It is not necessarily grammar or vocabulary that can make Cantonese difficult: it’s naturalness. Understandably, language tends to be idealized in textbooks and dictionaries: we are given a picture of what it should be, not what it is, just to make it learn-able. In a wonderful book on self-study I picked up in a bookshop in Sheung Shui, the writer (白取春彥Haruhiko Shiratori) memorably pointed out that people who study a language often aspire to being able to chat casually with the locals about everyday topics. This however is the Mount Everest of language learning, the almost unattainable goal. Why? Mainly because real people use language in a natural way, without regard for correct syntax, exact meanings, completeness, logic, or standard pronunciation.
This video about two painters who go out to paint from nature and, by sheer coincidence, wind up depicting the same scene illustrates this point. 黃進曦 Stephen Wong Chun-hei (an individual who often appears on this site) is his usual, lucid self. His partner-in-art 楊學德 Yeung Hok-tak, however, is a very different proposition. This is partly to do with his way of expressing himself, which tends to be choppy. He also uses quite a lot of fillers, including 咁樣, 呃, 其實, 啫係. Finally, apart from a general slurry quality, he also modifies the pronunciation of certain words, such as 嗰個 go2 go3, which becomes an indeterminate *go. In ordinary speech, you will discover other instances of such modification. For instance, 其實 becomes *kei’a; 嗰陣時 becomes *gon si; 就係 becomes *jai; 即係 becomes *je; while 咁樣 turns into *gam’eung. Another example that recently struck me in a different video was *yeje; eventually, after comparing a number of instances, I worked out that the modified phrase had to be 又或者!
One minor but interesting grammar point here involves the formation of questions with the positive and negative forms of the verb. You commonly encounter this in the cases of 有冇 = have/have not and 係咪 is/is not (咪 maih6 is a contraction of 唔係). Modal verbs made up of two characters do something special: when 可以 = “can” is combined with its negative form 唔可以, we get 可唔可以. Similarly, 應該 = “ought” turns into 應唔應該. Compound adjectives can also be handled in this way. When English words are borrowed, they receive the same treatment, often in surprising ways. So, at 1:44, Wong Chun-hei asks 係 O唔OK呢？ = “is it OK?”. Similarly in a recent video from 士多貓貓 StoreMeow, the speaker at 1:52 uses 都唔知自己呢，rea- 唔rea-dy呢 in an indirect question to mean “we didn’t know if we were ready or not”.
Probably my favourite item of Cantonese vocabulary in this presentation is the noun 宅叔 jaahk6 sūk1, which means something like “a middle-aged man who stays at home most of the time”. It is derived from 宅男 jaahk6 nàahm4, which also carries connotations of unsociability and, according to Sheik Cantonese, “watching TV and playing video games all the time” as well as not caring about personal hygiene. The female version is naturally 宅女 jaahk6 néui5*2. According to Sheik, there is a related term, 隱蔽青年 yán2 bai3 chīng1 nìhn4 = “introvert; introverted youth”. Yeung Hok-tak also makes use of this, but changes it to suit his age: 隱蔽中年, “an introverted middle-aged man”.
There are also plenty of other very noteworthy vocabulary items, including: 玩味 wuhn6 meih6 = to ponder; to ruminate; 曳 yáih5 = naughty; mischievous; 着重 jeuhk6 juhng6 = to stress; to emphasize; 構圖 kau3 tòuh4 = composition (of a picture); 類似 leuih6 chíh5 = similar; analogous; 直頭 jihk6 tàuh4 = directly, simply, completely, truly; straight head; 偏向 pīn1 heung3 = to be partial to; 刺激 chi3 gīk1 = a stimulus; 溝 kāu1 = to mix; and 驚喜 gīng1 héi2 = to be pleasantly surprised.
Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (subtitles in Standard Written Chinese only). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.
Caption: 黃進曦 x 楊學德聯展 | 寫生樂與思
黃進曦：睇我嘅作品係會有嗰種遊走嘅感覺嘅 | 呃，空間嘅一個 . . . 一種 . . . 一種玩味性嘅 . . . 有興趣嘅 | 呃，阿 . . . 阿德可能佢對於一啲情景 | 或者一啲經歷過一啲人物 | 喺 . . . 喺佢身邊經過佢會產生好多故事性 | 喺裏邊去安放翻喺嗰個空間裏邊 | 噉呢個先至係，呃，有趣嘅位 | 啫，啫，頭先講「畫意」嗰樣嘢我覺得係 . . . 就係基於我哋唔係想純碎描寫嗰個對象 | 而係透過嗰個空間或者嗰個對象去講緊一啲另外嘅嘢
楊學德：我比進曦更「曳」呀，哈哈 | 但係我好寫意地去 . . . 去記錄啲嘢嘅，啊 | 見到樖樹好特別呀， 見到嗰個景有某一點係我覺得係好 . . . 好有趣嘅 | 我 . . . 我會着重嗰啲細位度囉
● 聯展 lyùhn4 jín2 = to jointly hold an exhibition | ● 寫生 sé2 sā[a]ng1 (?) = to paint from life | ● 遊走 yàuh4 jáu2 = roughly, “to wander” | ● 玩味性 wuhn6 meih6 sing3 = cf. 玩味 = to ponder; to ruminate | ● 安放 [ng]ōn1 fong3 = to lay; to place; to put in a certain place | ● 畫意 wáa2 yi3 = (?) “pictorial meaning; painterly meaning” | ● 曳 yáih5 = naughty; mischievous | ● 寫意 sé2 yi3 = ① enjoyable cf. 愜意 hip3 yi3 = be pleased; be satisfied ② freehand brushwork (in traditional Chinese painting) | ● 着重 jeuhk6 juhng6 = to stress; to emphasize
Caption: Wong Chun-hei + Yeung Hok-tak: A Joint Exhibition | Painting from Life: Its Joys and Insights [思]
Caption: A Double Perspective on “One Scene, Two Paintings”
Wong Chun-hei: [If you] look at my paintings, you will get that sense of a wandering and a pondering [玩味性] of space. [As for] Ah Tak (Yeung Hok-tak), a scene or some people he has encountered [經歷過], people around him that he has had some dealings with, may produce many different story-elements [故事性] in them [that is, “the scenes and the people”], [which he then] puts into his spaces. This is where the interest lies [有趣嘅位]. That thing I mentioned a moment ago [頭先], “pictorial meaning”, is I think not something based purely on our depiction [描寫] of the object — it is a way of talking about [certain] other things, by means of the space or the object.
Yeung Hok-tak: I am “naughtier” [曳] than Chun-hei! I take great pleasure in recording things. [If I] see a tree with some peculiarity, or something in the view that I think is very interesting, I will emphasize that particular detail [細位度].
【1:00】當然我都會返去都亦都會 . . . 我做過個過程就係，又係去消化重新組合 | 再去經營幅 . . . 成幅大畫嗰個 . . . 嗰個 . . . 嗰個構圖嘅
黃進曦：我返屋企諗我哋嘅展覽做乜 | 突然間諗起兩幅畫 | 當年，呃，法國印象派 | Monet 同埋 Renoir 佢 . . . 佢哋兩個人一齊出去寫生，畫一個湖景嘅 | 其實個構圖好類似呀 | 但係呢，你會睇得出 Monet 嗰張係個景係重啲嘅 | Renoir 嗰張呢，就係個人物係出啲嘅 | 兩個畫家一齊出去 | 畫出嚟嘅嘢係可以有呢一種趣味性嘅分別 | 如果將呢樣嘢擺喺我同阿德身上面 | 係 O 唔 OK呢？| 就出嚟就傾喇 . . . 就係，傾吓有冇邊啲地方係大家一齊想去嘅
楊學德：「隱蔽中 . . . 中年」忽然間，啫係，呢個重見天日嗰啲呢
● 消化 sīu1 faa3 = to digest | ● 經營 = usu. “to manage; to run; to engage in | ● 構圖 kau3 tòuh4= composition (of a picture) | ● 印象派 yan3 jeuhng6 paai3 = Impressionism; the Impressionist School (of artists) | ● 類似 leuih6 chíh5 = similar; analogous | ● 趣味性 cheui3 meih6 sing3 = (?) interest; delight | ● 宅叔 jaahk6 sūk1 = (?) an introverted, middle-aged man who stays at home most of the time cf. 宅男、宅女 | ● 隱蔽 yán2 baih3 = usu. concealed; covert; under cover; undercover cf. 隱蔽青年 = introverted youth | ● 重見天日 chùhng4 gin3 tīn1 yaht6 = once more see the light of day
Yeung Hok-tak: Of course, back at home I will always . . . The process that I have followed [做過] is to go and digest [the material], re-organize it, then to re-work [經營] the composition of that entire big painting.
Wong Chun-hei: When I got back home, I thought about what to do for our exhibition. Suddenly, I thought of two paintings. Once [當年], the French Impressionists Monet and Renoir went out together to paint from life, doing a lake scene. Actually, they are similar in terms of composition, but you will see [會睇得出] that in Monet’s picture, there’s more emphasis on the scene, [while] in Renoir’s picture, it’s the people who stand out [出] more. Two painters went out together [to paint], [yet] what they painted could have this interesting difference. Would it be OK to apply this same thing to me and Ah Tak? So [we] went out and had a talk about [就出嚟就傾喇] . . . about which places [邊啲地方] we could both go to together.
【2:00】我唔出街㗎嘛，其實 ，啊 . . . 噉忽然間，嘩，直頭 | hardcore | 到要走去行山喎，咁 | 係好有 . . . 好有新鮮感 | 因為我畫嘢呢，嗰個習慣，或者習性呢，就係匿埋做嘢咁樣嘅 | 我其實比較少去參考啲 . . . 呃，reference 呀 | 啫係，我係偏向幻想嗰邊多啲嘅 | 但係呢種咁嘅形式 | 覺得自己好似有啲乾塘咁嘅感覺 | 諗嘢嗰個思維都係 . . . 都係嗰啲嘢 | 而噉佢 . . . 佢都，啫係，都提議話：「其實，你會唔會，啫係，考慮吓，呃，出去外邊睇吓嘢咁| 啫，有啲外來嘅新嘅刺激呢 | 可能會幫到你咁」 | 噉我 . . . 我就 . . . 啊，都覺得都可能係咁 | 啫係，無論去嗰個地方 | 呃，嗰個行嗰個嘅過程呀，或者見到嘅事物呀 | 或者會遇到嘅問題咁
● 直頭 jihk6 tàuh4 = directly, simply, completely, truly; straight head | ● 新鮮感 sān1 sīn1 gám2 = a (feeling of) freshness | ● 習性 jaahp6 sing3 = habits & characteristics | ● 匿埋 nēi1 màaih4 = to hide | ● 偏向 pīn1 heung3 = to be partial to | ● 幻想 waahn6 séung2 = usu. “an illusion; a fantasy; a reverie” | ● 乾塘 gōn1 tòhng4 = literally “dried-up pond”, perhaps used figuratively to mean “a drying up of the imagination or the source of one’s inspiration” | ● 提議 tàih4 yíh5 = to propose; to suggest | ● 刺激 chi3 gīk1 = a stimulus
I’m not the type that goes out much, actually. Then all of a sudden — wow, things went completely hardcore [嘩，直頭 hardcore] and there I was out there hiking! It was a very fresh sensation [for me], because when I paint something, I do it — out of habit or because it’s my habitual nature [習性] — hidden away at home. I rarely go out to consult references. I more inclined to make things up out of my own imagination [幻想]. But this mode of doing things [呢種咁嘅形式], well I had the feeling that I had dried up. My way of thinking about things [just led to] more of the same. Now he [Wong Chun-hei] made a suggestion [to me]: “Actually, would you consider going out of doors to have a look at things? Some new stimuli from an external source [外來嘅] would possibly help you.” And so I thought . . . I thought that it might well be so. I mean, no matter where [I] went, the process of walking, or the things that [I] saw, or the problems that [I] ran into . . .
【3:00】都 . . . 都對我嚟講係新嘅 | 經過咁樣呢次咁嘅嘗試 | 令我，呃，好徹底地改變咗某啲習性咁樣囉 | 啫係，覺得：「咦，原來用咁嘅色去溝咁嘅色 | 其實真係會有種『污糟』嘅感覺」| 但係之前一度都唔為意 | 覺得咁樣有種刺激感或者有一種力量感㗎嘛
黃進曦：所以啱啱「大風坳」嗰張畫擺出嚟嘅時候 | 其實我覺得咪好驚喜囉 | 啫 . . . 啫係，因為行完兩次大潭水塘 | 唔知道對方畫乜嘅 | 啫，我 . . . 我哋去 . . . 去寫生嘅時候其實冇望對方 | 攞咗咩景 | 啱啱 Art Basel 嗰陣時大家做完件出品擺出嚟嘅時候就 | 原來攞嘅景係一樣 | 無論色調唔同啦 | 畫面經營嘅重點又唔同 | 呃，啱啱嗰次就其實都幾做到我想要嘅嗰樣嘢嘅，其實 | 每一次其實阿德佢 . . .
● 徹底 chit3 dái2 = thorough; thoroughgoing; complete | ● 溝 kāu1 = to mix | ● 污糟 wū1 jōu1 = dirty | ● 一度 yāt 1 douh6 = once; for a time; at one point; on one occasion | ● 為意 waih? yi3 = 在意： 留意; 放在心上。 主張： 主意，見解；也指持有某種見解 | ● 重複 chùhng4 fūk1 = to repeat; to duplicate | ● 坳 aau3 = a depression in a mountain range; level land in a mountain; 大風坳 = Quarry Pass | ● 驚喜 gīng1 héi2 = to be pleasantly surprised | ● 大潭水塘 daaih6 tàahm4 séui2 tòhng4 = the Tai Tam Reservoirs | ● 色調 sīk1 diuh6 = a tone; a hue
. . . would all be new to me. Having gone through such a first try [嘗試] this time has made me completely change some of my habitual way of doing things [習性]. Like, [I] thought: “Oh, if you mix such and such a colour with that colour, you really get an impression of “dirtiness” [有種『污糟』嘅感覺]. But before that, for a time, I wasn’t aware of this [一度都唔為意]. It is this kind of thing that has a buzz for me [刺激感], a sense of power.
Caption: The Unrepeated Landscape
Wong Chun-hei: And so, when that picture “Quarry Pass” was put on display [擺出嚟], I was actually pleasantly surprised, because on [our] two walks to the Tai Tam Reservoirs, we didn’t know what the other one was painting. That is, when we went out to paint from life, we didn’t actually look to see [what] the other [was doing], which view we had taken. As it happened, it was at Art Basel, when [our] exhibition paintings were put up for display, that [we realized we had taken] the same scene. [But] our colours were different, and the points of emphasis [重點] in our handling of the scene were different. As it turned out, this is actually the thing I wanted. On each occasion, that reaction Ah Tak had in fact . . .
【4:00】. . . 可能面對好多新鮮嘅嘢嗰種反應呢 | 係某程度提醒翻我一啲嘢嘅 | 我自己會 . . . 會去諗 | 就係點樣可以 | 喺每一次 . . . 假設都係去同一個地方 | 但係其實你搵嘅一啲唔同嘅嘢，或者你都係用一個最新鮮嘅一個眼光嚟到去觀察呢 | 噉呢個我覺得呢一個係作為一個創作嘅，或者畫畫嘅人其實應該具備嘅一種 . . . 一種質素嚟嘅
● 假設 gáa2 chit3 = to suppose; to assume; to presume | ● 眼光 ngáahn5 gwōng1 = sight; foresight; insight; vision | ● 具備 geuih6 beih6 = to possess; to have; to be provided with
. . . faced as he probably was with many novel elements, was to some degree a reminder to me of certain things. Myself, I would think about how I could, on each different occasion . . . Supposing you go to the same place, you will in fact find some differences or you will observe [the place] with the freshest of gazes [最新鮮嘅一個眼光]. This I think is a quality that any person who creates or paints pictures ought to have, in fact.
Interview by Ko Cheung
Video by Desmond Chan
Photos courtesy of Artist