Chinese hawker, 1873.
Christmas in Melbourne: A Chinese pedlar making presents to his customers, 1887
Lowe Kong Meng, 1866
Story education resources
Education Cantonese-English Phrasebook in Australia Education kit
Language, a Key to Survival: Cantonese-English Phrasebook in Australia Education Kit, produced by the Chinese Museum, 2013.
This education kit contains classroom activities designed for teachers to use in conjunction with this website story Language, A Key to Survival: Cantonese-English Phrasebooks in Australia.
It contains five classroom activities which support various areas of the Victorian curriculum (AusVELS), including AusVELS Humanities (History) Level 5 and AusVELS Humanities (History) Level 9.
The focus of this kit is on Zhu's English through the Vernaculars of the Canton and Shiuhing Prefectures (c1857-c1862) - a Cantonese to English phrasebook produced for Cantonese speakers arriving on the goldfields during the Californian and Victorian gold rushes.