Cantonese learning and documentation in the 19th century

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Traditionally the written mode in Chinese had been limited to wenyanwen, the book language, and local vernaculars were seldom recorded in official documents. However, western missionaries broke this ‘tradition’ after being stationed near the treaty ports. They mastered local Chinese dialects, produced learning materials, and recorded anything they found interesting using romanization. Robert Morrison, the first protestant missionary to China, compiled his Vocabulary of the Canton dialect in 1828 using his own romanization. In the 1840’s Elijah Bridgman and Samuel Williams edited their Chinese textbooks with a more systematic Cantonese romanization, which was used by many other successors. Colloquial Cantonese in the 19th century was thus massively recorded in textbooks and many English journals such as Chinese Recorder or China Review. In this talk, I will attempt to overview the history of Cantonese romanizations created and used by foreigners in the late-Qing to the early Republican era, and to explore how Cantonese was learned.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


Kataoka, S. (2016, April). Cantonese learning and documentation in the 19th century. Paper presented at the Linguistics and Modern Languages Studies Departmental Seminar: Learning and Teaching Chinese as a Second Language, the Education of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.


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