Learning Cantonese: 宋亦希 Sung Yik-hei and the Protection of Romer’s Tree Frog


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There are some wonderful people in Hong Kong working to uphold the rights of the natural world. In this video from RTHK, another in the series entitled 《生態人》 or People of the Environment, we are introduced to 宋亦希 Dr Sung Yik-hei, an Assistant Professor of the Science Unit at Lingnan University. Sung, an expert on the 大頭龜Big-headed Turtle, helped to discover a new species of gecko, and is also doing work to help preserve a unique species of Hong Kong frog, 盧氏小樹蛙 Romer’s Tree Frog. In addition, he is passionate about educating future generations about the vital importance of accurate ecological knowledge.

Most of the grammar in this presentation is fairly straightforward, and shouldn’t cause you too many problems. There is, however, an interesting use of the aspect marker use of 咗 jó2 in the phrase 將呢啲溫室蟾去移除咗 for a future action which has not yet been realized. There is a discussion of this in Colloquial Cantonese, Chapter 9 (1997): “Sometimes when we ask people to do a favour we can use the aspect marker -jó2 with the verb to indicate anticipation of some action being completed soon. This use is not unlike the notion of ‘getting something done’ in English.”

As you watch the video, listen out for the following worth-getting-to-know vocabulary items: 緊連 gán2 lìhn4 = (?) to adjoin; 體型 tái2 yìhng4 = type of build or figure; 蝌蚪 fō1 dáu2 = a tadpole; 白蟻 baahk6 ngáih5 = a white ant; termite; 奇妙 kèih4 miuh6 = marvellous; wonderful; intriguing; 氣餒 hei3 néuih5 = to become dejected; to be discouraged; to lose heart; and 灌輸 gun3 syū1 = to instil into; to inculcate; to imbue with.

There is also some very relevant vocabulary to do with the idea of being enlightened or inspired to do something. In the first instance, the reporter uses the phrase 佢對保育議題嘅啓蒙, in which 啓蒙 kái2 mùhng4 = “to enlighten” is spoken. A bit later, Sung uses the verb 啓發kái2 faat3 = to rouse; to inspire; to enlighten while, right at the end, he employs 開啓 hōi1 kái2 = usually “to open”; also “to inaugurate” in the statement 大學先有機會真係去野外接觸動物 | 先令到我開啓咗做到呢啲生態研究呀 = It wasn’t till I went to university that I really had the chance to go into the wild and get a taste of [it]. Only then did I open to the idea [開啓] of doing this ecological research. At one point, he also uses a more figurative expression to indicate this idea of being inspired to do something. The expression is 著咗個燈膽, which literally means “to switch on the light-bulb”, equivalent to the English “a light went on inside my head”.

This video has recently (September 2021) been removed from the RTHK website. However, you can listen to the audio here:


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Caption: 一次夜探 | A Night Visit

宋亦希:我哋今晚就嚟到呢一個地方呢 | 噉呢度其實都幾近市區嘅 | 噉但係你會見到周圍都會有樹林

Sung Yik-hei: I have come here tonight, a place that is quite [幾] close to an urban district, but as you can see there is forest in the vicinity.

Caption: 受訪者在野外收集樣本作科研用途,觀衆切勿模仿 | The subject of this interview is collecting specimens in the wild for the use of scientific research. Viewers must not do the same.

宋亦希:雖然喺馬路附近

Sung Yik-hei: Although [such forest] is close to a road.

記者:嶺南大學科學教研組助理教授宋亦希 | 今日嚟到呢個緊連市區嘅小樹林 | 最主要目的係尋找兩種青蛙

● 緊連 gán2 lìhn4 = (?) to adjoin (lit. “to closely connect”) | ● 尋找 chàhm4 jáau2 = to seek; to look for

Reporter: Sung Yik-hei, Assistant Professor of the Science Unit at Lingnan University has come to this small [patch of] forest adjoining an urban district today, the main objective being to find two kinds of frog.

宋亦希:呢度地方呢,其實有我哋香港特有一種青蛙 | 就係 *jai 叫盧氏小樹蛙嘅分佈

● 盧氏小樹蛙 lòuh4 sih6 síu2 syuh6 wāa1 = Romer’s Tree Frog | ● 分佈 fān1 bou3 = to be distributed (over an area); be dispersed

Sung Yik-hei: Actually, here in this place, in fact, a kind of frog unique to Hong Kong called Romer’s Tree Frog is dispersed [分佈]

Caption: 宋亦希:嶺南大學科學教研組助理教授| Sung Yik-Hei: Assistant Professor, Science Unit, Lingnan University

宋亦希:喺幾年前呢 | 就發現咗呢度其實有一種外來種叫做溫室蟾 | 我哋一路呢,都會擔心 | 呢種溫室蟾呢,因爲佢同盧氏小樹蛙嘅體型好似呀 | 食嘅嘢或者佢哋生活嘅,呃, 需求呢,好相似,佢哋會競爭 | 今日嚟呢,就會觀察吓啦,睇吓究竟譬如呢兩種佢哋今日個數量或者密度 | 會係點樣 | 都會,呃,採少少樣本啦 | 揾啲青蛙返去做一啲實驗 | 噉睇吓佢哋之間個競爭係究竟有幾大 【1:00】

● 外來種 ngoih6 lòih4 júng2 = (?) a foreign species; an introduced species | ● 溫室蟾 wān1 sāt 1 sìhm4 = 溫室蟾 = Greenhouse Toad, Eleutherodactylus planirostris | ● 體型 tái2 yìhng4 = type of build or figure | ● 需求 sēui1 kàuh4 = a requirement; a demand | ● 相似 sēung1 chíh5 = to resemble; to be similar to | ● 競爭 jihng6 jāng1 = to compete; competition | ● 密度 maht6 douh6 = density; thickness

Sung Yik-hei: Several years ago, a kind of foreign species was, in fact, discovered here, the Greenhouse Toad. All along, we have been worried that this Greenhouse Toad is competing with Romer’s Tree Frog because their body-type [體型] is similar as well as their food and living requirements. [My] coming here today is to do a bit of investigation to see whether what their numbers and density [密度] are like [係點樣] today. I will also collect a few samples and take a few frogs back to the laboratory. Then [I] will take a look at just how big the competition between them is.

記者:捉到隻

Reporter: You have caught one.

宋亦希:噉呢隻就係 *jai 溫室蟾喇 | 佢嘅體型好細嘅 | 佢係嚟自中美洲譬如巴拿馬附近嘅國家嘅 | 估計呢,佢係透過一啲盆栽嚟到香港嘅 | 可能會係成隻青蛙啦,或者佢係好特別嘅,佢係冇一個蝌蚪期嘅 | 蛋呢,直接可以變青蛙仔嘅 | 佢哋可能係生咗啲蛋啲盆栽度呢 | 佢唔一定要需要水嘅 | 所以只要比較潮濕嘅泥 | 噉佢嗰啲蛋呢,就已經可以變到青蛙仔喇 | 噉如果第日我哋真係發現到呢種 | 溫室蟾同埋盧氏小樹蛙係競爭係好大呢 | 可能我哋要投入一啲資源 | 主動要將呢啲溫室蟾去移除咗| 而減低咗對我哋嘅特有種呢,盧氏小樹蛙嘅傷害嘅

● 中美洲 jūng1 méih5 jāu1 = Central America | ● 巴拿馬 bāa1 nàah4 máah5 = Panama | ● 盆栽 pùhn4 jōi1 = potted plants | ● 蝌蚪 fō1 dáu2 = a tadpole | ● 資源 jī1 yùhn4 = natural resources; resources | ● 移除 yìh4 chuèih4 = (?) to move or to eliminate | ● 傷害 sēung1 hoih6 = to injure; to harm; to hurt

Note: 仔 jái2 is a common diminutive suffix. We see it in 青蛙仔 = “little frog; froglet”

Sung Yik-hei: This one is a Greenhouse Toad. Its body-type is very small. It comes from Central America, from the countries in the vicinity of Panama. People have conjectured [估計呢] that they came to Hong Kong in potted plants, possibly as adult frogs or . . .  They are very special in that they do not go through [冇] a tadpole-stage. Their eggs can turn into little frogs directly [that is, without an intermediary stage]. Perhaps they laid an egg in a potted plant, they don’t necessarily need water, and so all they need is some moist dirt [潮濕嘅泥]. Those eggs of theirs may have already turned into froglets. If we discover that there is a lot of competition between this Greenhouse Toad and Romer’s Tree Frog, then possibly we will commit some funding resources to actively remove these toads in order to reduce the harm [done] to our very own tree frog.

記者:尋蛙係主要目的 | 不過細心留意就會發現 | 呢個窄長嘅小樹林 | 本身住咗好多其他生物

● 窄長 jaak3 chèuhng4 = long & narrow

Reporter: The main objective is looking for frogs. However, pay careful attention and [you] will discover that [in] this long, narrow [strip] of little forest, many other creatures exist.

宋亦希:譬如呢啲地方呢,你一睇呢,就會有好多白蟻呀 | 喺泥嗰啲嘅動物呢,個密度其實幾高呀 | 有可能係令到一個咁近市區 . . . 【2:00】嘅地方呢 | 都可以有咁多唔同物種可以喺度生存到囉 | 可以講香港其實都係個生物多樣性好高嘅地方囉 | 即使只*je 係一個近市區嘅地方

● 白蟻 baahk6 ngáih5 = white ant; termite | ● 生物多樣性 sāang1 maht6 dō1 yeuhng6 sing3 = (?) bio-diversity

Sung Yik-hei: This place, for example: take one look and you’ll see all these termites. As for the animals in this soil, the density is actually quite high. There is the possibility that it will enable a place close to an urban area to support [有] so many different species, [species which are] able to exist here. It can be said that Hong Kong is also, in fact, a place with a very high bio-diversity, even if it is only a place near an urban area (?).

記者:呢一次夜探,對而家嘅宋亦希而言 | 係一次好尋常嘅考察 | 不過同樣嘅事喺佢讀大學一年級嘅時候 | 卻標示佢對保育議題嘅啓蒙

● 夜探 yeh6 taam3 = (?) night visit | ● 尋常 chàhm4 sèuhng4 = ordinary; usual; common | ● 年級 nìhn4 kāp1 = grade; year | ● 啓蒙 kái2 mùhng4 = to enlighten; to free someone from prejudice or superstition

Reporter: For Sung Yik-hei, this night visit [夜探] is a perfectly ordinary investigation, but the same experience [事] during his years at university meant [a kind of] enlightenment [for him] with regard to the issue of environmental protection.

宋亦希:大學呢,一年級嘅時候呢,有一次機會呢,就係,呃,去海南島做交流咁樣 | 去到差唔多旅程嘅最後一晚呀 | 去睇青蛙呀,睇蛇呀,去蛇咁樣 | 嗰晚嗰啲呢, 就見到好多唔同種嘅青蛙,見到好多蛇呢,就好似 | 好似著咗個燈膽咁| 啓發到我除咗對室内入便動物嘅興趣之外呢 | 發現咗原來喺大自然,其實,觀察佢哋呢 | 嗰個感覺係更加奇妙、更加開心囉

● 旅程 léuih5 chìhng4 = route; itinerary; journey | ● 著燈膽 jeuhk6 dāng1 dáam2 = lit. to light the lamp/electric bulb (the subtitles have 燃起我的興趣 = to ignite my interest) | ● 啓發kái2 faat3 = to rouse; to inspire; to enlighten | ● 奇妙 kèih4 miuh6 = marvellous; wonderful; intriguing

Sung Yik-hei: At uni, during my first year, I had the chance to go to the island of Hainan on exchange. On just about the final evening of the trip [旅程], we went to look at frogs, at snakes, and to search for snakes. On that night, I saw many different kinds of frogs and I saw lots and lots of snakes and if was like a light went on [in my head] and I was switched on [啓發] [to the notion that] apart from being interested in animals you can keep indoors [室内入便嘅動物], I discovered that the feeling I got observing them [ = animals] out in nature was more wonderful, more enjoyable.

記者:宋亦希研究唔少爬蟲、兩類 | 但係佢至愛嘅,都係大頭龜同埋其他龜類 | 一直研究【3:00】咗一 *jaa 十幾年 | 不過呢條路並唔順暢

● 至 ji3 = extremely; very; to indicate the superlative degree; the most | ● 大頭龜 daaih6 tàuh4 gwāi1 = Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) | ● 順暢 seuhn6 cheung3 = smooth; unhindered

Reporter: Sung Yik-hei researches a number of different reptiles and amphibians, but the ones he loves the most are the Big-headed Turtle as well as other kinds of turtle. He has been researching [them] continuously for more than ten years, but this road has not been a smooth one by any means.

宋亦希:其實,氣餒嘅時候都好多嘅 | 尤其是做淡水龜都非常之氣餒嘅 | 我做咗十年以上嘅呢調查,其實都見到有一啲種群不停咁樣跌緊 | 好少會話有啲,有啲好消息出現嘅 | 學術界 research 就希望可以繼續做喇 | 另外,就希望啲研究真係可以幫到保育 | 噉但係另一個方面就一定係教育喇 | 只不過通常好多人都會擔心究竟個速度可唔可以追得上先 | 噉但係你唔做就一定辦法 *mou aan faat 知道喇 | 噉所以都會一,嗯, 一路繼續做囉

● 氣餒 hei3 néuih5 = to become dejected; to be discouraged; to lose heart | ● 淡水 táahm5 séui2 = fresh water | ● 種群 júng2 kwàhn4 = ? cf. 族群juhk6 kwàhn4= (?) group (of animals belonging to the same species) | ● 學術界 hohk6 seuht6 gaai3 = the academic world

Sung Yik-hei: In fact, there were many times when [I felt] discouraged, especially [in the case of] doing [research on] freshwater turtles [I felt] extremely discouraged. [In] the investigation I carried out for more than ten years, what we saw in fact was that some groups [種群] continuously declined. Very rarely, alas, did any good news appear. [I] hope that I can continue to do my academic research; in addition, I hope that these research [projects] can really help with preservation. But another aspect is most certainly [一定] education. It’s just that much of the time [通常] people are apt to worry whether the speed [of decline] can be caught up with or not [可唔可以追得上]. But if you don’t do [both research and education (?)], then you will never have any way of knowing. So, for this reason, [I] will go on doing [these things].

宋亦希:今日我哋嚟呢個九龍仔公園係睇啲咩動物啊?

Sung Yik-hei: Now what animals have we come to see today at Kowloon Tsai Park?

細路仔:雀仔!

Children: Birds!

宋亦希:今日我哋就帶咗一班,呃,幼稚園嘅小朋友呢啦,噉就嚟到公園哪 | 雖然呢個唔係完全嘅譬如郊野公園之類嘅 | 大自然 | 其實就算喺市區附近嘅綠色嘅環境呢 | 嘅生態價值呢,都唔錯嘅 | 噉我哋今日主要嚟睇【4:00】係雀仔啦 | 其中一個原因就係其實雀仔比較容易接觸啦 | 比較大隻啦,又易睇 | 就算喺公園入便呢,係咁近市區嘅地方呢 | 其實都有好多唔同品種呀

● 郊野公園 gāau1 yéh5 gūng1 yún4*2 = country park | ● 生態價值 sāang1 taai3 gaa3 jihk6 = ecological value | ● 接觸 jip3 jūk1 = to contact; to come into contact with; perhaps in this context “to come across”

Note: There is an instance here of a special kind of adjectives found in Cantonese, made up of an adjective + the relevant measure word. Here 大 daaih6 = “big” is combined with the measure word used for birds, 隻 jek3 to give 大隻. I don’t know much about them, but my impression is that such adjectives are not used before nouns, and may almost have something of the indefinite noun about them (“big ones”). Another example can be found in the final part, where Sung Yik-hei uses 細個 sai3 go3 = “small” to refer to children. Here, though, he also uses 細細個, which is an idiom meaning “as a small child; when one was little/a child”, etc.

Sung Yik-hei: We have brought this class of kindergarten children to Kowloon Tsai Park. Although this is not exactly a place as natural as, say, a country park, it counts as a green environment close to an urban centre. The ecological value is not too bad. Today, what we have mainly come to see is birds. One reason for this is that birds are actually quite easy to come into contact with, quite large in [terms of size], and easy to see. Even though [we] are in a park, a place close to an urban area, there are actually many different species.

細路仔:我見到喇

Child: I saw [it].

宋亦希:好,我哋企過嚟呢邊呀 | 好,下一個呀 | 希望可以俾到小朋友,尤其是幼稚園 | 佢哋越細個接觸到生物多樣性啦、生態呢 | 會覺得呢個可能係對佢哋最大影響呀 | 第一個就係希望可以帶佢哋去野外就接觸一下大自然呢 | 第二就了解其實原來香港咁近市區嘅地方 | 都可以有高嘅生態嘅 | 第三,就係希望越細 | 已經可以灌輸到啲正確嘅環保嘅概念俾佢哋 | 其實,我都係,呃,土生土長香港人 | 我哋教育其實以前都冇乜機會,呃, 啫係,接觸到大自然呀 | 大學先有機會真係去野外接觸動物 | 先令到我開啓咗做到呢啲生態研究呀,或者接觸大自然嘅機會 | 如果小朋友呢,細細個 | 已經有機會接觸到呢啲綠色啦、大自然呢 | 我覺得呢個可能係一個比較重要 | 可能令到我哋個環境教育呢,可以做得更加好,更有效嘅一個方法囉

● 灌輸 gun3 syū1 = to instil into; to inculcate; to imbue with | ● 土生土長 tóu2 sāng1 tóu2 jéung2 = born and bred | ● 開啓 hōi1 kái2 = usually “to open”; also “to inaugurate”

Note: The example here of 更加好,更有效 = better, more effective demonstrates the kind of constant stylistic micro-adjustments (here between the comparative adjective markers 更加 and its shortened form 更) that Cantonese makes for the sake of rhythmic balance and completeness. I do not know whether it is even possible to formulate any guidelines about this aspect of the language . . .

Sung Yik-hei: Good, now step to one side. Next, please. [I] hope to give to children, especially [those] at kindergarten . . . The younger they are when they come into contact with bio-diversity and ecology, I think that this may be the biggest influence on them. Firstly, I hope to take them into the wild to come into contact with the natural world. The second thing is to understand that those places in Hong Kong close to urban areas can have a high [level of] ecology. Thirdly, I hope that while they are [still] young [於細], I can imbue them with some correct environmental concepts. In actual fact, I am a Hongkonger, born and bred, and there was never much opportunity actually in our education to come into contact with the natural world. It wasn’t till I went to university that I really had the chance to go into the wild and get a taste of [it] [去野外接觸]. Only then did I open to the idea [(?)] of doing this ecological research. Perhaps the opportunity of coming into contact with the natural world, if one is still a child . . . if one is still little, and has already had some contact with the green [綠色], with nature, then I think this could be quite important, and could be a way to do a better and more effective job with our environmental education.

Related Material:

Ocean Park video on Romer’s Tree Frog in Cantonese (8 January 2015)
Article on Dr Sung Yik-hei in English (18 May 2017)
RTHK video in the People of the Environment series on 劉彥芹 Anthony Lau Yin-Kun and the Hong Kong Newt (I have provided a transcript & an English translation for this)

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