Site updated Tuesday, November 07, 2006 01:20 PM

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MP shouldn't generalize

The Editor,

Re: "Racism alleged over vanity plate," the News, Nov. 3.

Perhaps MP Raymond Chan uses the term "gweilo" as a derogatory term "worse than 'chink,'" but that is certainly not representative of Cantonese-speakers.

As a native Cantonese speaker, I have never used (or known any other Cantonese-speaker to use) this term to refer to Caucasians with any intention to belittle or offend them. Revoke the vanity plate if it is offensive to some, but for the record, the term "gweilo," literally meaning "ghost man," originated from a description of the white man's complexion and eyes. Any professional translator would tell you that translating the meaning of a phrase from one language to another goes far beyond translating the literal meaning of the words. The term "gweilo" is not even part of the mainstream Chinese language; rather, it is an idiom of a dialect of Chinese, so how can Mr. Chan look at the words at such face value to claim that for a Cantonese-speaking person to call someone a ghost is highly offensive?

While you think about that, consider this: If you search "gweilo" at Wikipedia (an Internet encyclopedia which anyone with an online account can contribute to), which is cited extensively in the article, you will find that the content of this particular entry is under discussion.

Furthermore, the list of references pertaining to the factual aspects of the article does not contain one single scholarly or otherwise credible publication.

In the spirit of multiculturalism, let's encourage respectful discussion instead of making broad generalizations of how a people of a particular race think and speak.

Irene Yu


published on 11/07/2006

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