It rained ice in Sydney the other day.
I translated Jeff Schwaner’s recent poem and read it on a voice file for him. Afterwards I realised that I’d mispronounced the word ‘hail’ 雹 in Cantonese.
I’ve been trying to learn Putonghua; it is the official dialect in China and though I am making progress, it has a detrimental effect on my mother tongue. A language that has one written form and many different pronunciations is confusing; I guess that’s why the government chose Putonghua only for governance, schools and the media.
For me, who learnt to read in Cantonese, it’s havoc. However, I persist because a language not used becomes extinct, and Cantonese is under threat.
At least the writing is the same, in this case. China has simplified its written language and left me behind with the traditional form (which is still being used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, but that’s only thirty million people).
The word ‘hail’ belongs to the word family (what is called ‘radical’) of 雨，that is, ‘rain’. The traditional form of words in that family includes: ‘cloud’ 雲，‘snow’ 雪，’electricity‘ 電，‘thunder’ 雷，’frost‘ 霜，’fog‘ 霧，and ’dew‘ 露 amongst many others. You can see that they all contain the word ‘rain’ 雨 in their composition.
When China simplified their written language, they deleted the ‘rain’ 雨 component from some members of the family. For example, ‘cloud’ is now 云 instead of 雲, ‘electricity’ is now 电 instead of 電. The rest of the family I mentioned here, fortunately, escaped beheading and kept their association with 雨 rain.
It makes me wonder, how does 云 (cloud) give rain in the absence of 雨？