#18 Learning Tip: Intro to Sentence Final Particles and the Uses of "aa" (English/粵語)
Vocabulary1. 澄清 cing4 cing1 (V/N) to clarify / clarification
2. 語法學 jyu5 faat3 hok6 (N) syntax
3. 經驗 ging1 jim6 (N) experience
4. 參考 caam1 haau2 (V/N) to reference / reference
5. 分析 fan1 sik1 (N/V) analysis / to analyze
6. 資料 zi1 liu2 (N) information
7. 專門 zyun1 mun4 (ADV) specifically
8. 材料 coi4 liu2 (N) material
9. 顧名思義 gu3 ming4 si1 ji3 (EXP) as the name implies
10. 配合 pui3 hap6 (V) to act in concert with, to follow suit
11. 語氣 jyu5 hei3 (N) tone, mood
12. 標點符號 biu1 dim2 fu4 hou2 (N) punctuation mark/symbol
13. 講得通 gong2 dak1 tung1 (VC) make sense (lit. speak + able + through)
14. 限制 haan6 zai3 (N/V) limitation, to limit
15. 隨便 ceoi4 bin2 (ADV/ADJ) casually, casual
16. 單獨 daan1 duk6 (ADJ/ADV) alone
17. 組合 zou2 hap6 (N/V) combination, to combine
18. 統計 tung2 gai2 (N/V) statistics, to tally
19. 準確 zeon2 kok3 (ADJ) accurate
20. 純粹 seon4 seoi5 (ADV) merely, purely
21 .夾夾埋埋 gaap3 gaap3 maai4 maai4 (EXP) Altogether, with all combined
22. 道理 dou6 lei5 (N) reason
23. 擔心 daam1 sam1 (ADJ/V) worried, to worry
24. 情緒 cing4 seoi5 (N) emotion
25. 機械人 gei1 haai6 jan4 (N) robot
26. 掌握 zoeng2 ngaak1 (V) to grasp, to master
27. 掘擂槌 gwat6 leoi4 ceoi4 (ADJ) blunt, tactless
28. 硬蹦蹦 ngaang6 ba(a)ng1 ba(a)ng1 (ADJ) stiff, unbendable
29. 押韻 ngaak3 wan5 (ADJ/V) rhyming, to rhyme
30. 規律 kwai1 leot6 (N) pattern
31. 死記 sei2 gei3 (V/N) rote-memorize, rote memorization
32. 嘗試 soeng4 si3 (V/N) to try, attempt
33. 祈使句 kei4 si2 geoi3 (N) imperative
34. 命令 ming6 ling6 (N) command, order
35. 諷刺 fung3 ci3 (ADJ/N/V) sarcastic, sarcasm, to quip
36. 反諷 faan2 fung3 (ADJ/N/V) ironic, irony, to satirize
37. 陳述 can4 seot6 (V/N) to state, statement
38. 百搭 baak3 daap3 (ADJ) versatile
39. 激動 gik1 dung6 (ADJ) emotional, agitated
40. 嬲 nau1 (ADJ/V) mad, to be upset
ADJ - Adjective
ADV - Adverb
EXP - Expression
N - Noun
V - Verb
VC - Verb complement
Cameron: So Raymond, today I'm hoping we can do the first of many episodes on a topic that I think is one of the most challenging aspects of Cantonese, but also one of the most important aspects of Cantonese because it's what defines Cantonese in some ways from many other Sinitic languages, especially if you've studied Mandarin, this is something that I think is definitely hard, but I think if you studied some other languages that do a lot of stuff at the end of their sentences to change the tone, it's actually kind of familiar. So the thing that I am hoping to talk about is sort of final particles, or sentence final particles. Can you give like a, just a really brief explanation, in Cantonese, of what sentence final particles are?
(Good, this a question that students and people learning Cantonese often ask. “How should I study them?” And teachers will even ask, “How should I teach them?” To start with, there are two things that I want to clarify, the first being something I’ve said in the past, which is that I am not a specialist in syntax studies, so for a lot of this I rely on my own experiences, though at the same time I’ll reference the analyses of some linguistic experts. I’ll take a moment to thank some teachers whose materials I’ve referenced, including those in Hong Kong, like Dr. Lau Wan Yee, as well as a recent book that takes a comprehensive approach to teaching [sentence final particles], by teacher Yuen-lam Tsang.)
噉另外香港亦都有幾位出名嘅語言學家，包括鄧思穎博士呀，馬司帆博士呀，同埋啲葉彩燕博士。噉佢哋呢幾位專家噉我都有睇佢哋嘅材料8嘅。噉呀，另一方面呢你啱啱講呢，首先呢我哋你話呢啲 sentence final particles 呢，噉我哋簡稱 SFP 啦，噉中文亦都有幾個講法嘅。一個呢，就係叫語氣助詞。噉顧名思義9呢，就係配合10我哋講說話嘅語氣11啦去講。噉但係呢，好多時佢係喺個句子最後啦，噉所以英文就係叫做，直接翻譯呢，噉我哋有陣時會叫句尾詞，或者句末助詞嘅。噉但係呢，再講得清楚啲呢，唔係所有語氣助詞都一定喺個句子最後嘅。
(There are also a number of other famous linguists in Hong Kong, including Dr. Tang Sze Wing, Dr. Stephen Matthews, and Dr. Virginia Yip. I’ve looked at materials from all of these scholars. Another aspect of what you just said, you mentioned that we say, “sentence final particles,” we shorten that to SPF, and in Chinese there are a number of ways of saying it. One is just to say “jyu5 hei3 zo6 ci4,” and as the name implies, it matches the tone of what we are saying. However, they are often at the ends of sentences, so in English they’re called, or directly translated as what we sometimes call “geoi3 mei5 ci4” [literally, “sentence tail word”], or “geoi3 mut6 zo6 ci4.” However, to be a bit more specific, not all SFPs necessarily come at the end of a sentence.)
噉即係佢唔一定喺句尾嘅。噉我可以喺句子中間嘅，但係我諗我哋簡單啲講，我哋集中呢會係講喺句子最後啦。噉最簡單嘅理解嘅方法呢，就有啲似我哋去寫字啦，書寫嘅時候，一個句子嘅嗰啲標點符號12呀。噉喺唔同嘅語言呢，你點樣去表達你個語氣呢，我當時我哋會靠我哋嗰個語調呀，聲調呀去講嘅。噉我哋返過嚟用返英文啦，噉呀你同一個句子呢，你要表達語氣呢，噉我哋就噉講 “How are you”。噉你可以話你嗰個高低呢，你可以講 “HOW are you”, “how ARE you”, “how are YOU” 噉佢呢三句呢嗰個，即係都講得通13嘅。即係但係佢嗰個語氣唔一樣。但係如果你用廣東話呢，你就唔可以噉樣轉喇係唔係？你唔可以話“*你好嗎”，“你*好嗎”，“你好*嗎”。噉因爲嗰個聲調唔啱。
(So they aren’t necessarily “final.” I can use one in the middle of a sentence, but to put it more simply, we will focus on their usage at the ends of sentences. The simplest way to understand them is a bit like when we write, there is a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. In different languages, how you express your [semantic] tone, we rely on the tone [of the sentence], the intonation used to speak it. So if we look at English, with one sentence, you want to express your tone, we’ll say, “How are you.” It can be your pitch, you can say, “HOW are you?” “How are you?” ‘How are YOU?”, these three sentences, you can make sense of all three of them, but their tones are all different. But if you use Cantonese, you can’t fluctuate like that, right? You can say, “NEI5 hou2 maa1” “Nei5 HOU2 maa1” “Nei5 hou2 MAA1.”), as the tones [of the individual characters] are wrong.)
(We can’t use this method to express ourselves, so how do we express tone? We add a particle that lets the other party know that aside from our [semantic] meaning, we also have something less direct or tone-related that we want to express. So the best way to understand SFPs is to think of them like punctuation marks. But there is still a rather interesting aspect, which is that Cantonese has more SFPs than Mandarin. One understanding is that Mandarin has four tones, right? Mandarin has four tones, while Cantonese has nine sounds and six tone contours. Cantonese has more tones, so there are more restrictions, so we can’t be casual about changing tones, meaning we have more SFPs that we use to express our tone. I’m curious, do you know how many SFPs there are?)
Cameron: Okay, so how many of these sentence final particles are there… Are we counting just the single ones, or the doubles, or even the long–how many are we counting？
(Use your own counting method, or go ahead and say how many single-character SFPs you know, as well as multi-character ones.)
Cameron: I think there's between forty and fifty of the standalone particles, but then once you start combining them you have well over a hundred.
Raymond: 噉呀你講得好啱喎，真係喎，即係而家一個統計18，甚至呢，我哋其實都冇人知道真正實際一個準確19嘅數字。因爲同埋唔同嘅人呢都有啲少少唔同嘅習慣嘅，講嗰啲方式。噉但係呢統計呢，大概啦係有，單獨嘅大概係50個，40至50個啦。噉你啱啱都講過，如果組合呢，即係你除咗純粹20話“嘅”、“啦”、“呀”、“噃”，噉你仲可以話“嘅噃”、“喳嘛”、“喇啩”噉樣兩個啦。甚至三個啦，“嘅嘞噃”、“嘅咋咩” 噉樣三個以上噉樣。所以夾夾埋埋21呢都接近成 100 個組合嘅。
(You hit it on the nose, really. No one knows an actual exact number for the current tally, as some people have slightly different speaking habits. But it comes out to roughly fifty, really forty to fifty standalone SFPs. And as you just said, if you combine them, as in not simply just saying ge, laa, aa, bo, you can say things like “gebo,” “zaamaa,” “laagwaa,” these double-character sorts. There are also three-character ones, like “gelaabo,” “gezaame,” or ones with more than three. So in all there are close to 100 combined ones.)
Cameron: Yeah I think it's incredibly daunting and incredibly challenging, especially if, again I always do the standard where I'm thinking back to when I first studied Mandarin, I just had to worry about what “呢 ne“、“嗎 ma”、“吧 ba” [NOTE: There are many more, though still a lot fewer than in Cantonese], like there's a pretty small set. But then you can, if you've dealt with those you do get the sense that “Okay, those small particles do actually change the tone of the sentence”. But with Cantonese, because you have so many, it also, I think it helps also to think of it as an opportunity to expand how you can express yourself. Because once you learn a lot of these different things, I think it's part of what makes Cantonese very fun and also makes it very easy–or not easy–but it gives you more opportunities to be sarcastic, or to play around with language or engage with people in different ways, because with just a well placed sentence final particle, you can completely change what you're saying, but make it really funny or really shocking or… And it’s also way more satisfying, it's not just a matter of speaking, but also hearing. I think once you're able to pay attention to those and watch a film or listen to radio, you are able to appreciate the way that people are expressing themselves a lot more, but it's really hard, and that's something I continue to struggle with, you know, years on, so I'm really excited to have the opportunity to talk with Raymond more about this, and I think, hopefully over the course of a number of episodes we will be able to just slowly pick away at some of the more important ones and sort of also, I mean, we'd also love to hear from listeners in terms of their own experiences with this, because I'm sure it's a struggle for a lot of people, or something that a lot of people also find really interesting and exciting about Cantonese.
(Yes, what you said makes sense. Additionally, people don’t need to worry too much, you don’t need to totally know or remember how to use every single one, for as I see it, studying these SFPs, or auxiliary words, however you call them, they’re for expressing your emotions, your tone, even for playing linguistic or verbal games. But even native speakers, young kids, when they are first learning, I think they make mistakes, as they are just at the beginning of the process of learning. Finally, on the most fundamental level, you can add one or more SFPs to the end of every sentence. But if you don’t use them, it won’t affect the basic meaning of what you are saying, so what you say wouldn’t be considered incorrect. However, if you don’t use them at all, some people will think, “Hm? The way you speak, it seems emotionless, almost like a robot, right?” But in terms of grammar it would be fine. However, I think you have to take it slow getting a hold on them.)
Cameron: Yeah I know. I think that's a great addition, the fact that you can speak a grammatically correct sentence, but if you don't have a sentence final particle, it sounds incomplete. It's almost like a hanging participle or something in English, it's like, “Where's this going?” or you stopped at a comma instead of stopping at a period. I guess that’s the closest approximation I can think of.
(Yeah, the way we would put it in Cantonese is gwat6, or gwat6 leoi4 ceoi4. it basically means to be stiff or blunt, as you don’t have these SFPs.)
Cameron: I think that's actually something people listening to this podcast, that’s a big difference between how Raymond and I speak, is there're many times where I don't add enough of a final particle, but if you hear Raymond, he often will almost,--and I noticed this from listening to our transcriptions and going back over things–and it’s great practice for me, because I hear how Raymond at almost every clause, every sentence, there’s a little bit of something, and it makes the sentences sound fuller, and sound complete. So again, something I'm continuing to study and learn more about just by talking to Raymond on a regular basis.
(Yeah, though I think you already speak pretty well. I don’t hear you using them incorrectly, and I hear you using them.)
Cameron: Alright so, um, then maybe we can start by just talking about particles, just to start with what you think people really need to know, just to get the ball rolling and to make their sentences begin to have that fuller sense, the completed sense of a Cantonese sentence.
Raymond: 可以呀，我諗起呢，我哋由最簡單嘅聲音開始啦。噉呀我諗住簡單就係“呀”啦係咪？噉如果“呀”呢，如果你用粵拼呢，你會用兩個 a 啦。噉呢個只係提一提啫。噉呢但係呢，除咗你用我哋話唔同嘅嗰個發音，即係你話“呀”，一陣間我哋仲會講例如“㗎”、講“喇”，噉佢哋都係押韻29啦。噉另外一個呢會變化嘅當然就係聲調喇，噉呢，你就算同一個音，但係佢嘅聲調唔一樣呢，佢意思都唔一樣嘅。噉所以呢，我有一個建議呢，就係大家都係諗一下，嗰個規律30，就唔係話每一個你要死記31。
(Sure, let me think, let’s start from the simplest. I think “aa” is the simplest, right? So aa, if you use romanization, it’s two “a”s. Let’s take them one at a time. So aside from using different tones [as in pitch], like “aa”, we say other sounds like gaa, laa, they all rhyme. Another thing that changes of course is the tone, so for each sound, different tones have different meanings. So my suggestion is for everyone to think about the pattern, and that way you don’t have to use rote memorization for each SFP.)
但係呢，我哋都有少少發現嘅。即係嗰個聲調呢，佢所有比較譬如高啲嘅聲調，第一聲，相比起低啲嘅聲調，第四聲、第六聲呢，佢都有少少規律嘅。噉我通常我就會噉樣同啲學生講嘅，舉一個例子啦，噉呀用 aa 做例子啦。我用同一個句子，都係用 aa，但係就用唔同嘅聲調，你睇下你解唔解釋到，你感唔感覺到佢嗰個分別啦。最簡單嘅句子，我哋講“食飯”喇，好唔好？就噉講“食飯” ，噉就食飯囉。噉我講“食飯吖 (aa1)”。如果我同你講 “Cameron 食飯呀吖 (aa1)。”係咩意思呀？
(However, we’ve made some small discoveries [in regards to this], as the tone, when comparing high ones like the first one versus low ones like the fourth or sixth tone, there are some slight patterns. I often explain this to my students using aa as an example. We can use the same sentence ending with aa, but change the tone of the aa, and then you can see if you can example what you think the difference is. The most simple sentence we can say is sik6 faan6 [to eat/let’s eat], right? So if we say sik6 faan6, that means to eat. So if I say sik6 faan6 aa1, if I say, “Cameron, sik6 faan6 aa1.” What does that mean?)
Cameron: Should we eat？
Raymond: 係啦。呢個係嘞，呢個我唔係好肯定，“不如我哋食飯啦”，或者我邀請你食飯啦，呢個係一個建議係唔係？噉我就去。跟住我調低啲嘞喎。噉又到第二聲喇，噉係 “aa1”， “aa2”，第二聲 “aa2” 啦。“食飯啊 (aa2)？”。你覺得係有咩嘢意思呢？你嘗試32去解釋。
(Yup. This is for when we are uncertain, like, “How about we eat/Shall we eat?” or if I am inviting you to eat, this is a suggestion, right? Let’s go one tone lower, to the second tone, so from aa1 to aa2, that aa2. Sik6 faan6 aa2? What do you think this means? Try and explain.)
Cameron: “食飯啊 (aa2)？”
(Sik6 faan6 aa2?)
Raymond: “食飯啊 (aa2)？”有諗到啲咩嘢呀？
(Sik6 faan6 aa2? What do you think it is?)
Cameron: It's more inquisitive, as in, “Oh, you're eating?!”
Raymond: 係嘞，好似有個問號噉咩係唔係？可能你好奇怪呀，“啊？你食飯啊 (aa2)？我都唔知點解你呢個時候食飯呀。”係喇，噉呢個解釋到喇。係有啲似問號噉樣啦。噉呀第三聲中間喎，唔高唔低喇。“食飯呀 (aa3)”，“Cameron 食飯呀 (aa3)”，你解唔解釋到幾時？
(Right, it’s like a question mark, right? Perhaps you think it’s strange, like “Hm? You’re eating? I don’t know why you are eating right now?” Yup, that’s the explanation, it’s like a question mark. Now the third tone in the middle, it’s not high or low. “Sik6 faan6 aa3,” “Cameron, sik6 faan6 aa3,” can you explain when to use that?)
Cameron: It’s time to eat. Let’s eat.
Raymond: 係嘞，可能阿爸阿媽啦，或者即係有人叫你食飯喇，噉樣一個我哋中文叫祈使句33，一個命令34呀，即係我要你去食飯係咪？好，第四聲嘞喎，呢個有趣嘞，第四聲係最低係咪？“食飯呀 (aa4)”。“食飯呀 (aa4)”。
(Yup, perhaps dad or mom or someone else is telling you to eat, what we might call an “imperative sentence,” an order for when I want you to eat, right? Good, so the fourth tone, this one is interesting, it’s the lowest tone, right? Sik6 faan6 aa4. Sik6 faan6 aa4.)
Cameron: Have you eaten?
Raymond: 係啦有啲似個問題。噉但係呢個問題又唔只係咪真係一個問題。“吓？你而家食飯呀 (aa4)？”“而家幾點呀，你食飯呀(aa4)？”我覺得有啲奇怪嘅，我覺得有啲…“點解你而家食飯呀 (aa4)?”我要諗下先。
(Yeah, it’s a bit of a question, but it’s not just a question. “Hm? You’re eating now? What time is it, you’re eating?” I think it is strange, I think, “Why are you eating now?” I need to think about it.)
Cameron: Oh, so like “You've already eaten?” [NOTE: Compared to aa2, aa4 in this case has more of a sense of judgment on the part of the speaker.]
Raymond: 係嘞，跟住第五聲囉喎。噉呀，又係呢個上揚聲，不過低啲啦。“食飯呀 (aa5)”，點樣解釋呀呢個？
(Yes, and then there is the fifth tone. It is also a rising tone, though it is slightly lower. Sik6 faan6 aa5? How would you explain it?)
Cameron: “食飯呀 (aa5)”. Oh so you are eating. Ah, I see.
Raymond: “我明喇，原來你好耐，你今朝冇食飯，你而家食飯呀 (aa5) ”。哦，都係第五聲喇。噉第六聲就比較難解釋。同第三聲差唔多。我哋都冇一個好明確呢個第六聲嘅。所以你淨係睇呢，123456呢，“食飯吖 (aa1)”、“食飯啊 (aa2)？”、 “食飯呀 (aa3)”、“食飯呀 (aa4)”、“食飯呀 (aa5)”。噉我有一個問題嘞，你覺得呢，高啲嗰個聲調呢，係你比較肯定啲嘅意思，定係低啲嘅聲調肯定啲呀？
(“I see now, it’s been a while for you, you didn’t eat this morning, you’re eating now.” So that’s the fifth tone. The sixth tone is a bit harder to explain, it’s pretty similar to the third tone, and we don’t have a very clear explanation for it. So if we just look at tonnes one through six, sik6 faan6 aa1, sik6 faan6 aa2, sik6 faan6 aa3, sik6 faan6 aa4, sik6 faan6 aa5。 I have one more question. Between the higher tones and the lower tones, which is the most “certain” in meaning?
Cameron: Middle tone feels the most 肯定 (certain).
It feels the most, like this is the base point and I'm sure we're going to do it. Whereas when I go higher, it seems more polite and inquisitive; and when I go lower, it feels more, it's not inviting me, it’s asking for information. [NOTE: More importantly, it is stressing the opinion of the speaker in the form of a rhetorical question.]
Raymond: 係嘞，甚至呢係有啲，有啲諷刺35嘅，有啲反諷36嘅。“吓？你而家食飯呀？”噉樣係咪。其實我唔覺得你唔應該食飯喎。係啦，噉所以呢，而家就噉樣去解釋呢，噉就，我覺得相對“呀”呢啲就容易啲理解嘅。或者最簡單呢，“呀”呢，就係一個好簡單嘅句子，你係想去等人哋知道，哦呢個你係隨便講嘅。噉呢我就會用第三聲喇。噉我都聽到 Cameron 你講嘢你都好正常，我都經常聽到你會講“呀”，係唔係？例如話，“今日天氣好好” versus “今日天氣好好呀”。噉呢個就係我隨便噉樣講。噉呢個就係一個完整嘅句子噉樣囉。噉當然喇，你去問一個問題呢你都可以加個“呀”字嘅。噉但係如果你越高聲調呢，就越唔肯定嘅。越低呢，就係越肯定嘅。噉或者一個隨便問一個問題，你都可以就噉加一個“呀”字啦。噉所以“呀”呢，基本上係一個簡單嘅陳述37句，即係一個 statement，或者係一個簡單嘅問句，一個 simple question 都可以嘅。
(Correct, and you could even say that it has a bit of sarcasm or irony to it, like, “Hm? You’re eating now?” right? But in reality I don’t think you shouldn’t eat. Yes, so that’s the explanation for now, I think it’s relatively easy to understand aa. Or the simplest one is aa, and for simple sentences where you want other people to know [something], you can use this pretty liberally as a third tone. Cameron, I also hear how you very regularly use aa3, right? Like, “Today the weather is nice,” versus “Today the weather is pretty nice” [NOTE: softer tone due to addition of aa3 at the end]. This is how we use it very casually, it’s a very complete sentence. Of course, if you ask a question, you can also add an aa at the end, but if your tone is higher, you seem less and less certain, and if it is lower, you seem more sure. And if you are just casually asking a question, you can also add an aa. So aa, it’s basically a very simple statement or question.)
Cameron: The way I also think of it [aa3] as it's the safest option. If there's a time when you know that you need to finish a sentence and it hasn't finished yet, but you don't want to risk saying something weird, the third tone “aa3” is usually going to be okay. There are exceptions to that of course but I think it's a good place to sort of center yourself.
(Yeah, you put it well, this is the most versatile and useful. Even if you are very agitated, very angry, or when using an imperative sentence like before, like when your dad or mom tells you, “Time to eat!” “Don’t watch TV!” “Sit down!”, you can still use “aa3,” though your tone will of course be stronger.)