English-Chinese Vocabulary of the Vernacular Or Spoken Language of Swatow

English-Chinese Vocabulary of the Vernacular Or Spoken Language of Swatow  (1883) 
Rudolf Lechler, Samuel Wells Williams, William Duffus

Known to Chinese researchers as 《英漢汕頭方言口語詞典》. Romanization: Tiê-chiu Pe̍h-ūe-jī

of the
spoken language

English Presbyterian Mission Press.


This vocabulary is based on a manuscript work prepared about thirty years ago by the Rev. R. Lechler of the Basel Mission, Hongkong, who was the first Protestant Missionary resident in this part of China. Mr Lechler's vocabulary was founded again on one by Dr. S. Wells Williams.

A purpose having been formed to copy Mr Lechler's MS. for personal use, with no further thought regarding it, the suggestion was made to have it printed in the Mission press, and so made available for general use. Hence its appearance in this form.

No time has been taken, because none could be spared, to do much more than rapidly write a copy for the press, making such additions and alterations as were attainable in the circumstances.

From many varieties of dialect found in the Swatow region that has been chosen which is spoken in the city of Ch'ao-chow-foo; and no words or phrases not current there have been knowingly admitted. By this rule many expressions are excluded which must be amongst the most familiar to persons acquainted with the general speech of the Swatow people.

The vocabulary makes no pretension to completeness in any sense. Very many words and idiomatic phrases are omitted; comparatively few of the terms given have been strictly defined and discriminated; for which reason the contents must be used with cautious regard to distinctions of meaning and usage. Years of labour and a very complete knowledge of the unwritten speech of the country would be necessary to make a work of this kind what it ought to be; and the difficulty is immensely increased by the absolute non-existence of native books in the vernacular. The exception of two or three broadsheets of proverbs and ballads is not worth mentioning. But if it be clearly understood that the present vocabulary is merely a collection of useful words, tolerably correct (it may be hoped) so far as it goes, but not by any means a work judged ready for publication, it may escape undue severity of criticism and prove of some service to those who make use of it.

When it is stated that the type-setting and printing have been done by two young men who do not know a word of English, and have not even been trained in the art of printing; and further, that the work has sometimes been hampered by scarcity of type, a kind indulgence will be extended to any typographical shortcomings.

Whatever errors may be found to exist in the vocabulary, it is quite certain that their number would have been much greatter but for the kind assistance of Miss C. M. Ricketts and the Rev. H. L. Mackenzie in correcting the proof sheets; and the Medical terms owe very much to their revision by Dr Alexander Lyall.

While any benefit to be derived from the vocabulary must be credited to its original author, Mr Lechler, enough has been changed and added to remove from him all responsibility for its mistakes and faults.

It may be confessed that one motive for printing this vocabulary was the hope of raising some funds for the support of the Mission Press, most of its work being unremunerative.

English Presbyterian Mission, William Duffus.

Swatow—July, 1883.


There are many matters which it would be interesting and useful, and even indispensable, to set forth in the introduction to a complete Dictionary of this language, but from causes already referred to, most of them cannot even be touched upon here. A few notes, however, are imperatively necessary.


a pronounced like a in far
e e bed
i ee seen.
o aw saw, but a little more open.
u u put, rude.
nearly as u in lowland Scotch abune;
or eu in French heure.


ai, au, oa, oai, oi, ou, ua, ui. In all these each vowel is pronounced with its own proper sound.


The consonants are nearly all as in English.

ch0ch is pronounced as in church.

ch0g is always hard as in go; never as in gin.

ch0h is always sounded except when final.

ch0j is pronounced as in jet.

ch0ng, as in sing, ring.

ch0s, always as in so, sing; never as in lose.

ch0z, always as ds or da; never as in zeal, zone.

k and t as finals are so much alike as to be scarcely distinguishable.

m and ng will be found written without any vowel (e.g. n̂g, m̃); often also preceded by a consonant (e.g. hm̄, sńg, kng, hñg). "The nature of these syllables without a distinct vowel becomes at once unmistakable in singing, as at such a word all 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, th, ph and chh. 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'."[1] The other aspirated consonants might be illustrated in a similar manner.

[ch is not an aspirated consonant — see above.]


Any attempt to write the colloquial language of Swatow without indicating the tones carries its condemnation on the face of it. It is utterly impossible to speak intelligibly while disregarding this essential feature.

There are four great classes of tones—1st, Phêⁿ (or, Pêⁿ); 2d, Siãng; 3d, Khṳ̀; 4th, Ji̍p. In the Swatow Colloquial eight separate tones are distinguished from one another:—

1. chiēⁿ-phêⁿ as saⁿ, a coat.
2. ẽ-phêⁿ nâng, a man.
3. siãng-siaⁿ hái, the sea.
4. chiēⁿ-khṳ̀ sì, the world.
5. ẽ-khṳ̀ lĩ, profit.
6. khṳ̀-siaⁿ bō, a cap.
7. chiēⁿ-ji̍p pat, to know.
8. ẽ-ji̍p pa̍t, another.

In combinations of two or more syllables, very important modifications occur in the tones. A learner is apt to think tliat, the tone of a word having been once fixed, he will find it the same in all circumstances, and to be surprised when he hears familiar words pronounced in quite another tone. It would be difficult, and is quite unnecessary, to describe here the characters of the various tones and the changes which they undergo in combination, as they can be most easily and correctly learnt by listening to the speech of a native.


A small ⁿ written above the line at the end of a syllable indicates that the whole syllable becomes nasal. In words beginning with m, n, and ng this symbol has been in some cases omitted where it ought to have been written.


The general idea involved in the use of hyphens is to link together those syllables which are so closely connected that the tones of certain of them are affected by the connexion. This principle, however, is not carried out to the full extent, because in many cases the words thus influencing one another would be too numerous to link together in this manner.

A double hyphen implies that the word preceding it retains its own proper tone in full force, and that the word or words following it are either enclitic or unaccented, and as far as possible deprived of distinctive tonal character.

The use of hyphens, though most essential, is yet difficult to regulate by any stringent law, and much must be left to discretion.


On the next page are a few errors, chiefly misprints, which have been observed. It would be too much to hope that many more will not appear afterwards.

advance, for saiⁿ read soiⁿ.
bed, tsṳ tsṳ̂.
blue, vitriol, see under vitriol, more correct'.
broil, for mãuⁿ read nãuⁿ.
calamity, tshou tshôu.
calibre, chhéng chhèng.
chair, kiè kiē.
collision, tiāⁿ tiaⁿ.
consider, tà.
cornice, chhieⁿ chhiêⁿ.
cumbersome, lūi thūi.
delicate bî.
disguise, pān pàn.
dispute, tshâu tshàu.
enter, jip-tiâⁿ ji̍p-tiâⁿ.
flesh, se̍k sek.
fold (1st line) áiⁿ àiⁿ.
force, khṳ́ (twice) khṳ̀.
giant, hãn hàn.
glare, chie chiè.
go (5th line) tshṳ̀ tshù.
heir, zûi zũi.
hush, hua hûa.
insignificant, kàu hô-kàu.
intelligible, koi (twice) kōi.
joint, ku̍t kut.
jostle, ói (twice) oi.
likely, siaⁿ siâⁿ.
magnanimous hêng heng.
make, a loss up a loss.
name, pĩⁿ pĩ.
new, your year.
nipples, nîⁿ niⁿ.
pronounce, táⁿ tàⁿ.
revenge, after pò-chhiû insert semi-colon.
rust for kuah read kauh.
secret, sia sai.
series, after pín-lie̍t insert semi-colon.
tack, for hùe read kùe.
taint, ma̍k mak.
thief, tsa̍t tsha̍t.
tumult, kã and ka kâ.
unspeakable, tie̍h-uân tie̍h uân̄.
with (5th line) chhiū chhiú.
worse, zú.

  1. From Dr. Carstairs Douglas's admirable Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular, an invaluable work to the student of the closely allied vernacular of Swatow.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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