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Cantonese 粤语 (粵語通) iPhone App

21/05/2012

After a brief hiatus from blogging, I am back to write a short review about a new Cantonese app available on iTunes. “Cantonese 粤语” is a dictionary app, which also includes some “specialised Cantonese grammar books” and numerous example sentences. The app is priced at £1.95($1.99). Before I talk about the many shortcomings of this app, it is worth mentioning that there are lots of apps on iTunes for Cantonese that are so bad I haven’t even bothered to review them. The fact that I am reviewing this app shows that it is at least worthy of some consideration, especially for a learner already proficient in Mandarin. Pleco should be releasing a Cantonese dictionary soon and I am sure, given the company’s track record, it will be more than worth the wait.

My litmus test for any Cantonese dictionary is to search for a Cantonese specific term i.e. a term that is expressed with different characters from its Mandarin equivalent. If one were to search a English-Cantonese dictionary for “angry” and find 生氣, it is a good sign that it is not a true Cantonese dictionary, merely a Mandarin dictionary with Cantonese pronunciations. Similarly, for a Mandarin-Cantonese dictionary, if one searches for 生氣 in Mandarin and the Cantonese equivalent is 生氣 (saang1 hei3) then it is also not really a Cantonese dictionary. If one searches “angry” in Cantodict, the first result is ‘嬲 (nau1/lau1)’ which is the typical way of saying angry in Cantonese. To illustrate how the app fares in this litmus test, I have included some screenshots below.

As can be seen from the picture above, the first major problem with this app is that it doesn’t support traditional characters. Hong Kong is the hub of Cantonese and Cantonese culture so it seems quite strange that a Cantonese app wouldn’t include any traditional characters or support for traditional characters. Parts of Cantonese-speaking Guangzhou do, however, use simplified characters and also the designer of this app seems to be a mainlander (judging by his/her name) so all can be forgiven; I tried my litmus test in simplified characters.

As the pictures shows, only the fourth result contains the character 嬲 and it is in the collocation 發嬲. In my opinion, the first result in the dictionary should ideally be the 嬲 without any collocation because this is the most simple and common way of saying “angry” or 生氣 in Cantonese; however, the non-collocated 嬲 is the fourteenth entry in the list of results. Furthermore, each of the dictionary results cannot be clicked on or copied. The same happened with many other Cantonese specific terms, some of which were not in the dictionary at all. Litmus test: failed.

The ‘specialised Cantonese grammar books’ mentioned in the app description were actually just eight or so pages from what seems to be one Cantonese grammar book. The quality, with regards to both picture and content, isn’t great. The picture below shows the section labelled 特殊句式 (special sentence patterns).

Finally, other shortcomings of the app include the audio and the example sentences. The audio is incorrect in many of the dictionary results and example sentences that I checked (wrong sounds applied to characters). The audio is played character by character, not recorded sentence by sentence and so the example sentences sound incredibly jilted and artificial- on saying this, to my knowledge there aren’t any other Cantonese apps that do any better in this area. Many of the example sentences are also either part Mandarin or fully Mandarin in the way they are written. Consult the pink example in the picture below. 的(dik1) is used instead of the Cantonese 嘅 (ge3), but the Cantonese aspect marker 咗 (zo2) is used, thus giving a strange and unnatural mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin.

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From → Cantonese

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