Since Chinese New Year, I’ve been studying Cantonese with a small group of beginners. Our class consists of a few Brits, a few Dutch, a token American (me) and a token Beijinger.
As our instructor has guided us through a check-list of basic topics — taxi directions, food, shopping, family relationships, the weather, colors, etc. — the more distractible and deviant members of the group have slowly collected enough Cantonese homonyms to devise a mini-tongue twister:
“九個膠狗够嘅 !” is pronounced like this in Cantonese: “Gau go gaau gau gau ge!” (with Jyupting tone markings: gau2 go3 gaau1 gau2 gau3 ge3). The meaning of this tongue twister is: Nine plastic dogs are enough!
Sticklers, please forgive us, we’ve picked a generic and imprecise measure word for “dog” but we did it in keeping with the spirit of the tongue twister’s “g” sound. Are there other errors? Please let me know!
This side-game has firmly stuck six Cantonese words in my mind and (I think) helped me to understand one Cantonese final particle — ge — more clearly.
Here is another Cantonese tongue twister that fills in a few more Canto vocab blanks: Go go go go gou gwo go go go go (click through for Youtube video).
Neither of these short sentences, however, can match the famous Classical Chinese tongue twister, “Lion Eating Poet in the Stone Den,” which uses the sound “shi” and only the sound “shi” (with varying tones) for 10 straight lines of poetry.
“Shī Shì shí shī shǐ”
- Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.
- “Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den”
- In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.
Do you study languages? Any great tongue-twisters or word games to share? Do you think The Police tune, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” was really just a secret Cantonese tongue twister?
My Cantonese is improving thanks to the NRA
My accidental Chinese language partner, the telemarketer
Getting into language character, or: I’ll wear a half-shirt if it will help my Chinese
Mini-bus language angst. To speak or not to speak…in Cantonese.
Milestones in a Foreign Language: “I went from talking like an evil baby to talking like a hillbilly”
Language Fails. My own failures of communication in French, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese.
China’s Pearl River Delta = Woe for the Chinese Language Student