My colleagues are amused that though I don’t know how to say “good morning” in Cantonese, I have figures out that “po” means inlet; “wan” means bay; “kok” means corner; “tong” means pond; and that I noticed that two stops on the MTR, Chai Wan and Wan Chai are, in fact, not the same Chinese characters merely with their order switched. Why is it that I can remember placenames and their meaning, but not “good morning?”
Karis and I have had discussions over the issue of sarcasm in language. As it turns out, Chinese cannot read sarcasm through tone–the means we use to denote this in English. I asked a linguist about this and he said that there is an article that is put at the end of a phrase to denote sarcasm in Chinese.
I asked colleagues what a rooster says in Cantonese. They looked at me strangely, and had no idea. They don’t do numerous animals sounds with their children! Dog and cat are about the limit. So, you wonder, when we are endlessly playing the game with out toddlers, “what does a cow say?…” What are they saying to their toddlers?