Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

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Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen):

[N.B.:  Even with the embiggen feature deployed, you might need the assistance of a good magnifying glass, such as the one I keep handy next to my computer.]

The title is: "Chinese – English – Tagalog – Spanish Business Conversation and Social Contact with Amoy Pronunciation" (Huá-Yīng-Fēi-Xī shāngyè shèjiāo huìhuà dàquán fùzhù Xiàmén yīn 華英菲西商業社交會話大全附註廈門音) by Vicente Lim 林西樓, edited by Lim Se Kim 林世欽 and Jose Santos 扶西山道示.

Notice how much longer the Tagalog tends to be than the other languages.  Cf. "French vs. English" (8/2/15).

This post follows on the heels of this recent offering on a similar topic:

"English-Cantonese and Hokkien-Malay phrasebooks" (11/15/16), with references to earlier posts.

[Thanks to Chris Sundita]


  1. E.T. said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:29 am

    What register is the Chinese part? Is this mongrel LS/baihua? It doesn't seem to correspond to the colloquial Amoy at all. But 妹 referring to the first person, for instance? How odd.

    The Spanish-phonetic English is brilliant in any case.

  2. cameron said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:33 am

    The phonetic English really is a hoot. And the text is hilarious. Has any native speaker ever uttered the phrase "Now I question you one thing"?

  3. Stephen Hart said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:36 am

    "[N.B.: Even with the embiggen feature deployed, you might need the assistance of a good magnifying glass, such as the one I keep handy next to my computer.]"

    Tip: On the Mac, use the Zoom feature in Safari > View
    and/or set the Zoom feature in System Preferences > Accessibility

  4. Juliana said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:46 am

    I wonder if the original language here was the Spanish. Because that one seems perfectly correct to me, and the English looks to be an overly literal translation of normal Spanish phrasing. My hanzi skills aren't quite good enough to figure out what the Chinese says, but if (as E.T. implies above) it's odd-sounding in the same way as the English, it might actually be Spanish translatese, too.

  5. Fernando Colina said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:48 am

    Guat is fany abaut it? Dat is exactly jau I saund. ;-)

  6. Robot Therapist said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:54 am

    Useful collection of phrases!

  7. liuyao said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 11:19 am

    The Chinese would top it all for being overly literary, and it would be quite a scene to hear these in actual conversation. 妹 as a first person pronoun isn't so odd in LS.

  8. Rube said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 11:48 am

    "Do you not remember a Phrase 'her jungle love' " is pure perfection.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

    E.T. The Spanish-phonetic English is brilliant in any case.

    I'm pleased to see that it uses "dch" for our "j" sound instead of anything with a "y".

    Juliana: The English syntax did look rather Spanish-ish to me. However, I'm far from a native speaker of Spanish, but there are some things in the Spanish that I thought were wrong, such as preguntar a V. una cosa without le.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

    From Jean Debernardi:

    My guess is that everything here is translated from Spanish. The Spanish reads very naturally; the Chinese and English, not so much. Can't say about the Tagalog but the fact that the translations are so long suggests that those translations might also be awkward.

  11. E said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

    "Do you not remember a Phrase Her Jungle Love" = "Have you seen that 1938 movie about the guy who has a love affair with a local on a South Pacific Island?"

    I guess the book is for use in the Philippines.

  12. lvps1000vm said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 4:59 pm

    The spanish version isn't really fluent, I say it is a translation as well. I've seen structures like "acabamos de conocer uno a otro" ("nos acabamos de conocer") from japanese who speak spanish as a foreign language, which makes me think that the spanish version is actually translated by an asian.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

    From Grace Wu (teacher of Taiwanese at Penn):


    Very impressive!! The Hokkien sentences are quite colloquial, not much different from now. It is similar to 歌仔戏/布袋戏* script and I understand it better than the Classical Chinese.



    POJ koa-á-hì / MSM gēzǎixì ("folk opera; song-drama")

    POJ pò͘-tē-hì / MSM bùdàixì ("glove puppety")

  14. michaelyus said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 5:53 pm

    Interesting that the Hokkien has both l- and voiced d- in transcription. This l- to d- is a distinct characteristic of Filipino Hokkien, although such fortition seems to be pretty common across the Hokkien-speaking areas.

  15. Marcos said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 6:36 pm

    I disagree about the Spanish being the original. At the very least, it isn't written by a native speaker of a standard variety. There is nothing necessarily "incorrect", but a couple parts sound extremely unnatural and would not be said by a native speaker.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 6:47 pm

    The Spanish, presumably is the Spanish of the Philippines.

  17. Christopher Sundita said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

    The Tagalog is what we would call "malalim na Tagalog" (deep Tagalog); it sounds poetic, old-fashioned. But it sounds natural to me.

  18. Lawrence A. Reid said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

    The Tagalog is pretty much a literal translation, with some pronouns being fronted before the verb and joined to it by /ay/, which follows the traditional SVO description of the Tagalog Balarila, and is used only in formal speech. The English pronunciation, with dat for 'that' and ader for 'other' also sounds like English spoken by a Filipino.

  19. Martha said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 10:06 pm

    Interesting that in the English pronunciation, voiced "th" is represented with "d" and voiceless with "th."

    I know even less Spanish than I do Tagalog, which is barely anything of any use, but "Now I question you one thing" is exactly the sort of phrasing I'd expect my Filipino cousins to use to ask me about how things are in the U.S. I know next to nothing of Spanish spelling; would a Spanish speaker (who wasn't using IPA) have used a "k" for the pronunciation of "question," instead of a "c"? Using a "k" seems Filipino to me.

    It seems to me that the original language would be placed on either the far right or the far left, which would lead to Spanish being the original. So in my expert opinion (ha!), Ellen K is right about it being Filipino Spanish.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 12:00 am

    I asked some Hokkien speakers whether they thought the Hokkien in this phrasebook closely resembles the current language with which they are familiar and whether it is similar to Hokkien from earlier times, so far as they know.

    Here's the answer of Chia-hui Lu:


    This is an extremely interesting question but not easy to answer.

    First of all, there are many dictionaries like Vicente Lim's 林西樓 phrasebook you mentioned. For example, an article written by 黃龍泉 discusses nineteen-century Hokkien terminology related to various professions and businesses based on the dictionaries compiled by J.J. C. Francken and Gustaaf Schlegel (Hokkien-Nederlands Dictionary 廈荷詞典/ 荷華文語類參). I included it in the attachment [VHM: I have this file]; some references in the paper may be useful.

    Also,《臺語文運動訪談暨史料彙編》(Taipei: Academia Historica 國史館, 2008) contains many references to the phrasebooks and dictionaries compiled by early missionaries. You can read some pages in Google Books; please note pp. 14-20. (see here, also here)

    Secondly, your question reminds me that in the development/movement of 台語文 (Taiwanese), much scholarly attention has been given to Taiwanese literature and Taiwanese writing (romanization or creating new systems), yet little interest has been devoted to the relationship between Classical Chinese and Hokkien. This question is worth considering.

    Last but not least, you may have known this, the Journal of Taiwanese Vernacular 台語研究, published by National Cheng-kung University 成功大學, which I found really helpful. You can see the list of all volumes here.


  21. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 12:00 am

    Wow, true rofl stuff here.
    And "Her Jungle Love"? This is the suggested script (for whom?) for picking up local women? Must know where conversation goes next…

  22. Victor Mair said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 12:37 am

    Note that the first column says:

    Huá 華 ("Chin."), that is to say Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese

    The second says:

    Xiàmen yīn 夏們音 ("Amoy Pron."), or, in other words, the sound of Amoy

    It is vital to observe:

    1. How very different col. 1 and col. 2 are

    2. Col. 1 is for writing; col. 2 is for speaking

  23. Jichang Lulu said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 3:32 pm

    As michaelyus said, the presence of both initial [l-] and [d-] is remarkable, as is their distribution. If I'm reading the Hokkien right, there's li 'you' (which I think some speakers of Philippine Hokkien would pronounce di), u di 合理 'reasonable', then lok dim 绿林, here 'jungle'.

    Min d-/l- has come up on Language Log before.

    As others have noted, the Spanish isn't very good from the point of view of modern standard varieties, let alone 'perfectly correct'. The missing -le probably doesn't mean much, since the use of those redundant clitics varies a lot across dialects and registers. But I don't think el base occurs among first-language speakers (base is a modern loan from Latin, where it's also feminine). Ditto for pensar las cosas. Also, where are all the acutes gone?

    I do agree that the Spanish is less awkward than the English, which it seems to have influenced.

    Since the Literary Chinese is good if quaint, the Hokkien has been deemed idiomatic, the Tagalog stilted though perhaps correct, the Spanish broken but sort-of-OK, and the English Spanish-laced, and the author is one 林西楼, I'd say the original language is a form of Chinese. At least to the extent that the concept makes sense for a text like this.

    Some of the bugs in the Spanish as reported on this thread could actually be features of Philippine Spanish. This is hard to evaluate as that dialect has few speakers left. On the other hand, Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole, is very much alive. Here's some.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 6:56 pm

    From Susan Chan Egan:

    The phrase book is priceless!

    All my grade school and high school classmates in Manila were Hokkien, and I speak the dialect since first grade. Below is my attempt at translating the Amoy part into standard Chinese characters.



    你所说也是有理,但是lan(我们)初交无(不是吗?), 若果对于爱情的代志,我完全无见识。


    The 绿林 story may refer to Robin Hood and Maid Marian in the Green Wood.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    November 18, 2016 @ 10:42 pm

    From Chia-hui Lu:

    I can recognize about 80% Amoy pron. The third part caught my eyes. Susan Chen Egan's translation is good, but I have some different opinions:

    你所說也是有理,但是咱「初交陪」(chho kao poe),又是 (iu ko) 對於愛情e代誌,我完全無見識。

    "kao poe" 交陪 is common. Very often in my fieldwork I heard local people yelled in wine parties, religious feasts, or festivals "交陪一下啦" (Let's communicate!) In Tainan city, temple's territorial friendship is called 交陪境.

  26. David Marjanović said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

    Interesting that in the English pronunciation, voiced "th" is represented with "d"

    This is almost precisely what happens to the pronunciation of d in Spanish except after n and after a pause.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

    From Bert Scruggs:

    I am taken by the descriptive nature of the phrasebook, each written phrase describes the now lost audible utterance. By coming up with so many translations, transcriptions, and transliterations, the original is almost but not quite captured. Some are more supple than others; the transliterative guide to pronouncing English for Spanish speakers probably fits better than the Classical Chinese fits the original utterance, which, I agree with Jichang Lulu was probably a Sinitc topolect. Your observations on written v. spoken registers probably deserves more attention, too. If it is a phrase book, why the written Classical Chinese? Did it add some credibility to the text? Or, now that I look again at the title of the book, I begin to wonder if this wasn't designed for more literate Chinese merchants and officials who would be negotiating with Hokkien, Tagalog, Spanish, and English speakers.

    Very interesting text, which begs us to question the primacy of any language when several are put together as they are here.

  28. olguin said,

    November 26, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

    ¡brillante! me encantaría tener este libro…

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