EGGS! OR, THE CANTONESE CONTEXT FOR EVERYTHING
You flesh out the picture and everything falls into place.
It may be wrong, but it works.
Which is precisely the same principle that operates when dealing with Cantonese people.
IT MAY BE WRONG, BUT IT WORKS
I've always had problems with the tones. Unlike Mandarin, which has four tones, Cantonese has, depending on the dialect, between six and nine tones. Standard urban Cantonese (as spoken in Hongkong and Guangzhou) is considered to have seven or eight - one tone is usually subsumed into a very similar tone, and two of the other tones are somewhat interchangeable.
So, seven, or eight.
Which I probably couldn't recognize if they came up and bit me.
Don't ask me to pronounce just one syllable, as I'll get it wrong.
What makes it possible for me to speak Cantonese is tone sandhi coupled with context. Simply put, the permissible variation of tones within a sentence coupled with the CONTEXT makes what I just said intelligible.
My accent may be thickly twixt irritating Kwailo and East-Tsimsa thug, but the circumstances framing my yawp-like utterance throw it into focus.
When I'm lucky, I can even sound reasonably like a native. Not always, of course. But often enough.
People at the other end of the line may be fooled into thinking that they're speaking to another Chinese person.
[No, they don't immediately start talking about white people. Contrary to what paranoid monolingualists tend to think, Caucasian people are not a profound subject of gossip, sarcasm, sneer, or evil Oriental plotting. Instead, we'll talk about food, marital status, possible mutual knowledge sets or possible acquaintances. White people, as a conversational subject, do not work if one is trying to feel out relative bonds and social background. How you deal with another Chinese speaker is independent of the existence of pale people.
Sorry, but your whitey-whiteness is just not a significant factor.]
They understand me, I understand them - the framework within we speak to each other provides predictability.
Context will often make clear what I am saying, and conversely what a Cantonese person is trying to say.
Or what the heck is going on in the first place.
When something inexplicable is going on, explanations may become apparent.
THERE'S A REASON FOR THIS.....
I once witnessed a Cantonese gentleman stealing a newspaper rack. It was a very strange thing to do, and consequently a number of bystanders were baffled. They probably would have intervened or objected, but for the fact that he was red-faced and making angry choking sounds.
Even in San Francisco, where we accept our sanity-impaired fellow-Americans in a spirit of somewhat more than arms length brotherly love, actually speaking to an unbalanced individual is a daunting experience.
So while a dozen people watched, no one said a thing.
After several minutes he gave up and went back to his car. And at that point, a reason for his odd behaviour became clear to me - there was a dried up old prune in the passenger seat, obviously his mom, who scowled and snapped at him.
Dejectedly he returned to the rack and resumed wrestling with it.
Judging by her appearance - antique, shrunk, glaring little eyes - mom may have been past any semblance of sanity entirely. And she wanted that rack!
No doubt there was a good use to which she could put it, and if people were stupid enough to leave so desirable an item out in the rain, unattended......
[No, I have no idea why she wanted it. Perhaps she had a very neat stack of newspapers in her living room, or needed a hutch for her sewing machine. Maybe she liked the cunning little doorway as well as the flat top. Perfect, perhaps, as a wall-stand for the microwave. It could also have been the colour: red is good luck. I can't figure out why she had a bee in her bonnet, I'm happy just knowing that it was HER bee and HER bonnet.]
The son was probably far more rational than his mom, but unable to resist her demands.
Respect your elders, it's the Chinese way. Children should always obey their parents.......
Perhaps more than ever if their parents are certifiably batsh*t - have you tried reasoning with an insane person?
Especially one who by reason of seniority and social hierarchy is always right?
This, too, is context.
When a Cantonese person is doing something inexplicable, outrageous, or illegal, there is a reason for that.
It may be wrong, but it works.
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