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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What are Cantonese classifiers?
Siuling: And how are they used?
Michael: At CantoneseClass101.com, we hear these questions often. The following situation is typical. Karen Lee is at a cafe with her friend, Ashley Siu. They are making an order. Ashley says to the waiter, "I want one cup of tea."
蕭儀心: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
蕭儀心: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
李麗莉: 我要兩件蛋糕。 (ngo5 jiu3 loeng5 gin6 daan6 gou1.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
蕭儀心: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
Michael: "I want one cup of tea."
李麗莉: 我要兩件蛋糕。 (ngo5 jiu3 loeng5 gin6 daan6 gou1.)
Michael: "I want two pieces of cake."

Lesson focus

Michael: Today, we’re going to talk about a very important element of the Cantonese language, the classifiers, also known as "measure words."
Siuling: In Cantonese, we call it 量詞 (loeng6 ci4).
Michael: They are normally one word, and we place it in front of the noun when we are counting or measuring the nouns. You can find some classifiers in English that are similar to the Cantonese classifiers; for instance, “a piece of paper;” in this phrase, “piece” is the classifier.
Siuling: In Cantonese, it is 一張紙 (jat1 zoeng1 zi2). 一 (jat1) means “one” or “a”, 張 (zoeng1) means “piece,” and 紙 (zi2) means “paper.
Michael: Ok, that doesn’t sound too difficult.
Siuling: Just know that all nouns have one or more classifiers associated with them, and you need to use the correct one.
Michael: Or else it would become, say, “a cup of paper”.
Siuling: Right, that means more words to remember, but don’t worry, there are some general rules about classifiers.
Michael: What I’ve heard is that many nouns that have similar characteristics tend to use the same classifier, so you can learn by memorizing the corresponding categories.
Siuling: That’s correct, for example, we just mentioned that 張 (zoeng1) is the classifier for “paper,” and that also applies to other objects that are paper-like, such as certificate, photo, ticket, and blanket; and, interestingly, it also applies to furniture with a flat surface, such as table, bench, sofa, and bed.
Michael: Can you give us another example of how a classifier applies to a category of objects?
Siuling: Sure, let’s take a quick look at our dialogue. Ashley says 一杯茶 (jat1 bui1 caa4) for “a cup of tea.” It’s quite usual in Cantonese for some nouns to also be a classifier, especially those that define shape and size. Here, 杯 (bui1), by itself, means “cup” and is used as the classifier for “tea.”
Michael: It can also be used for any other kinds of liquid you would put in a cup.
Siuling: Right, so you can say 一杯咖啡 (jat1 bui1 gaa3 fe1), “a cup of coffee.”
Michael: Ok, so which one would you say is the most common classifier?
Siuling: The most common classifier would be 個 (go3). We use it for many countable or conceptual nouns, like people, fruits, ideas, excuses, conditions, etc.
Michael: So, “a person” in Cantonese is...
Siuling: 一個人 (jat1 go3 jan4)
Michael: and “two people” is...
Siuling: 兩個人 (loeng5 go3 jan4).
Michael: “An apple” is...
Siuling: 一個蘋果 (jat1 go3 ping4 gwo2).
Michael: “A dream” is…
Siuling: 一個夢 (jat1 go3 mung6).
Michael: Great! So that’s a very useful classifier! Listeners, don’t forget, it’s…
Siuling: 個 (go3).
Practice Section
Michael: Ok, let's review. Respond to the prompts by speaking aloud. Then, repeat after Siuling focusing on pronunciation.
Do you remember how Ashley says "I want one cup of tea?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 我要一杯茶。 (ngo5 jiu3 jat1 bui1 caa4.)
Michael: And do you remember how Karen says "I want two pieces of cake?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 我要兩件蛋糕。 (ngo5 jiu3 loeng5 gin6 daan6 gou1.)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling: 我要兩件蛋糕。 (ngo5 jiu3 loeng5 gin6 daan6 gou1.)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Siuling: 我要兩件蛋糕。 (ngo5 jiu3 loeng5 gin6 daan6 gou1.)
Cultural Expansion
Michael: Knowing classifiers is definitely important. Let’s learn three more commonly used words. The first is...
Siuling: 隻 (zek3), the classifier for most animals, like 一隻狗 (jat1 zek3 gau2) “a dog,” 一隻貓 (jat1 zek3 maau1) “a cat,” 一隻豬 (jat1 zek3 zyu1) “a pig”.
Michael: Once more, the classifier for most animals is…
Siuling: 隻 (zek3).
Michael: Another classifier is...
Siuling: 本 (bun2). It is the classifier for books and magazines, and all sorts of publications that are compiled from many pages of paper. So, “a novel” is 一本小說 (jat1 bun2 siu2 syut3).
Michael: Ok, and the last classifier for today is...\
Siuling: 碗 (wun2), which literally means “bowl.”
Michael: Like our previous example for “cup,” here
Siuling: 碗 (wun2)
Michael: has a similar function, to be the classifier for any food you would put in a bowl.
Siuling: So, we’d say, 一碗飯 (jat1 wun2 faan6) “a bowl of rice”; and 一碗麵 (jat1 wun2 min6) “a bowl of noodles.”


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Siuling: 拜拜! (baai1 baai3!)
Michael: See you soon!

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