Cantonese, or Standard Cantonese, is a variety of the Chinese language
Guangzhou (historically known as Canton) and its
vicinity in southeastern China. It is the traditional prestige variety
of Yue, one of the major subdivisions of Chinese.
In mainland China, it is the lingua franca of the province of
Guangdong, being the majority language of the Pearl River Delta, and
neighbouring areas such as Guangxi. It is the dominant and official
Hong Kong and Macau.
Cantonese is also widely spoken
amongst overseas Chinese in
Southeast Asia (most notably in Vietnam
and Malaysia, as well as in
Cambodia to a lesser extent)
and throughout the Western world.
While the term
Cantonese refers narrowly to the prestige variety, it
is often used in a broader sense for the entire Yue subdivision of
Chinese, including related but largely mutually unintelligible
languages such as Taishanese. When
Cantonese and the closely related
Yuehai dialects are classified together, there are about 80 million
Cantonese is viewed as a vital part of the cultural
identity for its native speakers across large swaths of southeastern
Hong Kong and Macau.
Cantonese shares some vocabulary with Mandarin, the two
varieties are mutually unintelligible because of differences in
pronunciation, grammar and lexicon. Sentence structure, in particular
the placement of verbs, sometimes differs between the two varieties. A
notable difference between
Cantonese and Mandarin is how the spoken
word is written; both can be recorded verbatim, but very few Cantonese
speakers are knowledgeable in the full
Cantonese written vocabulary,
so a non-verbatim formalised written form is adopted, which is more
akin to the Mandarin written form. This results in the situation
in which a
Cantonese and a Mandarin text may look similar but are
pronounced differently. Additionally, for the necessary verbatim use
of auxiliary words, for example in online chatting and arrest record,
people use specific coinage characters for the same pronunciation
which obeys the creating rule of Mandarin.
2 Geographic distribution
Hong Kong and Macau
2.3 Southeast Asia
2.4 North America
2.4.1 United States
2.5 Western Europe
2.5.1 United Kingdom
4 Substrate influences
5 Cultural role
6.1 Initials and finals
7 Written Cantonese
8.1 Early Western effort
Cantonese romanization in Hong Kong
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
In English, the term "Cantonese" is ambiguous.
Cantonese proper is the
variety native to the city of Canton, which is the traditional English
name of Guangzhou. This narrow sense may be specified as "Canton
language" or "
Guangzhou language" in English.
However, "Cantonese" may also refer to the primary branch of Cantonese
Cantonese proper as well as
Taishanese and Gaoyang; this
broader usage may be specified as "Yue" (s粤; t粵). In this article,
"Cantonese" is used for
Historically, speakers called this variety "Canton speech" or
Guangzhou speech" (广州话; 廣州話; Gwóngjāu wá), although
this term is now seldom used outside mainland China. In Guangdong
province, people also call it "provincial capital speech" (省城话;
省城話; Sáangsìng wá) or "plain speech" (白话; 白話; Baahk
Hong Kong and Macau, as well as among overseas Chinese communities,
the language is referred to as "
Guangdong speech" (广东话;
廣東話; Gwóngdūng wá) or simply "Chinese" (Chinese: 中文;
Cantonese Yale: Jūngmán). In mainland China, the term
Guangdong speech" is also increasingly being used among both native
and non-native speakers. Given the history of the development of Yue
dialects during the
Tang dynasty migrations to the region, in overseas
Chinese communities, it is also referred to as "Tang speech" (唐话;
唐話), given that people refer to themselves as "people of Tang"
Due to its status as a prestige dialect among all the dialects of the
Yue branch of Chinese varieties, it is often called "Standard
Cantonese" (标准粤语; 標準粵語; Bīujéun Yuhtyúh).
Hong Kong and Macau
Hong Kong Cantonese
The official languages of
Hong Kong are Chinese and English, as
defined in the
Hong Kong Basic Law. The
Chinese language has many
different varieties, of which
Cantonese is one. Given the traditional
Cantonese within Hong Kong, it is the de facto
official spoken form of the
Chinese language used in the Hong Kong
Government and all courts and tribunals. It is also used as the medium
of instruction in schools, alongside English.
A similar situation also exists in neighboring Macau, where Chinese is
an official language along with Portuguese. As in Hong Kong, Cantonese
is the predominant spoken variety of Chinese used in everyday life and
is thus the official form of Chinese used in the government. The
Cantonese spoken in
Hong Kong and
Macau is mutually intelligible with
Cantonese spoken in the mainland city of Guangzhou, although there
exist some minor differences in accent, pronunciation and vocabulary.
Cantonese has more complex and sophisticated pronunciation than
Mandarin, some HongKongers would insist that their official language
is only Cantonese, not including Mandarin.
Yue Chinese languages in Southeastern China. Standard
Cantonese and closely related dialects are highlighted in pink.
Cantonese first developed around the port city of
Guangzhou in the
Pearl River Delta
Pearl River Delta region of southeastern China. Due to the city's long
standing as an important cultural center,
Cantonese emerged as the
prestige dialect of the Yue varieties of Chinese in the Southern Song
dynasty and its usage spread around most of what is now the provinces
Guangdong and Guangxi.
Despite the cession of
Macau to Portugal in 1557 and
Hong Kong to
Britain in 1842, the ethnic Chinese population of the two territories
largely originated from the 19th and 20th century immigration from
Guangzhou and surrounding areas, making
Cantonese the prominent
Chinese language in the territories. On the mainland, Cantonese
continued to serve as the lingua franca of
Guangdong and Guangxi
provinces even after Mandarin was made the official language of the
government by the
Qing dynasty in the early 1900s. Cantonese
remained the dominant and influential language in southeastern China
until the establishment of the People's Republic of
China in 1949 and
its promotion of
Standard Chinese as the sole official language of the
nation throughout the last half of the 20th century, although its
influence is still strong in the region.
While the Chinese government discourages the use of all forms of
Chinese except Standard Chinese,
Cantonese enjoys a relatively higher
standing than other Chinese languages, with its own media and usage in
public transportation in
Guangdong province. Furthermore, it is
also a medium of instruction in select academic curricula, including
some university elective courses and Chinese as a foreign language
programs. The permitted usage of
Cantonese in mainland China
is largely a countermeasure against Hong Kong's influence, as the
autonomous territory has the right to freedom of the press and speech
and its Cantonese-language media have a substantial exposure and
following in Guangdong.
Nevertheless, the place of local
Cantonese language and culture
remains contentious. A 2010 proposal to switch some programming on
Guangzhou television from
Cantonese to Mandarin was abandoned
following massive public protests, the largest since the Tiananmen
Square protests of 1989. As a major economic center of China, there
have been recent concerns that the use of
diminishing in favour of Mandarin, both through the continual influx
of Mandarin-speaking migrants from poorer areas and strict government
policies. As a result,
Cantonese is being given a more important
status by the natives than ever before as a common identity of the
Cantonese has historically served as a lingua franca among overseas
Chinese in Southeast Asia, who speak a variety of other forms of
Chinese including Hokkien, Teochew and Hakka. Additionally,
Cantonese media and pop culture from
Hong Kong is popular throughout
See also: Hoa people
Cantonese is the dominant language of the ethnic Chinese
community, usually referred to as Hoa, which numbers about one million
people and constitutes one of the largest minority groups in the
country. Over half of the ethnic Chinese population in Vietnam
Cantonese as a native language and the variety also serves as a
lingua franca between the different Chinese dialect groups. Many
speakers reflect their exposure to Vietnamese with a Vietnamese accent
or a tendency to code-switch between
Cantonese and Vietnamese.
Malaysian Chinese § Cantonese
Cantonese is widely spoken amongst the Malaysian Chinese
community in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding
areas in the
Klang Valley (Petaling Jaya, Ampang, Cheras, Selayang,
Sungai Buloh, Puchong, Shah Alam, Kajang, Bangi and Subang Jaya). The
dialect is also widely spoken as well in the town of
Sekinchan in the
Sabak Bernam located in the northern part of Selangor
state and also in the state of Perak, especially in the state capital
Ipoh and its surrouding towns of Gopeng,
Batu Gajah and Kampar
Kinta Valley region plus the towns of
Bidor in the
southern part of the
Perak state, and also widely spoken in the
eastern Sabahan town of
Sandakan as well as the towns of Kuantan,
Pahang state and they are also found in
other areas such as Sarikei,
Sarawak and Mersing, Johor.
Hokkien is the most spoken variety of Chinese and Mandarin is
the medium of education at Chinese-language schools,
largely influential in the local Chinese-language media and is used in
commerce by Chinese Malaysians.
Due to the popularity of
Hong Kong popular culture, especially through
drama series and popular music,
Cantonese is widely understood by the
Chinese in all parts of Malaysia, even though a large proportion of
the Chinese Malaysian population is non-Cantonese. Television networks
Malaysia regularly broadcast
Hong Kong television programmes in
Cantonese audio and soundtrack.
Cantonese radio is also
available in the nation and
Cantonese is prevalent in locally produced
Chinese Singaporeans and Languages of Singapore
In Singapore, Mandarin is the official variety of the Chinese language
used by the government, which has a
Speak Mandarin Campaign
Speak Mandarin Campaign (SMC)
seeking to actively promote the use of Mandarin over other Chinese
Cantonese is spoken by a little over 15% of Chinese
households in Singapore. Despite the government's active promotion of
SMC, the Cantonese-speaking Chinese community has had relative success
in preserving its language against Mandarin compared to other dialect
groups (because nowadays younger generations of
Chinese are more Mandarin and English educated although it is still
preserved by the older generations, which made use of this dialect as
a bridging vernacular language amongst both older and younger
generations as a medium of communication amongst them despite Mandarin
being the lingua franca of all ethnic Chinese subgroups including
Peranakans, who studied and spoke it as a second or third
Notably, all nationally produced non-
Mandarin Chinese TV and radio
programs were stopped after 1979. The prime minister, Lee Kuan
Yew, then, also stopped giving speeches in
Hokkien to prevent giving
conflicting signals to the people.
Hong Kong (Cantonese) and
Taiwanese dramas are unavailable in their untranslated form on
free-to-air television, though drama series in non-Chinese languages
are available in their original languages.
Cantonese drama series on
terrestrial TV channels are instead dubbed in Mandarin and broadcast
without the original
Cantonese audio and soundtrack. However,
originals may be available through other sources such as cable
television and online videos.
Furthermore, an offshoot of SMC is the translation to
Hanyu Pinyin of
certain terms which originated from southern Chinese varieties. For
instance, dim sum is often known as diǎn xīn in Singapore's
English-language media, though this is largely a matter of style, and
most Singaporeans will refer to it as dim sum when speaking
Nevertheless, since the government restriction on media in
non-Mandarin varieties was relaxed in the mid-1990s and 2000s, the
Singapore has grown substantially. Forms of
popular culture from Hong Kong, such as television series, cinema and
pop music have become popular in Singaporean society, and non-dubbed
original versions of the media became widely available. Consequently,
there has been a large of number of non-
Cantonese Chinese Singaporeans
being able to understand or speak
Cantonese to some varying extent,
with a number of educational institutes offering
Cantonese as an
elective language course.
Cantonese is widely used as the inter-communal language among Chinese
Cambodians, especially in
Phnom Penh and other urban areas. While
Teochew speakers form the majority of the Chinese population in
Cantonese is often used as a vernacular in commerce and with
other Chinese variant groups in the nation. Chinese-language
Cambodia are conducted in both,
Cantonese and Mandarin, but
it always depends on the school.
Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the
world, numbering over 9 million individuals.
Cantonese is the fourth
most-spoken variety of Chinese in
Thai Chinese households after
Teochew, Hakka and Hainanese. However, within the Thai Chinese
commercial sector, it serves as a common language alongside Teochew or
Chinese-language schools in
Thailand have also traditionally
been conducted in Cantonese. Furthermore,
Cantonese serves as the
lingua franca with other Chinese communities in the nation.
See also: Indonesian Chinese § Language
Cantonese is locally known as Konghu and is one of the
variants spoken by the
Chinese Indonesian community, with speakers
largely concentrated in major cities such as
Jakarta (the capital
Surabaya and Batam. However, it has a relatively minor presence
compared to other Southeast Asian nations, being the fourth most
spoken Chinese variety after Hokkien, Hakka and Teochew. 
Street in Chinatown, San Francisco.
Cantonese has traditionally been
the dominant Chinese variant among Chinese populations in the Western
Over a period of 150 years,
Guangdong has been the place-of-origin for
most Chinese emigrants to Western nations; one coastal county, Taishan
(or Tóisàn, where the Sìyì or sei yap variety of Yue is spoken),
alone may be the origin of the vast majority of Chinese immigrants to
the U.S. before 1965. As a result, Yue languages such as Cantonese
and the closely related variety of
Taishanese have been the major
Chinese varieties traditionally spoken in the United States.
The Zhongshan variant of Cantonese, with origins in the western Pearl
River Delta, is spoken by many Chinese immigrants in Hawaii, and some
San Francisco and the
Sacramento River Delta (see Locke,
California); it is a Yuehai variety much like
Guangzhou Cantonese, but
has "flatter" tones. Chinese is the third most widely spoken
English language in the United States when both
Mandarin are combined, behind Spanish and French. Many institutes
of higher education have traditionally had Chinese programs based on
Cantonese, with some continuing to offer these programs despite the
rise of Mandarin. The most popular romanization for learning Cantonese
in the United States is Yale Romanization.
The majority of Chinese emigrants have traditionally originated from
Guangdong and Guangxi, as well as
Hong Kong and Macao (beginning in
the latter half of the 20th century and before the Handover) and
Southeast Asia, with
Cantonese as their native language. However, more
recent immigrants are arriving from the rest of mainland
Taiwan and most often speak Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) as their
native language, although some may also speak their native
local variety, such as Shanghainese, Hokkien, Fuzhounese, Hakka, etc.
As a result, Mandarin is becoming more common among the Chinese
The increase of Mandarin-speaking communities has resulted in the rise
of separate neighborhoods or enclaves segregated by the primary
Chinese variety spoken. Socioeconomic statuses are also a factor as
well. For example, in New York City,
Cantonese still predominates
in the city's older, traditional western portion of Chinatown in
Manhattan, in Brooklyn's small new Chinatowns in sections of
Bensonhurst and in Homecrest. The newly emerged
Little Fuzhou eastern
portion of Manhattan's Chinatown and Brooklyn's main large Chinatown
in and around Sunset Park are mostly populated by
who often speak Mandarin as well. The
Cantonese and Fuzhounese
New York City
New York City are more working class. Flushing's large
Chinatown, which now holds the crown as the largest Chinatown of the
city, and Elmhurst's smaller Chinatown in Queens are very mixed, with
large numbers of Mandarin speakers from many different parts of China
and Taiwan. They comprise the primary cultural center for New York
City's Chinese population and are more middle class.
In Northern California, especially in the
San Francisco Bay Area,
Cantonese has historically and continues to predominate in the
San Francisco and Oakland, as well as the surrounding
suburbs and metropolitan area, although Mandarin is now[when?] also
found in Silicon Valley. In contrast,
Southern California hosts a much
larger Mandarin-speaking population, with
Cantonese found in more
historical Chinese communities such as that of Chinatown, Los Angeles,
and older Chinese ethnoburbs such as San Gabriel, Rosemead, and Temple
While a number of more-established Taiwanese immigrants have learned
Cantonese to foster relations with the traditional Cantonese-speaking
Chinese American population, more recent arrivals and the larger
number of mainland Chinese immigrants have largely continued to use
Mandarin as the exclusive variety of Chinese. This has led to a
linguistic discrimination that has also contributed to social
conflicts between the two sides, with a growing number of Chinese
Americans (including American-born Chinese) of
defending the historic Chinese-American culture against the impacts of
increasing Mandarin-speaking new arrivals.
Cantonese is the second most common Chinese variety spoken among
Chinese Canadians. According to the Canada 2016 Census, there were
565,275 Canadian residents who reported
Cantonese as their native
As in the United States, the Chinese Canadian community traces its
roots to early immigrants from
Guangdong during the latter half of the
19th century. Later Chinese immigrants came from
Hong Kong in two
waves, first in the late 1960s to mid 1970s, and again in the 1980s to
late 1990s on fears arising from the impending handover to the
People's Republic of China. Chinese-speaking immigrants from conflict
zones in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, arrived as well,
beginning in the mid-1970s and were also largely Cantonese-speaking.
Unlike the United States, recent immigration from mainland
Taiwan to Canada has been small, and
Cantonese still remains the
predominant Chinese variety in the country.
The overwhelming majority of Chinese speakers in the United Kingdom
use Cantonese, with about 300,000 British people claiming it as their
first language. This is largely due to the presence of British
Hong Kongers and the fact that many
British Chinese also have origins
in the former British colonies in
Southeast Asia of
Among the Chinese community in France,
Cantonese is spoken by
immigrants who fled the former
French Indochina (Vietnam,
Laos) following the conflicts and communist takeovers in the region
during the 1970s. While a slight majority of ethnic Chinese from
Indochina speak Teochew at home, knowledge of
Cantonese is prevalent
due to its historic prestige status in the region and is used for
commercial and community purposes between the different Chinese
variety groups. As in the United States, there is a divide between
Cantonese-speakers and those speaking other mainland Chinese
Cantonese is spoken by ethnic Chinese in Portugal who originate from
Macau, the most established Chinese community in the nation with a
presence dating back to the 16th century and Portuguese colonialism.
Since the late-20th century, however, Mandarin- and Wu-speaking
migrants from mainland
China have outnumbered those from Macau,
Cantonese is still retained among mainstream Chinese
Cantonese has traditionally been the dominant
Chinese language of the
Chinese Australian community since the first ethnic Chinese settlers
arrived in the 1850s. It maintained this status until the mid-2000s,
when a heavy increase in immigration from Mandarin-speakers largely
Mainland China led to Mandarin surpassing
Cantonese as the
dominant Chinese dialect spoken.
Cantonese is the third most-spoken
language in Australia. In the 2011 census, the Australian Bureau of
Statistics listed 336,410 and 263,673 speakers of Mandarin and
See also: Yue Chinese
Chinese dictionary from the Tang dynasty. Modern Cantonese
pronunciation preserves almost all terminal consonants (-m -n -ng, -p
-t -k) from Middle Chinese.
Southern Song period,
Guangzhou became the cultural center
of the region.
Cantonese emerged as the prestige variety of Yue
Chinese when the port city of
Guangzhou on the Pearl River Delta
became the largest port in China, with a trade network stretching as
far as Arabia.
Cantonese was also used in the popular Yuè'ōu,
Mùyú and Nányīn folksong genres, as well as Cantonese
opera. Additionally, a distinct classical literature was
developed in Cantonese, with
Middle Chinese texts sounding more
similar to modern
Cantonese than other present-day Chinese varieties,
Guangzhou became China's key commercial center for foreign trade
and exchange in the 1700s,
Cantonese became the variety of Chinese
interacting with most with the Western World. Around this period
and continuing into the 1900s, the ancestors of most of the population
Hong Kong and
Macau arrived from
Guangzhou and surrounding areas
after they were ceded to Britain and Portugal, respectively. After
Xinhai Revolution of 1912,
Cantonese almost became the official
language of the Republic of
China but lost by just one vote.
In Mainland China,
Standard Chinese (based on Mandarin) has been
heavily promoted as the medium of instruction in schools and as the
official language, especially after the communist takeover in 1949.
Cantonese has remained the official variety of Chinese in
Hong Kong and Macau, both during and after the colonial period.
Cantonese shows a clear substrate influence from Tai-Kadai.
Robert Bauer (1996) points out twenty nine possible cognates between
Cantonese spoken in
Guangzhou and Tai-Kadai, of which seven cognates
are confirmed to originate from Tai-Kadai sources:
Guangzhou kɐj1 hɔ:ŋ2 ←
Wuming Zhuang kai5 ha:ŋ6 "young chicken
which has not laid eggs"
Guangzhou ja:ŋ5 ← Thai jâ:ŋ "to step on, tread"
Guangzhou kɐm6 ←
Wuming Zhuang kam6, Thai kʰòm, Be-Lingao xɔm4
"to press down"
Guangzhou kɐp7b na:3[a] ←
Wuming Zhuang kop7, Thai kòp "frog"
Guangzhou khɐp8 ← Thai kʰòp "to bite"
Guangzhou lɐm5 ← Thai lóm, Maonan lam5 "to collapse, to topple, to
fall down (building)"
Guangzhou tɐm5 ←
Wuming Zhuang tam5, Thai tàm "to hang down, be
Anne-Yue Hashimoto (1976) identifies these words:
Wuming Zhuang tøi6 = 'team') "pronominal plural", Cant. luk7 jau (WM
lɯk9 puk9) "pomelo", Cant. saŋ5 (WM θaŋ5) "to blow the nose",
Cant. uŋ3 (WM ȵoŋ4) "to push", Cant. ŋou2 (WM ŋau2) "to shake",
Cant. na:t7 (WM ʔdat5) "hot". The suffix -lou2 'guy' as in
gwai2-lou2 'foreigner' is derived from Tai.
Besides the lexical influence,
Cantonese also exhibits Tai structural
and grammatical influences. The ABB expressive reduplicated forms,
which are common in Tai, can be found in Cantonese.
ABB expressive reduplicated forms
Gwóngjàu Wáh, the historically common name for Standard Cantonese
written in traditional (left) and simplified (right) Chinese
Spoken Chinese has numerous regional and local varieties, many of
which are mutually unintelligible. Most of these are rare outside
their native areas, though they may be spoken outside of China. Since
Qing dynasty decree,
China has promoted Mandarin for use in
education, the media, and official communications. The
proclamation of Mandarin as the official national language, however,
was not fully accepted by the
Cantonese authorities in the early 20th
century, who argued for the "regional uniqueness" of their own local
language and commercial importance of the region. Unlike other
Mandarin Chinese varieties,
Cantonese persists in a few state
television and radio broadcasts today.
Nevertheless, there have been recent attempts to minimize the use of
Cantonese in China. The most notable has been the 2010 proposal that
Guangzhou Television increase its broadcast in Mandarin at the expense
Cantonese programs. This however led to protests in Guangzhou,
which eventually dissuaded authorities from going forward with the
proposal. Additionally, there are reports of students being
punished for speaking other Chinese languages at school, resulting in
a reluctance of younger children to communicate in their native
languages, including Cantonese. Such actions have further provoked
Cantonese speakers to cherish their linguistic identity in contrast to
migrants who have generally arrived from poorer areas of
largely speak Mandarin or other Chinese languages.
Due to the linguistic history of
Hong Kong and Macau, and the use of
Cantonese in many established overseas Chinese communities, diaspora
Cantonese is numerous compared to speakers residing in
Cantonese is the predominant Chinese variety spoken in Hong
Kong and Macau. In these areas, public discourse takes place almost
exclusively in Cantonese, making it the only variety of Chinese other
than Mandarin to be used as an official language in the world. Because
of their dominance in Chinese diaspora overseas, standard Cantonese
and its dialect
Taishanese are among the most common Chinese languages
that one may encounter in the West.
Increasingly since the 1997 Handover,
Cantonese has been used as a
symbol of local identity in Hong Kong, largely through the development
of democracy in the territory and desinicization practices to
emphasise a separate
Hong Kong identity.
A similar identity issue exists in the United States, where conflicts
have arisen among Chinese-speakers due to a large recent influx of
Mandarin-speakers. While older Taiwanese immigrants have learned
Cantonese to foster integration within the traditional Chinese
American populations, more recent arrivals from the Mainland continue
to use Mandarin exclusively. This has contributed to a segregation of
communities based on linguistic cleavage. In particular, some Chinese
Americans (including American-born Chinese) of
emphasise their non-Mainland origins(e.g. Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam,
etc.) to assert their identity in the face of new waves of
Along with Mandarin and Hokkien,
Cantonese has its own popular music,
Cantopop, which is the predominant genre in Hong Kong. Many artists
from the Mainland and Taiwan have learned
Cantonese to break into the
market. Popular native Mandarin-speaking singers, including Faye
Wong, Eric Moo, and singers from Taiwan, have been trained in
Cantonese to add "Hong Kong-ness" to their performances.
Cantonese films date to the early days of Chinese cinema, and the
Cantonese talkie, White Gold Dragon (白金龍), was made in
1932 by the Tianyi Film Company. Despite a ban on
by the Nanjing authority in the 1930s,
Cantonese film production
Hong Kong which was then under British colonial
rule. From the mid-1970s to the 1990s,
Cantonese films made in
Hong Kong were very popular in the Chinese speaking world.
Hong Kong Cantonese
Initials and finals
The de facto standard pronunciation of
Cantonese is that of Canton
(Guangzhou), which is described in the
Cantonese phonology article.
Cantonese has some minor variations in phonology, but is
largely identical to standard
Hong Kong and Macau, certain phoneme pairs have caused one sound to
merge into another. Although termed as "lazy sound" (懶音) and
considered substandard to
Guangzhou pronunciation, the phenomenon has
been widespread in the territories since the early 20th century. The
most notable difference between
Hong Kong and
is the substitution of the liquid nasal (/l/) for the nasal initial
(/n/) in many words. An example of this is manifested in the word
for you (你), pronounced as néih in
Guangzhou and as léih in Hong
Another key feature of
Cantonese is the merging of the two
syllabic nasals /ŋ̩/ and /m̩/. This can be exemplified in the
elimination of the contrast of sounds between 吳 (Ng, a surname)
Guangzhou pronunciation) and 唔 (not) (mh4/m̀h in
Guangzhou pronunciation). In Hong Kong, both words are pronounced as
Lastly, the initials /kʷ/ and /kʷʰ/ can be merged into /k/ and
/kʰ/ when followed by /ɔː/. An example is in the word for country
(國), pronounced in standard
Guangzhou as gwok but as gok with the
merge. Unlike the above two differences, this merge is found alongside
the standard pronunciation in
Hong Kong rather than being replaced.
Educated speakers often stick to the standard pronunciation but can
exemplify the merged pronunciation in casual speech. In contrast, less
educated speakers pronounce the merge more frequently.
Less prevalent, but still notable differences found among a number of
Hong Kong speakers include:
Merging of /ŋ/ initial into null initial.
Merging of /ŋ/ and /k/ codas into /n/ and /t/ codas respectively,
eliminating contrast between these pairs of finals (except after /e/
and /o/): /aːn/-/aːŋ/, /aːt/-/aːk/, /ɐn/-/ɐŋ/, /ɐt/-/ɐk/,
/ɔːn/-/ɔːŋ/ and /ɔːt/-/ɔːk/.
Merging of the rising tones (陰上 2nd and 陽上 5th).
Cantonese vowels tend to be traced further back to
Middle Chinese than
their Mandarin analogues, such as M. /aɪ/ vs. C. /ɔːi/; M. /i/ vs.
C. /ɐi/; M. /ɤ/ vs. C. /ɔː/; M. /ɑʊ/ vs. C. /ou/ etc. For
consonants, some differences include M. /ɕ, tɕ, tɕʰ/ vs. C. /h, k,
kʰ/; M. /ʐ/ vs. C. /j/; and a greater syllable coda diversity in
Cantonese (such as syllables ending in -t, -p, or -k).
Cantonese is a tonal language with six phonetic
Historically, finals that end in a stop consonant were considered as
"checked tones" and treated separately by diachronic convention,
Cantonese with nine tones. However, phonetically these are
now considered a conflation of tone and final consonant and are seldom
counted as individual tones in modern linguistics.
very low level
Yale or Jyutping
Written Cantonese and
Cantonese is used primarily in Hong Kong, Macau, and other overseas
Chinese communities, it is usually written with traditional Chinese
characters. However, it includes extra characters as well as
characters with different meanings from written vernacular Chinese due
to the presence of words that either do not exist in standard Chinese
or correspond with spoken Cantonese. This system of written Cantonese
is often found in colloquial contexts such as entertainment magazines
and social media, as well as on advertisements.
In contrast, standard written Chinese continues to be used in formal
literature, professional and government documents, and news media.
Nevertheless, colloquial characters may be present in formal written
communications such as legal testimonies and newspapers when an
individual is being quoted, rather than paraphrasing spoken Cantonese
into standard written Chinese.
Cantonese romanization systems are based on the accent of Canton and
Hong Kong, and have helped define the concept of Standard Cantonese.
The major systems are Meyer–Wempe, the Chinese government's
Guangdong Romanization, Yale and Jyutping. While they do not differ
greatly, Yale is the one most commonly seen in the west
today. The
Hong Kong linguist
Sidney Lau modified the
Yale system for his popular Cantonese-as-a-second-language course and
is still widely in use today. The
Cantonese romanization systems of
Macau are slightly different from Hong Kong's, the spellings are
basically influenced by the Portuguese language. However, some words
under the Macau's romanization systems are same as Hong Kong's (e.g.
Lam 林, Chan 陳). Words with the alphabet "u" under Hong Kong's
romanization systems are often replaced by "o" under Macao's
romanization systems (e.g. Chau vs Chao 周, Leung vs Leong 梁). Both
the spellings of
Hong Kong and Macao
Cantonese romanization systems do
not look similar to the mainland China's pinyin system. Generally,
plain stops are written with voiced consonants (/p/, /t/, /ts/, and
/k/ as b, d, z/j, and g respectively), and aspirated stops with
unvoiced ones, as in pinyin and Icelandic.
Early Western effort
Systematic efforts to develop an alphabetic representation of
Cantonese began with the arrival of
Protestant missionaries in China
early in the nineteenth century. Romanization was considered both a
tool to help new missionaries learn the variety more easily and a
quick route for the unlettered to achieve gospel literacy. Earlier
Catholic missionaries, mostly Portuguese, had developed romanization
schemes for the pronunciation current in the court and capital city of
China but made few efforts to romanize other varieties.
Robert Morrison, the first
Protestant missionary in
China published a
"Vocabulary of the Canton Dialect" (1828) with a rather unsystematic
Elijah Coleman Bridgman
Elijah Coleman Bridgman and Samuel Wells
Williams in their "Chinese Chrestomathy in the Canton Dialect" (1841)
were the progenitors of a long-lived lineage of related romanizations
with minor variations embodied in the works of James Dyer Ball, Ernst
Johann Eitel, and Immanuel Gottlieb Genăhr (1910). Bridgman and
Williams based their system on the phonetic alphabet and diacritics
proposed by Sir William Jones for South Asian languages.
Their romanization system embodied the phonological system in a local
dialect rhyme dictionary, the Fenyun cuoyao, which was widely used and
easily available at the time and is still available today. Samuel
Wells Willams' Tonic Dictionary of the Chinese Language in the Canton
Dialect (Yinghua fenyun cuoyao 1856), is an alphabetic rearrangement,
translation and annotation of the Fenyun. To adapt the system to the
needs of users at a time when there were only local variants and no
standard—although the speech of the western suburbs, Xiguan, of
Guangzhou was the prestige variety at the time—Williams suggested
that users learn and follow their teacher's pronunciation of his chart
Cantonese syllables. It was apparently Bridgman's innovation to
mark the tones with an open circle (upper register tones) or an
underlined open circle (lower register tones) at the four corners of
the romanized word in analogy with the traditional Chinese system of
marking the tone of a character with a circle (lower left for "even,"
upper left for "rising," upper right for "going," and lower right for
John Chalmers, in his "English and
Cantonese pocket-dictionary" (1859)
simplified the marking of tones using the acute accent to mark
"rising" tones and the grave to mark "going" tones and no diacritic
for "even" tones and marking upper register tones by italics (or
underlining in handwritten work). "Entering" tones could be
distinguished by their consonantal ending. Nicholas Belfeld Dennys
used Chalmers romanization in his primer. This method of marking tones
was adopted in the Yale romanization (with low register tones marked
with an 'h'). A new romanization was developed in the first decade of
the twentieth century which eliminated the diacritics on vowels by
distinguishing vowel quality by spelling differences (e.g. a/aa,
o/oh). Diacritics were used only for marking tones.
The name of Tipson is associated with this new romanization which
still embodied the phonology of the Fenyun to some extent. It is the
system used in Meyer-Wempe and Cowles' dictionaries and O'Melia's
textbook and many other works in the first half of the twentieth
century. It was the standard romanization until the Yale system
supplanted it. The distinguished linguist Y. R. Chao developed a
Cantonese adaptation of his
Gwoyeu Romatzyh system. The Barnett-Chao
romanization system was first used in Chao's
published in 1947 by Harvard University Press (The
was adapted for Mandarin teaching and published by Harvard University
Press in 1948 as Mandarin Primer). The BC system was also used in
textbooks published by the
Hong Kong government.
Cantonese romanization in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Government
An influential work on Cantonese, A Chinese Syllabary Pronounced
According to the Dialect of Canton, written by Wong Shik Ling, was
published in 1941. He derived an IPA-based transcription system, the
S. L. Wong system, used by many Chinese dictionaries later published
in Hong Kong. Although Wong also derived a romanization scheme, also
known as the S. L. Wong system, it is not widely used as his
transcription scheme. This system was preceded by the Barnett–Chao
system used by the Hong Government Language School.
The romanization advocated by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong
(LSHK) is called Jyutping. The phonetic values of some consonants are
closer to the approximate equivalents in
IPA than in other systems.
Some effort has been undertaken to promote Jyutping, but the success
of its proliferation within the region has yet to be examined.
Another popular scheme is
Cantonese Pinyin, which is the only
romanization system accepted by
Hong Kong Education and Manpower
Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Books and
studies for teachers and students in primary and secondary schools
usually use this scheme. But there are teachers and students who use
the transcription system of S.L. Wong.
Despite the efforts to standardize
Cantonese romanization, those
learning the language may feel frustrated that most native Cantonese
speakers, regardless of their level of education, are unfamiliar with
any romanization system. Because
Cantonese is primarily a spoken
language and does not carry its own writing system (written Cantonese,
despite having some Chinese characters unique to it, primarily follows
modern standard Chinese, which is closely tied to Mandarin), it is not
taught in schools. As a result, locals do not learn any of these
systems. In contrast with Mandarin-speaking areas of China, Cantonese
romanization systems are excluded in the education systems of both
Hong Kong and the
Guangdong province. In practice,
Hong Kong follows a
loose, unnamed romanization scheme used by the Government of Hong
Cantonese input uses Yale,
Cantonese Pinyin, Yale
being the first standard.
Differences between the three main standards are in bold.
Hong Kong Cantonese
Hong Kong is characterized by the blending of Asian (mainly
south Chinese) and Western influences, as well as the status of the
city as a major international business center. Influences from this
territory are widespread in foreign cultures. As a result, many
loanwords are created and exported to China, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Some of the loanwords are even more popular than their Chinese
counterparts. At the same time, some new words created are vividly
borrowed by other languages as well.
Hong Kong portal
List of varieties of Chinese
List of English words of
Cantonese and Mandarin
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Virginia Yip, Routledge, 1994
Cantonese as written language: the growth of a written Chinese
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China University of Technology
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^ Move to Limit
Cantonese on Chinese TV Is Assailed Wong, Edward. The
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in Decline. Journal of Taiwanese Vernacular, p. 75, 2012
Cantonese Archived May 27, 2014, at Archive.is
^ Tze Wei Sim, Why are the Native Languages of the Chinese Malaysians
in Decline. Journal of Taiwanese Vernacular, p. 74, 2012
^ Profile of the
Singapore Chinese Dialect Groups Lee, Edward Eu Fah.
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^ Knodel, John; Ofstedal, Mary Beth; Hermalin, Albert I (2002). "The
Demographic, Socioeconomic, and Cultural Context of the Four Study
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^ Tong, Chee Kiong. Alternate Identities: The Chinese of Contemporary
Thailand, 2001, BRILL, pp. 21–25.
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Communities and Institutions. AltaMira Press.
ISBN 0-7591-0458-1. need page number(s)
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^ a b c Chee Beng Tan (2007). Chinese Transnational Networks. Taylor
& Francis. p. 115.
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^ Pierson, David (2006-03-31). "Dragon Roars in San Gabriel - Los
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^ a b Him Mark Lai; Hsu, Madeline Y. (2010). Chinese American
Transnational Politics. University of Illinois Press.
^ Pierre Berton, The Last Spike, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-011763-6, pp.
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rich?". Canada.com. Archived from the original on 2014-04-11.
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^ "Chinois de France» ne veut rien dire". Slate.fr. 28 June 2010.
Retrieved 29 January 2018.
^ de Oliveira, Catarina Reis (July 2003), "Immigrant's Entrepreneurial
Opportunities: The Case of the Chinese in Portugal", FEEM Working
Papers, Portugal: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (75),
doi:10.2139/ssrn.464682, SSRN 464682
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^ Yue-Hashimoto (1972), pp. 5–6.
^ Ramsey (1987), p. 99.
^ Yue-Hashimoto (1972), p. 5.
^ Yue-Hashimoto (1972), p. 70.
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Post. October 6, 2009.
^ Bauer (1996), pp. 1835-1836.
^ Bauer (1996), pp. 1822-1823.
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^ Minglang Zhou, Hongkai Sun (2004). Language Policy in the People's
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^ Yiu-Wai Chu (2013). Lost in Transition:
Hong Kong Culture in the Age
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^ 学校要求学生讲普通话 祖孙俩竟变"鸡同鸭讲"
[Grandma and granddaughter can't communicate each other due to school
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