Chinese scout

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Listen to what the Chinese scout in this video says at :43.  My first impression was that it sounds like he is speaking Cantonese, not Mandarin.

He seems to be speaking some kind of non-standard Cantonese, maybe Toishan, and is saying something like this:

"I don't know why I hit an old man when I went back (to school?) today, I have no idea why the old man is like this, I don't know why he hit me when I went back (to school?), then I hit him, then I…."

Of course, that doesn't make much sense, but the language is fast and compressed, and it's hard to make out every syllable, not to mention that my Cantonese is not very good, much less my non-standard Cantonese.

I asked about thirty Cantonese speakers, and none of them could understand all of it, though they could roughly make out that it had something to do with hitting and an old man.

I then showed the cartoon to Bob Bauer, and here are the bits and pieces he could pick out after watching and listening to it carefully several times:

daa2 zo2 go3 lou5 jan4
hit the old man

個老人              唔知點
go3 lou5 jan4 m4 zi1 dim2
the old man I don't know why/how

daa2 gam2 joeng6/2
hit like that

佢打我          我打佢
keoi5 daa2 ngo5 ngo5 daa2 keoi5
he hit me I hit him

Bob remarks:  "If my interpretation is accurate, then he could hardly be said to have done a good turn for the day. This must have been an inside joke for the Cantonese speakers."

I'm told that the sound track was made in the 30s in New York city.  At that time, nearly all Chinese there would have been Cantonese speakers.  It was also a time when there were few strictures on racial stereotypes.


Last minute arrivals:

From Ashley Liu:

It is Cantonese, but it's also almost gibberish. It seems to be about the boy witnessing some 台山人 randomly beating up an old person on the street.

From Abraham Chan:

Sure the boy speaks Cantonese; the speech is pretty fast, but this is what I can get:


[h.t. John McWhorter; thanks to Nelson Ching, Ranting Jiang, Fangyi Cheng, and Alan Chin]


  1. Max said,

    December 27, 2015 @ 5:10 am

    And what is the Yiddish-speaker who comes next saying? Something about a dog, but I can't make anything else.

  2. Avinor said,

    December 27, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

    Something about a dog and a cat. The cat runs away, but the dog jumps at the cat again. I think…

  3. Jens Ørding Hansen said,

    December 27, 2015 @ 2:28 pm

    It's pretty much gibberish, but in a standard Cantonese accent, with no Taishanese (Toishanese) influence that I can hear.

    I'm guessing the speaker was focused on conforming to the 1930s American audience's expectation of what animated Chinese speech sounded like while paying less attention to making sense.

  4. Ben said,

    December 27, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

    @Max: The Yiddish goes: "I went to the park today and saw a girl with a dog. The dog saw a cat, and the cat ran away. The dog ran after the cat, and the cat jumped into a tree. So I help…" It's in a somewhat basolectal (and Americanized) Northeastern Yiddish.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 29, 2015 @ 11:38 am

    From Mandy Chan:

    Yes, he is speaking Cantonese, but it's just random speech. I could only comprehend the part where she (a female's voice) says, "I tell you I don't know what, but then he hit me and then I hit him back…" something like that. She keeps saying “唔知點樣” (don't know what).

  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 11:57 am

    From Norman Leung:

    Yes it is Cantonese! I could only make out bits and pieces, though. Also saw you already compiled some other transcriptions.


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