Open Access Articles- Top Results for Hong Kong Cantonese

Hong Kong Cantonese

Hong Kong Cantonese
Native to Hong Kong, Macau and some Overseas Communities
Region the Pearl River Delta
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Written Cantonese
Cantonese Braille
Official status
Official language in
Template:Country data Hong Kong
Regulated by Official Language Division[1]
Civil Service Bureau
Government of Hong Kong
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6 xgng
Linguist list
Glottolog None
Hong Kong Cantonese
Traditional Chinese 香港粵語
Simplified Chinese 香港粤语

Hong Kong Cantonese (Hong Kong Cantonese Chinese; Chinese: 香港粵語/港式粵語/香港廣東話/香港廣州話; Jyutping: hoeng1 gong2 jyut6 jyu5 / gong2 sik1 jyut6 jyu5 / hoeng1 gong2 gwong2 dung1 waa2 / hoeng1 gong2 gwong2 zau1 waa2) is a form of Yue Chinese commonly spoken in Hong Kong. Although The Hong Kong Chinese largely identify this variant of Chinese with the term "Cantonese" (廣東話), a variety of publications in Mainland China describe the variant as Hong Kong speech (香港話). There are slight differences between the pronunciation used in Hong Kong Cantonese and that of the Cantonese spoken in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong, where Cantonese (based on the Guangzhou dialect) is a lingua franca. Over the years, Hong Kong Cantonese has also absorbed foreign terms and developed a large set of Hong Kong-specific terms. These differences from the Canton norm are the result of British rule between 1841 and 1997, as well as the closure of the Hong Kong-China border immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.


Before the arrival of British settlers in 1842, the inhabitants of Hong Kong mainly spoke the Dongguan-Bao'an (Tung Kwun-Po On) dialect of Yue,[citation needed] as well as Hakka, Teochew, and Tanka. These dialects are all remarkably different from Cantonese. After the British acquired Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories from the Qing between 1841 (officially 1842) and 1898, large numbers[quantify] of merchants and workers came to Hong Kong from the city of Canton, the centre of Cantonese. Cantonese became the dominant spoken language in Hong Kong. The frequent migration between Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking areas did not cease up until 1949, when the Communists took over mainland China. During this period, the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong was very similar to that in Canton.

In 1949, the year that the People's Republic of China was established, Hong Kong saw a large influx of refugees from different areas of mainland China. The Hong Kong Government closed the border[citation needed] to halt the influx, but illegal immigration from mainland China into Hong Kong continued. Because of this, the correspondence between language and ethnicity may generally be true though not absolute, as many Chinese who speak Hong Kong Cantonese may come from other areas of China, especially Shanghai or non-Cantonese regions of Guangdong where Hakka and Teochiu prevail. Movement, communication, and relations between Hong Kong and mainland China became very limited, and consequently the evolution of Cantonese in Hong Kong diverged from that in the rest of Guangdong. In mainland China, the use of Mandarin as the language of official use and education was enforced. In Hong Kong, Cantonese is the medium of instruction in schools, along with written English and written Chinese. And because of the long exposure to English during the colonial period, large number of English words were loaned into Hong Kong Cantonese, e.g. "巴士" (/páːsǐː/), literally, "bus". Hong Kong people even started to calque English constructions, for example, "噉 (咁) 都唔 make sense" (literally, "it still does not make sense.") . Therefore, the vocabularies of Cantonese in Mainland China and Hong Kong differed.

Moreover, the pronunciation of Cantonese changed while the change either did not occur in mainland China or took place much slower. For example, merging of /n/ initial into /l/ initial and /ŋ/ initial into null initial were observed. Due to the limited communication between Hong Kong and mainland China, these changes only had a limited effect in mainland China at that time. As a result, the pronunciation of Cantonese between Hong Kong and mainland China varied, and so native speakers may note the difference when listening to Hong Kong Cantonese and mainland China Cantonese. Hong Kong-based Cantonese can be found in Hong Kong popular culture such as Hong Kong films and Hong Kong pop music (Cantopop). Hong Kong people who have emigrated to other countries have brought Hong Kong Cantonese to other parts of the world.


In modern-day Hong Kong, many native speakers are unable to distinguish between certain phoneme pairs, causing them to merge one sound into another. Although this is often considered substandard and is frequently denounced as "lazy sound" (懶音), the phenomenon is becoming more widespread and is influencing other Cantonese-speaking regions. Contrary to popular opinion, some of these changes are not recent. The loss of the velar nasal (/ŋ/) was documented by Williams (1856), and the substitution of the liquid nasal (/l/) for the nasal initial (/n/) was documented by Cowles (1914). Other observed shifts:

  • Merging of /n/ initial into /l/ initial.
  • Merging of /ŋ/ initial into null initial.
  • Merging of /kʷ/ and /kʷʰ/ initials into /k/ and /kʰ/ when followed by /ɔː/. Note that /ʷ/ is the only glide (介音) in Cantonese.
  • Merging of /ŋ/ coda into /n/ coda, eliminating contrast between these pairs of finals (except after /ɪ/ and /ʊ/: /aːn/-/aːŋ/, /ɐn/-/ɐŋ/, and /ɔːn/-/ɔːŋ/.
  • Merging of entering-tone (入聲) /k/ coda into /t/ coda analogously.
  • Merging of the two syllabic nasals, /ŋ̩/ into /m̩/, eliminating the contrast of sounds between (surname Ng) and (not).
  • Merging of some /tsʰ/ into /ts/.

Today in Hong Kong, people still make an effort to avoid these sound merges in serious broadcasts and in education. Older people often do not exhibit these shifts in their speech, but some do. With the sound changes, the name of Hong Kong's Hang Seng Bank (香港恆生銀行), /hœ́ːŋ kɔ̌ːŋ hɐ̏ŋ sɐ́ŋ ŋɐ̏n hɔ̏ːŋ/, becomes /hœ́ːn kɔ̌ːn hɐ̏n sɐ́n ɐ̏n hɔ̏ːn/, sounding like Hon' Kon' itchy body (痕身 /hɐ̏n sɐ́n/) 'un cold (UN寒 /ɐ̏n hɔ̏ːn/) . The name of the Cantonese language (廣東話, "Guangdong speech") itself would be /kʷɔ̌ːŋ tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ without the merger, whereas /kɔ̌ːŋ tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ (sounding like "講東話": "speak eastern speech") and /kɔ̌ːn tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ (sounding like "趕東話" : "chase away eastern speech") are overwhelmingly popular.[2] The shift affects the way some Hong Kong people speak other languages as well. This is especially evident in the pronunciation of certain English names: "Nicole" pronounce [lɪkˈkou̯], "Nancy" pronounce [ˈlɛnsi] etc. A very common example of the mixing of (/n/) and (/l/) is that of the word , meaning "you." Even though the standard pronunciation should be (/nei/), the word is often pronounced (/lei/), which is a surname,, or the word , meaning theory. The merger of (/n/) and (/l/) also affects the choice of characters when the Cantonese media transliterate foreign names.[citation needed] Prescriptivists who try to correct these "lazy sounds" often end up introducing hypercorrections. For instance, while attempting to ensure that people pronounce the initial /ŋ/, they may introduce it into words which have historically had a null-initial. One common example is that of the word , meaning "love." Even though the standard pronunciation would be /ɔ̄ːi/, but the word is often pronounced /ŋɔ̄ːi/. In recent years, a number of Hong Kong secondary schools have tried to reverse this change by making the learning of Cantonese Pinyin part of the school Chinese curriculum.

Unique phrases and expressions

Due to Hong Kong's unique historical background, Hong Kong Cantonese has evolved differently from the Chinese spoken in China, Taiwan and Singapore over the years. Hong Kong Cantonese has developed a number of phrases and expressions that are unique to the context of Hong Kong. These phrases and expressions usually make references to specific things that can only be found in Hong Kong or specific incidents that happened in Hong Kong. Here are a few examples:

Chinese characters Jyutping literal meaning actual meaning
食皇家飯 sik6 wong4 gaa1 faan6 eat Royal meal being imprisoned
話知你九七 waa6 zi1 nei5 gau2 cat1 Who cares about your 1997? Who cares?

Here, the former refers to Hong Kong's status as a British colony, where prisoners are detained on behalf of the Sovereign, and is similar to the English colloquial expression "guest of Her Majesty". The latter refers to the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The situations alluded to are both unique to Hong Kong.


Life in Hong Kong is characterised by the blending of Asian (southern Chinese in particular) and Western cultures, as well as the city's position as a major international business centre. In turn, Hong Kong influences have also spread widely into other cultures. As a result, a large number of loanwords are created in Hong Kong and then exported to mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan. Some of the loanwords have become even more popular than their Chinese counterparts, in Hong Kong as well as in their destination cultures.

Imported loanwords

Selected loanwords[3] are shown below.

From English

Chinese characters Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA English English pronunciation Mandarin Chinese equivalence
巴士 baa1 si2 /paː˥siː˧˥/ bus /bʌs/ 公共汽車/公共汽车
公車 (in Taiwan)
公汽, 公交, 公交車 (in mainland China)
巴士 is also used in Mandarin Chinese
的士 dik1 si2 /tɪk˥siː˧˥/ taxi /ˈtæksi/ 計程車 (in Taiwan)
出租车 (in mainland China)
德士 (in Singapore and Malaysia, also a loanword from English)
的士 is also used in mainland China
朱古力 zyu1 gu1 lik1 /tsyː˥kuː˥lɪk˥/ chocolate /ˈtʃɒklɨt/ 巧克力, also a loanword
三文治 saam1 man4 zi6 /saːm˥mɐn˨˩tsiː˨/ sandwich /ˈsænwɪdʒ/ 三明治, also a loanword
士多 si6 do1 /siː˨tɔː˥/ store (retail), usually referring to a small convenience store /stɔər/ 店舖/店铺 (archaic, but still used occasionally in Hong Kong)
士多啤梨 si6 do1 be1 lei2 /siː˨tɔː˥pɛː˥lei˧˥/ strawberry /ˈstrɔːbəri/ 草莓
啤梨 be1 lei2 /pɛː˥lei˧˥/ pear /pɛər/ 梨子
沙士 saa1 si2 /saː˥siː˧˥/ SARS /sɑrz/ 嚴重急性呼吸(道)症候群 (in Taiwan)
非典型肺炎, 严重急性呼吸综合征, 萨斯 (in mainland China)
拜拜 baai1 baai3 /paːi˥paːi˧/ bye bye /ˈbaɪbaɪ/ 再見/再见, 再會/再会 or 告辭/告辞 (archaic)
BB bi4 bi1 /piː˨˩piː˥/ baby /ˈbeɪbi/ 嬰兒/婴儿
Sir/阿蛇 aa3 sir/
aa3 soe4
/aː˧sœː˨˩/ sir (policeman; teacher) /sɜr/ police: 警察 (in Taiwan), 公安 (in mainland China)
teacher: 老師/老师 or 先生 (archaic)
泊(車) paak3˧ /pʰaːk˧/ to park /pɑrk/ 停車/停车, a relative translation: it means "to stop the car"
泊車/泊车 is also used in Mandarin Chinese
菲林 fei1 lam2 /fei˥lɐm˧˥/ film (photographic) /fɪlm/ 膠卷/㬵卷, literally "plastic roll"
菲林 is also used in Mandarin Chinese
三文魚 saam1 man4 jyu4*2 /saːm˥mɐn˨˩jyː˧˥/ salmon /ˈsæmən/ 鮭魚 (in Taiwan), 大马哈鱼 (in mainland China)
三文鱼 is also used in mainland China
部飛 bou6 fei1 /pou˨fei˥/ buffet (British/Commonwealth pronunciation) /ˈbʊfeɪ/ 自助餐
沙律 saa1 leot6*2 /sa˥lɵt˨/, /sa˥lɵt˧˥/ salad /ˈsæləd/ 沙拉, also a loanword from English
沙律 is also used in mainland China
taai1 /tʰaːi˥/ tyre/tire or necktie /taɪər/ tyre/tire: 輪胎/轮胎
necktie: 領帶/领带

From Japanese

Chinese characters Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA Japanese Japanese Romaji English Mandarin Chinese equivalence
卡拉OK kaa1 laa1 ou1 kei1 /kʰaː˥laː˥ou˥kʰei˥/ カラオケ karaoke karaoke (literally: "empty orchestra"; kara = empty, oke = orchestra) 卡拉OK (in Taiwan and mainland China)
K (in mainland China)
老世 (usually miswritten as 老細) lou5 sai3 /lou˩˧sɐi˧/ 世帯主 setainushi head of a company/chief/boss 老闆/老板 (boss)
東主/东主 (old term for company owner)
上司 (superior)
奸爸爹 gaan1 baa1 de1 /kaːn˥paː˥tɛː˥/ 頑張って ganbatte a cheering-on term/Come On 努力 (in this context, keep up the effort)
加油 (Keep up!)
放題 fong3 tai4 /fɔːŋ˧tʰɐi˩/ 放題 houdai a buffet 自助餐 (buffet)

From French

Chinese characters Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA French English Mandarin Chinese equivalence
laang1 /laːŋ˥/ laine yarn 紗線/纱线
梳乎厘 so1 fu4 lei4 /sɔː˥fuː˨˩lei˨˩/ soufflé soufflé 舒芙蕾 (in Taiwan), 梳芙厘 (in mainland China), 蛋奶酥

Exported loanwords

Into English

English Chinese characters Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA
dim sum 點心 dim2 sam1 /tiːm˧˥sɐm˥/
kumquat 金橘 gam1 gwat1 /kɐm˥kʷɐt˥/
loquat 蘆橘 lou4 gwat1 /lou˨˩kʷɐt˥/
wonton 雲吞 wan4 tan1 /wɐn˨˩tʰɐn˥/
bok choy 白菜 baak6 coi3 /paːk˨tsʰɔːi˧/
long time no see 好耐冇見 hou2 noi6 mou5 gin3
ketchup 茄汁 ke2 zap1 /kʰɛː˧˥tsɐp˥/

Into Mainland Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese Hanyu Pinyin Cantonese Chinese Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA English Other Mandarin Chinese synonyms Hanyu Pinyin
买单 mǎidān 埋單 maai4 daan1 /mȁːitáːn/ "Bill/Check, please." (used when calling for the bill at a restaurant) 结账 jiézhàng
搭档 dādàng 拍檔 paak3 dong3 /pʰāːktɔ̄ːŋ/ partner 伙伴 (in ownership and business)
舞伴 (in dancing)
打的 dǎdī 搭的士 daap3 dik1 si2 /tāːptɪ́ksǐː/ to ride a taxi 乘出租车 chéng chūzūchē
无厘头 wúlítóu 無釐頭, corruption of 無來頭 mou4 lei4 tau4 /mȍulȅitʰɐ̏u/ nonsensical humour (see mo lei tau) 莫名其妙 mòmíng-qímiào
亮仔 or 靓仔 liàngzǎi 靚仔 leng3 zai2 /lɛ́ːŋtsɐ̌i/ handsome (pretty) boy/young man 帅哥儿
哥们 (in China only)
拍拖 pāituō 拍拖 paak3 to1 /pʰāːktʰɔ́ː/ to date; to court 追求
很正 hěn zhèng 好正 hou2 zeng3 /hǒutsɛ̄ːŋ/ (colloquial) awesome; perfect; just right
搞掂 or 搞定 gǎodiàn or gǎodìng 搞掂 gaau2 dim6 /kǎːutìːm/ "Done!", to complete; completed (when used as an exclamation) 办妥
zuò wán
zuò hǎo
nòng wán

Into Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese

Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese Hanyu Pinyin Cantonese Chinese Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA English
hóu sāiléi
(from Classical Chinese)
sai1 lei6
hou2 sai1 lei6
great; powerful
very great; very powerful
Hold住[4] hòu zhù Hold住 hou1 jyu6 /hóut͡sỳː/ Hold on; hang in there

Into Japanese

Japanese Kana (Kanji) Japanese Rōmaji Cantonese Chinese Jyutping Cantonese Chinese IPA English
ヤムチャ (飲茶) yamucha 飲茶 jam2 caa4 /jɐ̌mtsʰȁː/ To drink tea or go to a Chinese restaurant (yum cha)
チャーシュー (叉焼) chāshū 叉燒 caa1 siu1 /tsʰáːsíːu/ Roasted pork (literally roasted on a fork char siu)
チャーハン (炒飯) chāhan 炒飯 caau2 faan6 /tsʰǎːufàːn/ To stir-fry rice (Fried rice)

Code-switching and loanword adaptation

Hong Kong Cantonese has a high number of foreign loanwords. Sometimes, the part of speech of the incorporated words are also changed, like "佢地好friend", translated into English as "they are very 'friend'", means "they are good friends". The word "friend" is changed from a noun into an adjective. In some examples, some new meanings of English words are even created. For example, "至yeah", literally "the most yeah", means "the trendiest". Originally, "yeah" means "yes/okay" in English, but it means "trendy" when being incorporated into Hong Kong Cantonese (see also "yeah baby" and "aww yeah"). Semantic change is common in loanwords; when foreign words are borrowed into Cantonese, polysyllabic words and monosyllabic words tend to become disyllabic, and the second syllable is in the Upper Rising tone (the second tone). For example, "kon1 si2" (coins), "sek6 kiu1" (security) and "ka1 si2" (cast). A few polysyllabic words become monosyllabic though, like "mon1" (monitor), literally means computer monitor. And some new Cantonese lexical items are created according to the morphology of Cantonese. For example, "laai1 記" from the word "library". Most of the disyllabic words and some of the monosyllabic words are incorporated as their original pronunciation, with some minor changes according to the Cantonese phonotactics. Incorporating words from foreign languages into Cantonese is also acceptable by most Cantonese speakers. Hong Kong Cantonese speakers frequently code-mix although they can distinguish foreign words from Cantonese ones. For instance, "噉都唔 make sense", literally means "it doesn't make sense". After a Cantonese speaker decides to code-mix a foreign word in a Cantonese sentence, syntactical rules of Cantonese will be followed. For instance, "sure" (肯定) can be used like "你 su1 唔 su1 aa3?" (are you sure?) as if it were its Cantonese counterpart "你肯唔肯定?", using the A-not-A question construction. In some circumstances, code-mixing is preferable because it can simplify sentences. In the case of some technological terms, code-mixing becomes very hard to avoid. For example, Hong Kong people find it difficult to say "你用個 mau1-si2 right-click嚟highlight啲字" ("You use the right-click of the mouse to highlight the words") in pure Cantonese. It is actually not surprising if a Hong Konger does not know how to express "mouse", "right-click" and "highlight" in Chinese. Code-mixing is almost unavoidable for some technical terms like "trial balance" in accounting and "benzene" in chemistry because of the use of English as the medium of instruction at the tertiary level and often the secondary level. Many people in Hong Kong do not know the Chinese names of many technical terms and as a result, it is expected that English names of the terms be used. This is also a headache of prescriptive linguists and Chinese teachers who advocate the use of pure Cantonese. Code-mixing is in general not a problem but it could impose a language barrier between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese as the former do not know the Chinese names of the terms while the latter, the English of the terms.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "Official Language Division, Civil Service Bureau, Government of Hong Kong". 19 September 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Together Learn Cantonese, see middle section.
  3. ^ A list compiled by lbsun
  4. ^ "你"Hold住"没"Hold住"?". 学生导报 中职周刊. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 

External links