Intercultural Contact as seen in a 19th Century Chinese Text

Author: Michelle Li (Caritas Institute of Higher Education, Hong Kong)
Speaker: Michelle Li
Topic: Language Contact and Change
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


The 16th to 19th century was a period of intense global interactions in China. In this study, I examine a Chinese text entitled The Chinese and English Instructor (1862) to illustrate the impact of globalization, particularly language contact. Compiled by a native Canton merchant Tong Ting Kü, the 6-volume Instructor is a manual for “Chinese to learn English, but at the same time it will enable foreigners to learn Chinese”. It contains extended dialogue on selling tea, chartering ships, conversation with comprador, Shroff, etc. in Cantonese-English-Pidgin English. Chinese Pidgin English is an extinct lingua franca created for interethnic communication. A sample entry is shown in (1).

(1)Iu mat  shik né(Cantonese)  What color do you want? (English) 

    要乜野色的呢 (Cantonese)  喝卡罅都㕭灣  (English)

    㕭灣治渴卡罅 (Pidgin, meaning you wanchee what color) 

The author developed a rigorous phonetic transcription so that different speakers can learn the three languages. Apart from serving as a linguistic record of a trade pidgin, the extent of intercultural contact is also evident in the text. Unlike traditional language manual, the Instructor selects entries which are useful for transactions and communication with foreigners, for example Tariffs of Imports and Exports, Dutyfree and Contraband Goods, names for different nations and people, etc. A close examination of the Instructor shows that in addition to being a valuable source for analyzing the grammar of Chinese Pidgin English; the selection of lexical entries helps us understand the impact of global trade on the diffusion of linguistic, economic and cultural ideas between Chinese people and foreigners.

Keywords: Language contact, Chinese Pidgin English, intercultural communication, globalization, China trade