Halls of Philosophy

All of the information to preserve and learn the language needs to be freely available, and easily accessible.

If the language is to survive and be preserved, all of the information needed to learn the language needs to be made freely available, and easily accessible. This means that teachers could continue teaching Cantonese as usual, but now have an additional resource that they can use in their classrooms as supplementary material. Students could easily view this material for free, and use it to either study alone, or alongside a teacher. All that is required by the student is the motivation and willingness to learn.

The language needs to be made as easy as possible to learn.

There are a few problems in the Cantonese community that need to be solved in order to be able to easily teach and spread the language:

Cantonese is mainly a spoken language, it was never actually written.

Over time, Vernacular Chinese was developed in modern times (around 1800s) due to realizing that continuing to use Classical Chinese to write meant that they were writing differently than they were speaking, which makes things difficult. After that, Mandarin was selected as the official language. This means that words and grammar in Standard Written Chinese, is just Mandarin. Cantonese has different words and grammar for different things. Both of the languages are mutually unintelligible, and apparently about 70% of the language is different. This means that Cantonese is a completely separate language than Mandarin, it is not a dialect. In fact, all of the major Chinese branches are completely separate mutually unintelligible branches. Some say Catalan is a dialect of Spanish, I don’t know the history of Catalan to say if this is true, however, Spanish / Catalan / Portuguese / Italian, while separate languages, still have a good sense of mutual intelligibility from their Latin base. This allows these groups to still converse to some extent even without knowing the other language. However, if one Mandarin speaker speaks to a Cantonese speaker, assuming that each person knows 0% of the other’s language, they cannot converse. The separation between the two languages is greater. However, they could write to each other through Standard Written Chinese, due to the funneling effect of using the Chinese characters as an “interface” to communicate. An interesting effect of the “interface” is that I could technically derive sounds for each Chinese character, from lets say, Spanish, and if I map each sound to each Character, I could create my own variant of Chinese, or I guess it would be Mandarin given that I would “interface” with Standard Written Chinese. For example: ngo5 hai2 bin1 dou6? (Where am I) could be replaced with yo5 toy2 don1 de6? (yo estoy a don-de), of course this would mean that every bin is tied to don if we want to make it consistent, but it would work ;D. I also just copied over the Cantonese tones for simplicity but tonality information could be re-arranged as well given that it would be a new Chinese variant, we are free to play with everything. With all of this said, Standard Written Chinese is Mandarin. Given the differences between the two languages, we will write Cantonese directly.

Cantonese has no standard writing system.

Given that Cantonese speakers use Standard Written Chinese, effectively what’s happening is a native translation between two languages (via the interface). If the school system teaches Standard Written Chinese, then even if the speaker only speaks Cantonese, they can basically write natively in Mandarin without thinking about it. Same applies to speakers of the Hakka, Hokkien, Fujianese, and Shanghainese languages as well. As mentioned before, if Standard Written Chinese is the interface, then it doesn’t matter how you pronounce or express it in your own language. This is good for communication via text, but it isn’t good for preserving the original source language. If a language is to be preserved, you need to be able to write your own language directly on paper, ideally with all of the information that the human would need to reproduce it. Unfortunately we can’t physically record sound on a piece of paper as well. I’ll be using the jyutping standard as the official standardization for my work. I’ll also be making some adjustments to it to make it more suitable for handwriting. Humans don’t find writing numbers as part of words particularly natural. However, diacritics are perfect for this, and can also get complicated pretty quickly. Vietnamese has a relatively complicated diacritic system, however, they did a good job with accurately being able to represent their language, and they also used it to switch away from Chinese Characters at the same time. Pe-oh-ji is also very interesting since it’s used to write the Taiwanese Hokkien language, which is also part of the Chinese Umbrella.

Jumping back to Jyutping and diacritics, we’ll want to make sure that this stays as simple as possible, and we want to introduce as little diacritics as possible. For an example, please take a look at the Proof of Concept section at the bottom of this page.

Basically if we have 6 tones, the 3 flat tones (1, 3, 6), the falling tone (4), and the rising tones (2 - high rising and 5 - low rising), we can say the following:

Traditional Chinese Characters

We established earlier that writing Cantonese using Standard Written Chinese is not actually preserving Cantonese itself. Thus it is no use to us. We actually don’t even need the Chinese Characters themselves to actually preserve Cantonese. Since, we are trying to make Cantonese as easy to learn as possible, we will put a strong emphasis on the jyutping romanization. However, we also believe that the Chinese Characters themselves are beautiful and are important to the culture and identity of the language, and to an individual. It’s also cool to be able to write them ;D. Due to this, we’ll be accompanying all of the jyutping content with Traditional Chinese characters. This allows us to still be able to read and write Cantonese in Chinese Characters to each other, at least digitally. If you want to learn how to write them with your hand, you’ll need to dedicate the time to actually memorize by handwriting, instead of just writing with your jyutping keyboard or just writing Cantonese in jyutping with your hand ;D.

Compared to Simplified Characters, Traditional Characters allows the reader to be able to more uniquely recognize each character since each is more complete and unique, at the expense of hand writing speed. I personally do believe that since Traditional Characters uses Radical Composition more frequently, it allows the reader to more quickly identify the character, and helps with re-enforcing the retention of the character.

Lastly, using Traditional Chinese Characters, allows us to continue to maintain a link to the thousands of years of history, that China has, and allows us to jump to other Chinese languages, if interested, or to start our journeys into the Classical Texts.

Proof of Concept

The text below contains some mistakes due to my current level in the language. The correctness of the text is not important to demonstrate the proof of concept.

The below proof of concept proves a few things:

I’ve written a self introduction below in Cantonese, both using Chinese Characters, and using my modified jyutping for handwriting. Hopefully the text below is clearly understandable to a Cantonese speaker and proves the point of the strategy.

In the future, I’ll be creating vocabulary lists, definition lists, and an audio recording of the text, to complete the preservation. We can then start using similar techniques to make sample texts, and slowly expand and introduce new vocabulary to the learner. We’ll also be organizing the material so that there are multiple levels of text going from beginner to advanced. All material will eventually contain audio recordings. After that, we can start creating a core list of “standard” vocabulary which a learner should know at various levels, and construct all of the texts to only contain words from those specific vocabulary lists. For example, if we say that Level 1 only contains 50 words, then all Level 1 material can only use words within that level.

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