Book Reviews

Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip. 1994. Cantonese: a Comprehensive Grammar. London: Routledge. (first edition)

The Japanese translation of Cantonese: a Comprehensive Grammar by Matthews and Yip (London: Routledge1994) is translated by Eiichi Chishima Shin Kataoka

Reviews of Matthews and Yip (1994) include the following:

Readers' Responses (edited version)

Margo Mathews, Los Angeles, USA

Dear Professors,

The on line audio recordings are a great help.

Cantonese is such a wonderful and amazing language. I hope more people try to learn Cantonese here in Los Angeles,
because there are many people like my son’s friend who are trying hard to learn English.

Thanks for your help,

Margo Mathews
Los Angeles


Tobias Wolny, Berlin Germany

Dear Professor Matthews and Professor Yip,

it is with a feeling of gratitude that I am writing these lines to the two of you. I have read two of your books with great interest, and I would like to take this opportunity to ask you for advice.

As for my background, I am a German national, based in Berlin, working as press spokesperson for a large international energy company. Admittedly, this does not sound like having much in common with Cantonese, so please allow me to go back a little:

I used to live in Hong Kong from 1980-1985. I attended the German Swiss International School at the time. (And I was the co-founder of the then well-known teenage rock band Far East Exchange!).

I am particularly interested in foreign languages and have learnt quite a few since that time (among them Russian and Czech). However, the one thing that I regret to this day is that I did not learn Cantonese while living in Hong Kong or thereafter. This is the one piece that is still missing!

Around a year ago I decided to address this. Together with my German friend Thomas Auer (who also lived in Hong Kong 30 years ago and who also played in the above mentioned band - I have copied him into this e-mail) I decided to finally learn Cantonese. Easier said than done, when you don't have any teachers or appropriate literature at hand.

So Thomas and I learnt about the concept of Yale romanization and then purchased via Amazon Gregory James' Colloquial Cantonese as well as the two grammars that you wrote.

Subsequently we got to know a Cantonese chemistry student here in Berlin who would teach us the basics and help us with the exercises in your books. Whenever Thomas and I get together to play guitar (old songs from Hong Kong), we discuss specific chapters in your book and try to speak Cantonese to each other.

I have diligently worked through your first book and am currently working on Chapter 13 of the second book (whenever my job and family grant me time to do so). I find both books excellent and would like to let you know that reading and enjoying them I became even more determined to learn Cantonese. Hence the gratitude that I referred to above.

I suppose my Cantonese aspirations are somewhat unusual: I am not a linguist/sinologist; I don't need the language for work, I live far away from Hong Kong and travel there only every 5-7 years. And I don't know Mandarin.

Since I will hopefully have worked my way through the "Intermediate Cantonese" book sometime this spring, I would like to ask you for advice regarding the following questions:

- What could I do next to improve my Cantonese? (basically as a self teaching learner, who can devote ca. 2-3 hours a weeks to the subject)
- Are there advanced workbooks in Yale romanization that you have written/can recommend to me?
- Can you recommend any sources (e.g. on the Internet) so that I can improve my very limited oral comprehension skills?
- I am thinking about learning how to write in Chinese. Do you recommend that I learn traditional or simplified characters? Workbooks for beginners with traditional characters are hard to come by over here, so I would like to know if it is possible (and makes sense) to learn Cantonese with simplified characters.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Tobias Wolny

Dear Tobias,

Many thanks for writing. We are always pleased to hear from readers, and your story is especially interesting. Probably your early experience hearing the language will give you an advantage, at least that's what the research suggests.

We have just published a revised edition (2011) of our Cantonese: A Comrprehensive Grammar (Routledge, 2011), so this would be one way to continue with your learning of Cantonese (it's intended for reference purposes). The main difference is the addition of Cantonese characters for all the example sentences, so you could also learn some written Cantonese from it.

Unfortunately it is difficult to find Cantonese characters in simplified form. This is possible and does exist in parts of Guangdong province (we think this is mentioned in Donald Snow's book, Cantonese as Written Language) but in practice Hong Kong itself is the centre of written Cantonese, and there it's all traditional characters.

Another way would be through some of the workbooks. Our friends Cream Lee Yin-Ping and Shin Kataoka have wirtten a number of workbooks, such as "Wedding Bells" with an accompanying CD, and their "Fun with Cantonese" series. These are published locally by Greenwood Press. Not sure if you can order them by internet but we could put you in touch with the publishers. They also publish some textbooks by Esther Chow and Betty Hung who teach Cantonese at the Univeristy of Hong Kong.

For aural comprehension, if you can buy or rent Cantonese movies with subtitles that is a good way to learn. Adam Sheik's website in the UK has some useful resources like discussion groups and a dictionary.

Meanwhile in Berlin, you may find that you can talk Cantonese to Chinese in restaurants: even though the staff may be from other dialect groups, they usually know some Cantonese as it serves as a lingua franca among overseas Chinese people. At least that has been our experience in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Please let us know if we can help more.

Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip


Waiming Chan, Bangor University, UK


我嘅爸爸今日畀"廣東話語法"送我。 我想要話多謝你哋,一定會好有幫助。 我住喺英國(威爾斯)學緊廣東話,好難因為冇人識個語法。I am half-Chinese, born in the UK, and I only learned English as a child.

It’s hard to learn Cantonese here because I don’t live near any other speakers, and there is so little teaching and reading material available for Cantonese learners. (Even compared to Welsh! I work in Welsh linguistics in Bangor University, and learners are very lucky because there is so much specially designed material). Your new grammar book with characters will be an enormous boost to my Cantonese: together with Cantodict, Cantonese Wikipedia and children’s DVDs I hope it will make 2011 a breakthrough year for me. It is just in time because I now have a baby daughter and I hope to pass on some Cantonese to her. So thank you once again, and sorry if your inboxes are overflowing with thank you messages!


Waiming Chan (UK)


Many thanks for your kind replies. I would be delighted for you to post my message on your website. I must say I’m a fan of your work:
one of the inspirations for me to try and pass on some Cantonese to my daughter was reading your book, The Bilingual Child, and its quotes of your children’s most charming childhood speech development :-)

第二個靈感係搵到好多細路嘅光碟,尤其 "芝麻街" (Sesame Street) ,我個女覺得好好睇,重有英文subtitles 幫我!I am very interested in your Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre; you seem to be doing really important and pioneering work. I am loosely connected with the ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Bangor University (see ) -- I am currently working on improvements to our Welsh spelling/grammar checking software and language aids for second language learners.

Anyway, thank you once more for this most valuable resource!
Waiming Chan (UK)


Genevieve Leung & Ming-Hsuan Wu
Department of Educational Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Dear Profs. Yip and Matthews,

We were both very excited to see your abstract for the Heritage Summer Research Institute, as it is a topic that we have both academic and personal stakes in studying.  Ming-Hsuan is from Taiwan and speaks Hakka, Taiwanese, and Mandarin.  She has been involved with teaching Mandarin for the STARTALK program.  Genevieve is Chinese American and speaks Cantonese and Hoisan-wa.

We’re sure you’re quite aware, for the case of California, the demographics of the Chinese American population has, for over 150 years, been composed of Cantonese and Hoisan-wa speakers whose experiences have not at all been recognized in the contemporary Mandarin language classroom.  We are particularly curious as to whether you were taking your research into U.S. classrooms and whether you encountered any obstacles in promoting a more pluralist view of Chineses in the language education field. If so, we would be very interested in hearing more about them.  Ming’s dissertation research looks at Cantonese- or Fujianese-speaking students' experiences in the Mandarin heritage language classrooms in an urban school in Philly, and Genevieve’s is about Cantonese and Hoisan-wa cultural language maintenance in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We’ve read some of your articles on bilingualism (and Genevieve uses your Cantonese grammar book to teach her class!) and really respect your work.  Ming-Hsuan will be attending the Heritage Summer Research Institute and will be passing her notes back to Genevieve.  Both of us are so happy that you are providing this much-needed perspective to the Institute!   We hope to hear from you soon.

Genevieve and Ming-Hsuan

Dear Genevieve and Ming-Hsuan,

Thank you for writing to us and sharing your views on Chinese as heritage language. We’re very encouraged and touched by your personal experiences in confronting the academic and personal issues with regard to the prevalent prejudices and misconceptions of what “Chinese” is. Just as there are many varieties of English, Chinese encompasses just as many or more varieties which are mutually unintelligible to each other. Mandarin being the variety with the highest prestige and greatest number of speakers may seem to be the sole representative of Chinese as perceived by people who don’t know much about Chinese. We can see why you are considered marginalized “Chinese” speakers and language instructors in the U.S.

We applaud your efforts in combating these strongly entrenched views in academia and pedagogy. In our research and publications, we make very strong claims about the need to recognize the diversity of Chinese languages. In particular, we show how different Cantonese and Mandarin can be in various grammatical domains. To heritage speakers, we hope to get the message across that Cantonese is part of the identity of the speakers and Cantonese is an important heritage to be preserved and transmitted to generations of children. It's nice to know that our grammar is used for this purpose. Right now we're working on the revised edition which includes characters for the examples and should be ready for publication soon. Thank you for using our books and showing support for our work.

Great to know that you will co-present at the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages in Madison, Wisconsin. Hope all goes well with your presentation. Your title is excellent and provocative, calling for an inclusion of multiple Chineses in 'Chinese' language pedagogy. We'd be glad to read your paper or ppt to get to know your work better.

With warm regards,

Virginia and Steve


Mark Bublitz

Dear Profs Yip & Matthews,

Dōjeh léihdeih je jēung séung ngóh wo, hóu hóusāmdéi.  (多謝你哋借張相我喎, 好好心哋)

Attached is my book review, as you requested. I appreciate the fact that you wrote the book : ). It has been very helpful to me in learning Cantonese during the past few months. I'm understanding more and more of the Hong Kong TV shows I watch in conjunction with reading your book (it helps that your book is packed with useful vocabulary, something I didn't mention in my review). 

I think my Cantonese-speaking friends will be impressed when I meet them again in the fall  :)  !

Joi gin, (再見)

Bāt mauh yàhn ( 畢茂仁)
Mark Bublitz


Shan Shan Chan
Department of Speech, Language, and Audiology, City University of New York , USA

Dear Prof. Yip,

I will be graduating with a bachelor degree at the end of May. I have applied to six graduate schools and thankfully I get accepted by four of them. My language background and my understanding of these languages played a very important role in my acceptance by these schools. Most programs of Speech Language Pathology in the US values bilingual therapists, especially those who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin. Therefore, I am really proud of what I can speak.

Many of my American classmates and Speech Language Pathologists I know have suggested to me that they wish they knew Cantonese and Mandarin. As I told you before, we have a lot of discussions of the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin and which of them has more speakers in the US. Since last semester, I have felt that there are more and more Cantonese speakers in New York City. Some of them do not have Cantonese as first dialect and they know Mandarin and one more dialect along with Cantonese at the same time. I found out this because Chinese people on the street always ask me for direction or help in Cantonese no matter in which area in NYC.

I look forward to hearing and seeing you in future.

Shan Shan Chan


Dear Prof. Yip,

I am now working for a professor who is doing a bilingual (Chinese and English) language development research project. Since I have to process data of subjects who speak different Chinese dialects, I want to have a better understanding of my native dialect, Cantonese.

I am now reading the book you co-author with Mr. Stephen Matthews, Cantonese: A comprehensive grammar. The book is very well-written in the way that it enriches my knowledge of Cantonese.

I am wondering if this book has an English version with Chinese explanation? If this version is available, Chinese readers will feel more comfortable reading it. Actually, more and more Non-Cantonese speaking Chinese people in New York are very eager to learn Cantonese.

Therefore, I would very much love to recommend your book to my Mandarin and Fuchowese speaking Chinese friends who are going to learn Cantonese.

Shan Shan Chan

Marty Schmidt
High school Humanities teacher, Hong Kong

Dear Virginia,

I would appreciate if you could take a moment to respond to a practical question about my son's schooling or point me in the direction towards some journal articles that I could read.

I have lived in Hong Kong for 16 years - I am a high school Humanities teacher at the Hong Kong International School - and have used your books to help me on my ongoing journey towards Cantonese acquisition.  (Your comprehensive grammar book is a tremendous resource!)

My wife is Hong Kong Eurasian (although she looks quite Chinese) whose English is better than her Cantonese.  My Cantonese is upper intermediate/lower advanced and I continue to try to learn as time permits.  Our eldest daughter attends HKIS, but Micah, our adopted almost 4-year old son from Hong Kong, is attending local nursery school. Right now he is fairly bilingual.  We speak at least 80% English at home, but often pepper our conversations with Cantonese words and phrases. 

Can you give any advice about when to bring our son from the local school to HKIS (or possibly another school)?  We feel it's especially important for Micah, who is 100% Chinese from HK, to learn Cantonese. We want to leave him in local schools for at least a couple more years, but we're not sure how long.  As a teacher, I've seen local kids that are not good thinkers/speakers/writers in either language.  We know of a couple who adopted two children and brought them to HKIS in 3rd and 1st grade; both kids were started behind and remain behind in their English acquisition.

Part of me thinks so much depends on the individual student.  At this point, though, it's hard for me to say what kind of "student" our little Micah will be.

Any help you can give towards his language acquisition would be most appreciated.


Marty Schmidt

Matt Theodos
Cantonese Student of 7 years study, USA

Dear Professor Yip,

My name is Matt Theodhos. Forgive the forwardness of e-mailing you directly, I got your email address by doing a google search. I’m emailing because I’m a Cantonese student of 7 years study and can also read and write characters [though i do not speak mandarin]; I’ve been trying to find a copy of the translation of diary of a yuppie that you quote in the foreword of your Cantonese grammar, but have been unable to even locate more than passing reference to it. could you please let me know at least the isbn #, if not a venue from which I can obtain the book?

It would be greatly appreciated!! although I do write & read characters quite well, I’m much more enthused about reading actual literature [other than really disinteresting entertainment news out of of H.K.] in my chosen dialect than in written standard at this point in my development. I work at Schoenhofs, which is the only foreign language bookstore in the U.S., & by default head the "Asian languages dept." since I’m the only member of the staff that speaks a language that gets past the Russian border...even when I went to San Francisco a few months ago I found no help at any of the Chinese bookstores I visited there...with one store owner, if it wasn’t kung fu related he didn't even want to talk to me about anything, in Cantonese or in English; and he even had your grammar up on display!

Again, any help you give me would be sincerely & greatly appreciated.

Doh dzeh saai in advance for any help you can give me,


Dear Matt,

Thanks for writing, it’s always nice to hear from a Cantonese fan.

My husband and I have co-authored a series of books on Cantonese grammar and we did mention Diary of a Yuppie 'Siu Laamyan Jaugei' in our 1994 book.
Books in this series were published in the 1980s, under a pseudonym ('Ah Foon'). As far as we know they were written directly in Cantonese (and also made into a movie, 'Siu Laamyan Jaugei' which may be easier to find).

Following the success of the 'Siu Laamyan' series (vols. 1-8!), there were some others in a similar style, notably a kind of epistolary novel. Then the publisher went out of business! This story is told in an interesting book on Written Cantonese by on Snow, to be published by HKU Press but not yet available. He says the books are being reprinted by a new publisher, but we have yet to see them on sale.

My husband has a collection of these books (it's the only kind of Chinese he can really read!) and would be glad to send you a spare one. Apparently he gets them from second-hand bookstores in HK. They are almost unique in being full of Cantonese colloquialisms and occasionally mixed with English words and expressions, as opposed to more or less standard Chinese mixed with Cantonese dialogue which is common in casual publications.

A word of warning: these books are frowned upon by literate Chinese people. My husband's students disapprove of his owning them, and have lent him some 'better' paperback novels. But Stephen in turn complains that these are 'not pure Cantonese'!

Maybe you know the on-line 'phorum' for Cantonese learners, run by Adam Sheikh (just Google his name) in the UK? They like to discuss such things.
Good luck with learning Cantonese!

Virginia & Stephen