Date
17 October 2017
Benjamin Au Yeung Wai-hoo, a.k.a. Ben Sir, is a senior lecturer in CUHK's department of Chinese language and literature who doesn't always take life too seriously. Photo: HKEJ
Benjamin Au Yeung Wai-hoo, a.k.a. Ben Sir, is a senior lecturer in CUHK's department of Chinese language and literature who doesn't always take life too seriously. Photo: HKEJ

Delay no more – keep Cantonese alive now, scholar urges

A scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is taking a saucy approach to promoting Cantonese.  

Benjamin Au Yeung Wai-hoo, a.k.a. Ben Sir, is a senior lecturer in CUHK’s department of Chinese language and literature.

His students aren’t the only beneficiaries of his lively sense of humor, as Au Yeung is active on social media and often appears on television.

For instance, in episode 4 of TVB talk show Eat La Men (男人食堂), he delivers a short lecture on Cantonese foul language.

Au Yeung knows whereof he speaks, as he is himself a seasoned practitioner.

On his social media page, in between numerous photos of Ben Sir, his lively posts in written Cantonese are peppered with the language’s large vocabulary of punning, nearly swear words, such as “on9″ (“f**kingly stupid”), in which the number nine shares the same pronunciation with a taboo word for the male sex organ but has a different tone.

The unconventional teacher goes to great lengths to make sure his message is heard loud and clear: keep Cantonese as vibrant as possible, and do not wait to preserve it until it is too late, when it is history.

Au Yeung argues that Antony Leung Kam-chung’s recent advocacy of Putonghua as the medium of instruction in the subject of Chinese language in schools will dilute the “Hongkongness” of Hong Kong, as Cantonese is the city’s signature language.

“It is certain that Putonghua will displace Cantonese more seriously once the Executive Council uses Putonghua in meetings, high-level government officials start speaking Putonghua in response to the media, and so on,” Au Yeung said.

He will continue to do his part to ensure that day is far in the future.

Surprisingly enough, Au Yeung said he is neutral on the question of whether to use simplified rather than traditional Chinese characters.

However, he disapproves of the Education Bureau poking its nose into the matter. He said the bureau’s promotion of the teaching of simplified Chinese characters mainly serves the purpose of provoking Hongkongers, most of whom prefer the traditional forms they are familiar with.

Nonetheless, Au Yeung said, everyone should stay on guard, or else traditional Chinese characters will soon die out.

In the Eat La Men episode, he told his audience there are only five Cantonese characters that are truly “swear words” — one a verb, three nouns for the male sex organ and one for the female sex organ.

“The Cantonese taboo verb works exactly the same as ‘f**k’ in English,” he said.

However, given the flexibility of Cantonese grammar and the wide range of homophones, the five basic taboo characters can be combined into a whole vocabulary of swear words (many of them puns), limited only by the speaker’s creativity.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 12.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

 (Cantonese only)

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DY/JP/FL

Au Yeung, who has recently become a landlord, proudly shared on his Facebook page the tenancy agreement, written in Cantonese and English. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/Ben Sir


While teaching Chinese on TV, Au Yeung often dresses up as different characters. Photo: HKEJ


Au Yeung met his wife while they were both teaching at a primary school. Young Ben Sir (right) acted as Prince Charming in Cinderella in secondary school drama. Photos: HKEJ


Ben Sir past (left) and present. Photo: HKEJ


Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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