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Keith Tse


  • Keith Tse

Funny Cantonese

I once wrote that while in Mandarin adverb 先 (xian) was placed before the main verb, in Cantonese the same adverb 先 (sin) was regularly placed after it e.g.


我   先     去  北京

wo xian qu  Beijing

I    first go  Beijing

‘I’ll first go to Beijing.’


我       去    北    京      先

ngoh hui Bak Ging sin

I          go  Beijing     first

‘I’ll (first) go to Beijing (first)’

I also pointed out that the same adverb 先 could be preposed to the main verb in Cantonese, in which case it corresponds to a different construction in Mandarin, namely  e.g.

只     有       他  才      會        這麼      做

zhi   you    ta  cai    hui      zheme zuo

only have he only would thus     do

淨      係   得       佢   先  至  會       咁     做

jing  hai dak   kui sin ji  wui     gam jo

only        have he  only   would thus do

‘Only he would do such a thing.’

I recently encountered a sentence in Mandarin which went like this:

你    們         先      收       拾    房     間    才                出    去  吧

ni    men    xian  shou shi fang jian cai              chu qu ba

you plural first  clean        room       only.then out go  EXHORTATIVE.PARTICLE

‘You (plural) first clean your room, then you can go out.’

As Cantonese 先 regularly comes after the verb and the word for Mandarin 才 comes before it, the Cantonese correspondence would be as follows:

你    哋         執   好  房       先     先                 出      去   啦

ni    dei       jap ho fong  sin   sin               chut hui la

you plural clean   room first only.then out   go    EXHORTATIVE.PARTICLE

‘You (plural) first clean your room, then you can go out.’

As a result, there are two 先’s juxtaposed, one corresponding to Mandarin 先 (postposed) and the other to Mandarin 才 (preposed). Pretty funny, eh? Not sure whether I have ever uttered such a sentence, though it is perfectly grammatical.

#grammar #comparativehistorical #cantonese #mandarin #dialect

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© Keith Tse (2015-) 

London, United Kingdom