Thursday, February 19, 2009

Insane Amoy Dialect?

Bill Brown ... Xiamen University
Ann Mackenzie-Grieve's husband came to Xiamen in the 1940s to learn the Amoy Dialect, which some thought would cause insanity! In her book "Race of Green Ginger" she humorously relates:

'I'm sure you'll find Chinese culture is worth studying,' said Mrs. Roots, 'but there don't seem to be any of those useful courses that you find at home about European culture. Why, I studied Dante in a very clear twelve-lesson course when Mr. Roots and I stayed in Italy.'

'You should tell your husband, Mrs. Theobald, to write one for the ladies, instead ofworking all those years on his dictionary.'

Mrs. Danvers leaned across to the bridge table. She made a point of being nice to the missionaries [of the Amoy Misson], she told me later. 'I hardly think that Mr. Theobald could help you there. Chinese culture is a complicated subject, you know. And he's given all his time to the local language and customs.’

‘People say you get peculiar if you study Chinese too long.', Mrs. Jones of the Customs addressed her remark to Mrs. Theobald quite kindly. I concluded that she believed the sanity of missionaries to be somehow immune.

Mrs. Weeks, the doctor's wife, said: 'I knew a man who put snakes in his wife's bed; he was terribly good at Chinese.'
…I should have to risk the snakes. Cyril [her husband] had to learn the language-that was why we were in Kulangsu. Apart from all cultural and social considerations, I, being borne in a sedan chair about the island, unable to make any sound which conveyed the least shred of meaning to the bearers, was even prepared to risk mental derangement. Mackenzie-Grieves, 1959, p. 29,30

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