Learning (on) Local Terms

The Cantonese dictionaries of two Eighteenth-Century European Traders





Cantonese-Swedish-English, dictionary, zazi, eighteenth century, non-professional translators


This article compares two manuscript dictionaries, that of John Bradby Blake and Johan Pontin. These dictionaries are Cantonese-English and Cantonese-Swedish respectively, and were both created as a result of a stay in the trading hub of Canton in the 1770s. Both dictionaries are shown to follow the word choice, word order and illustrations of Chinese textbooks for language learning, “zazi”. Such zazi were common tools for the linguistic standardisation and schooling reforms of the Qing Empire, but were also used in early European attempts to learn Chinese. Thereby, European efforts to learn Chinese is here shown to follow a Qing imperial pattern, and a non-European structure and logic. The bulk of the scholarship on early sinology in Europe focus on missionaries, and on activities in Beijing. That the two dictionaries studied here translate between European languages and Cantonese, rather than other Chinese dialects, and that they were compiled as part of a commercial, not a scholarly or religious contact, help show the importance also of Canton in the eighteenth century for European-Chinese translation history.

Author Biography

Lisa Hellman, Bonn Centre for Dependency and Slavery Studies, Bonn University

I am currently a leader for of my own research group ‘Coerced Circulation of Knowledge’ at the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn, as well as a Pro Futura Scientia XV fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study. Having earned my PhD at Stockholm University, I have since worked at Freie Universität Berlin and at the University of Tokyo. My most recent book “This house is not a home: European everyday life in Canton and Macao 1730–1830” was published with Brill in 2018; this work received one award in Asian studies and one in maritime history. I further discuss the history of translation in “Drawing the lines: translation and diplomacy in the Central Asian borderlands”, published in the Journal of the History of Ideas (3 : 2021). In my research, I combine sources and literature in a dozen languages to produce work in the intersection between global, social, cultural and maritime history in East and Central Asia.




How to Cite

Hellman, L. (2022). Learning (on) Local Terms: The Cantonese dictionaries of two Eighteenth-Century European Traders . Chronotopos – A Journal of Translation History, 3(1), 32–51. https://doi.org/10.25365/cts-2021-3-1-3