Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/585

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575
"PIGEON ENGLISH."

brief, is so unlike any other mode of pleasure as to be preferable to a long duration of the more commonplace satisfactions. He will reason further that the anticipation and review of such supreme delights, extending through the whole intervals of their recurrence, may, by removing the dreary sense of ennui and melancholy which people often experience amid the monotonous surroundings of ordinary life, so far increase the value of the exciting pleasures as to make it the part of wisdom to secure them, even at the sacrifice of some amount of daily comfort. In this way it appears possible to preserve a considerable degree of susceptibility to the more stimulating class of enjoyments, and yet to carry out with a fair amount of consistency a prudential regulation of the various pleasures of life. In other words a keen relish for excitement, if only, restrained by a strong wll and directed by a clear judgment, seems to be perfectly compatible with a resolve to seek the greatest amount of happiness attainable.




From The Pall Mall Gazette.

"PIGEON ENGLISH."

It is quite possible that before very long the shout "You wan-che one pe-sze boat?" which greets the ears of every visitor to Hong Kong as the anchor drops into the still waters which lie at the base of Victoria peak will be no more heard. At last English merchants are beginning to be ashamed of making use of a jargon which would never have existed but for their strange unwillingness to acquire even a smattering of the language spoken by the people among whom they were destined to live. Grammars, dictionaries, and vocabularies in the local dialects are now beginning to find their way into houses into which they have never hitherto been admitted, and some masters and mistresses have set an example which it is to be hoped will be followed — of communicating with their servants in Chinese, even though they speak it imperfectly, to the exclusion of the gibberish which up to this time has been their solitary means of intercommunication. On the other hand, a generation of Chinaman is growing up which has learned to speak English grammatically in the schools established at Hong Kong and at the treaty ports. There is therefore some prospect that, what between English-speaking Chinamen and Chinese-speaking Englishmen, that diseased growth yclept "pigeon English" will soon cease to exist.

A certain amount of interest must always attach to any form of speech which has acquired even a temporary separate existence, and this at least "pigeon English" can plead for itself. It is too soon yet to pronounce a funeral oration over it, but as opposing forces proclaim that its days are numbered, and as very little is known in England of the rubbish which our countrymen are talking in China, it may not be out of place to glance briefly at its origin and characteristics.

To call it English, even when qualified by the word "pigeon"(i.e. "business"), is a misnomer. It is a mixture of English and Portuguese words tortured into Chinese idioms, and when it is added that only a very small percentage of these words are at all correctly pronounced, the outcome may be imagined. Only a few specimens of this lingo have found their way into English literature. The parodies on "Excelsior" and "My name is Norval," which begin, "That nightey time begin chop-chop," and "My name belongey Norval," are, with few exceptions, the only scraps we have on record. But these lines, absurd as they are, are improvements on "pigeon English" pure and simple. This is to be found only in the native vocabularies published for the benefit of compradores and servants entering the service of English masters. We may take one as a specimen of this class of work. It is a little volume of some twelve or fifteen pages, and is entitled "A Vocabulary of Words in common use among the Red-haired People." Its outer cover is adorned with a full-length portrait of one of the red-haired race dressed in the costume of the Georgian period, in breeches and stockings, and armed with stick and sword.

The author begins with the English numerals, and gets over "one" and "two" very creditably, but "te-le"is his nearest approach to "three" the letter r is an insuperable difficulty to a Chinaman—"sik-sze" to "six," and "sam"to "seven." "Ten" he pronounces, as though he had been tutored in the Emerald Isle, "tin;" "lim" stands for "eleven," "tui-lip" for "twelve," "toon-te" for "twenty," "one huntoon" for "a hundred," "one taou-shan" for "a thousand." In Chinese there is always inserted between the numeral and the substantive to which it applies a word which it is customary to call a classifier, since it points to the kind of object represented by the sub-