Handbook of the Swatow Vernacular modernized

Preface to the modernized edition edit

This is a version of Handbook of the Swatow Vernacular by Lim Hiong Seng, originally published in 1886. The original has been digitized and transcribed on Wikisource.

The original edition used phonetic spelling adapted from missionary romanization systems, and also included Chinese characters that were glosses into Mandarin or literary Chinese, rather than characters reflecting actual Teochew usage. In this modernized edition, we have added the Guangdong Education Department 1960 Pêng'im and the Tîe-lô systems of phonetic spelling as well as Teochew vernacular characters. The symbol ~ is used when a generally accepted character is not known.

Original Chinese Preface (1886) edit








於此基之矣爰為之誌 潮州林雄成著集


Original English Preface (1886) edit

The present work differs in one respect from all other works on the Swatow language previously published, as it has been compiled by one to whom it is a mother tongue and who has learned English, instead of by a European who has learned Chinese, so that it has been possible to confine the sentences strictly to the colloquial form. It is almost impossible for a European to compile any such aid so as to be entirely colloquial, because he commences his first study of the language by engaging a Chinese teacher and acquires his knowledge of Chinese principally from that class. These teachers are in the habit of importing into their speech a certain number of “bookish” words, that is, words which are only used in the written language, and are never used in the colloquial, and are not therefore understood by the people in general. To acquire the pure colloquial it is better to start with the early study of the language from another class rather than from a pedant like the teacher class. Learned men indeed add a few polite or pedantic phrases, but these are only used on certain occasions and are mere excrescences.

The chief disadvantage of inserting book words in phrase books is that the student after discovering that a certain number of words given therein when used are not understood by the people, is led to doubt whether some other words used would be understood. Thus the student has to enquire and ascertain those words which may seem to him doubtful before he uses them. Readers of the present work will be able to use every word occurring throughout the whole volume without having any doubt of its being understood.

The following is the system of orthography employed.


a as a in far, never as in man.

e „ e „ they

i „ i „ machine, not as in tin, sin.

o „ aw „ law

u „ u „ rude

ṳ „ ü „ Trübner


In all the diphthongs each vowel is heard distinctly with its own proper sound.

ai as y in fly

au „ ow „ cow

oi „ oy „ boy

ou nearly „ ou „ four

ua „ wa „ war

ui „ wee „ weed


Most of the consonants are pronounced as in English, or very nearly so.

ch—always as in cheese. g—is always hard.

h—is always pronounced, except when final.

j—always as in judge.

ng—as in king, cut off ki will leave the exact nasal sound of ng.

s—as in song, never as in choose, lose.

z—always as ds or dz; never as in zeal, zone.

k, p, and t,—as final consonants are pronounced without the slightest emission of vocal breath as there usually is in pronouncing English.

m and ng—will be found written without any vowel (e. g. n̂g, m̄, ḿ); often also preceded by a consonant (e. g. sng, hñg, kng) “The nature of these syllables without a distinct vowel becomes at once unmistakable in singing, as at such a word all clear vocal sound at once ceases, and nothing is heard but a dull nasal murmur.

“The Aspirated Consonants are a very remarkable feature in all the languages of China, and require very special attention. They are kh, ph, th, chh, and tsh. The sounds are the same as those indicated by the same notation in the languages of India, being formed by a real distinct aspiration pronounced after the respective consonants………………The sounds are almost the same as those often used by Irishmen when pronouncing with a strong brogue such words as come, pig, &c.; they are also often heard in the mouths of the Scottish Highlanders.

“kh—may be thus described:—Pronounce……………look here! rapidly and clearly, cut off loo- and -re, and you have the Chinese “khi.” “ph—might be illustrated in a similar manner;—e. g. say loophole very rapidly and sharply, cut off loo- and -le from the two ends, and there remains the Chinese “pho.”

“th—must not be confounded with the English th, which is really a simple sound. The Chinese th is a clear distinct t followed by the aspirate. Thus the Chinese “thau” may be carved out of out-house or hot-house.

“chh—is formed in a similar way from the ch of church. Take such a word as watch-house or coach-house, remove the wa- or coa- from the beginning and the -se from the end, and something very near the Chinese “chhau” remains.[1]

tsh—is almost the same as chh, the slight difference it has is that there is not so much sound of h as in chh.

ch—is not an aspirated consonant as explained above, it is always pronounced as in cheese.

A small ⁿ written above the line at the end of a syllable indicates that the whole syllable becomes nasal. From the various dialects in the Swatow region that of the Departmental city known as Ch’ao-chow-foo, (or Tie-chiu-hu in this dialect,) has been chosen, although that of the department of Theng Hai is more extensively spoken in Singapore and perhaps in Swatow also. This work makes no pretence of being more than introductory, and the sentences are such as may be heard from the lips of the native in every day use, while the little dictionary attached to it will undoubtedly be found useful. For many English words there are several Chinese colloquial equivalents, and in the little dictionary two or more of these are frequently given. But there are, no doubt, others which have been inadvertently omitted, and in case of doubt as to any word which does not appear, the student will have no difficulty in ascertaining whether the word that is omitted is in common use, as he can enquire from any one who speaks the dialect, however uneducated he may be.

In conclusion the author has to thank the Rev. J. A. B. Cook for aid in bringing out the work.


Singapore, February, 1886.

Contents edit