Chinese Pidgin English (Video of the Week)

This is the second “Video of the Week”, but this makes up for missing last week. This video recreates a 19th century Chinese Pidgin English dialogue from time when Hong Kong was a British colony. At this time a pidgin developed to allow the Cantonese speaking residents of Hong Kong to communicate with the English speaking British. This video is helpful because it shows the dialogue as a caption (and I admit I need it). There are some amusing phrases such as “numba wun (#1) ledda” for “your best leather”.

This video is from the University of Hong Kong, so the dialogue should be accurate. But if it weren’t, this would now be considered extremely offensive. As it turns out though, Chinese Pidgin English has given English useful phrases such as having a “look-see”, “long time no see” and “chop chop.” I didn’t realize the origin of these phrases until pretty recently.

What also amazes me is that this language has virtually disappeared from the modern U.S. landscape. For the most part Chinese Americans are depicted as being fluent English speakers with native U.S. accents (even on shows like Hawwaii Five-O. That’s a positive development in most ways, but I think Anglos have somewhat forgotten how different things were…which is why Rosie O’Donell got into serious trouble for invoking this pidgin stereotype.

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