|Hong Kong Cantonese|
|Native to||Hong Kong and some Overseas Communities|
|Region||Pearl River Delta|
|Hong Kong-style Cantonese|
|Hong Kong-Guangdong dialect|
|Hong Kong-Guangzhou dialect|
|Demographics and culture of Hong Kong|
|Other Hong Kong topics|
Although Hongkongers refer to the language as "Cantonese" (廣東話), publications in mainland China describe the variant as Hong Kong dialect (香港廣東話), due to the differences between the pronunciation used in Hong Kong Cantonese and that of the Cantonese spoken in neighbouring Guangdong Province where Cantonese (based on the Guangzhou dialect) is a lingua franca.
Over the years, Hong Kong Cantonese has also absorbed foreign terminology and developed a large set of Hong Kong-specific terms. Code-switching with English is also common. These are the result of British rule between 1841 and 1997, as well as the closure of the Hong Kong–mainland China border immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
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Before the arrival of British settlers in 1842, the inhabitants of Hong Kong mainly spoke the Dongguan-Bao'an (Tungkun–Po'on) and Tanka dialects of Yue, as well as Hakka and Teochew. These languages and dialects are all remarkably different from Guangzhou Cantonese, and not mutually intelligible.
After the British acquired Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories from the Qing in 1841 (officially 1842) and 1898, large numbers[quantify] of merchants and workers came to Hong Kong from the city of Canton, the main centre of Cantonese. Cantonese became the dominant spoken language in Hong Kong. The extensive migration from mainland Cantonese-speaking areas to Hong Kong continued up until 1949, when the Communists took over mainland China.
In 1949, the year that the People's Republic of China was established, Hong Kong saw a large influx of refugees from mainland China, prompting the Hong Kong Government to close its border. Illegal immigration from mainland China into Hong Kong nevertheless continued. During the 1950s, the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong remained very similar to that in Canton, but the proportion of Cantonese speakers did not surpass 50% of the population in Hong Kong.
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 of Guangzhou. In mainland China, the use of Mandarin as the official language and in education was enforced. In Hong Kong, Cantonese is the medium of instruction in schools, along with written English and written Chinese. As such, since the 1970s the percentage of Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong has risen to about 90%.
Because of the long exposure to English during the colonial period, a large number of English words were loaned into Hong Kong Cantonese, e.g. "巴士" (IPA: /páːsǐː/, Cantonese Jyutping: baa1 si2), from the English "bus"; compare this with the equivalent from Standard Mandarin, 公共汽車 (Simplified Chinese: 公共汽车, Cantonese Jyutping: gung1 gung6 hei3 ce1, Mandarin Pinyin: gōnggòng qìchē). Consequently, the vocabularies of Cantonese in mainland China and Hong Kong substantially differ. Moreover, the pronunciation of Cantonese changed while the change either did not occur in mainland China or took place much more slowly. For example, merging of initial /n/ into /l/ and the deletion of /ŋ/ were observed.
In modern-day Hong Kong, many native speakers no longer distinguish between certain phoneme pairs, leading to instances of sound change through mergers. Although considered non-standard and denounced as "lazy sound" (懶音) by purists, the phenomena are widespread and not restricted to Hong Kong. Contrary to impressions, 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).
List of 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/ and /k/ codas into /n/ and /t/ codas respectively, eliminating contrast between these pairs of finals (except after /e/ and /o/[clarification needed]): /aːn/-/aːŋ/, /aːt/-/aːk/, /ɐn/-/ɐŋ/, /ɐt/-/ɐk/, /ɔːn/-/ɔːŋ/ and /ɔːt/-/ɔːk/.
- Merging of the two syllabic nasals, /ŋ̩/ into /m̩/, eliminating the contrast of sounds between 吳 (surname Ng) and 唔 (not).
- Merging of the rising tones (陰上 2nd and 陽上 5th).
In educated Hong Kong Cantonese speech, these sound mergers are avoided, and many older speakers still distinguish between those phoneme categories. With the sound changes, the name of Hong Kong's Hang Seng Bank (香港恆生銀行), Jyutping: Hoeng1 gong2 hang4 sang1 ngan4 hong4, /hœ́ːŋ kɔ̌ːŋ hɐ̏ŋ sɐ́ŋ ŋɐ̏n hɔ̏ːŋ/, literally Hong Kong Constant Growth Bank, becomes /hœ́ːn kɔ̌ːn hɐ̏n sɐ́n ɐ̏n hɔ̏ːn/, sounding like Hon' Kon' itchy body 'un cold ('香港'痕身un寒). The name of Cantonese itself (廣東話, "Guangdong speech") would be Jyutping: Gwong2 dung1 waa2, IPA: /kʷɔ̌ːŋ tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ without the merger, whereas /kɔ̌ːŋ tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ (sounding like "講東話": "say eastern speech") and /kɔ̌ːn tʊ́ŋ wǎː/ (sounding like "趕東話" : "chase away eastern speech") are overwhelmingly common in Hong Kong.
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 [lekˈkou̯], "Nancy" pronounce [ˈlɛnsi] etc. A very common example of the mixing of /n/ and /l/ is that of the word 你, meaning "you". Even though the standard pronunciation should be /nei/, the word is often pronounced /lei/, which is the surname 李, or the word 理, meaning theory. The merger of /n/ and /l/ also affects the choice of characters when the Cantonese media transliterates foreign names.
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 愛, meaning "love", where even though the standard pronunciation is Jyutping: oi3, IPA: /ɔ̄ːi/, the word is often pronounced Jyutping: ngoi3, /ŋɔ̄ːi/. A similar phenomenon occurs in various Mandarin dialects (e.g. Southwestern Mandarin).
Unique phrases and expressions
Hong Kong Cantonese has developed a number of phrases and expressions that are unique to the context of Hong Kong. Examples are:
|Colloquial Cantonese Expressions(pronunciation)||Literally||Colloquially||Explanation|
|離譜 (lei4 pou2)
English: He's an hour late. So outrageous!
|depart from the score||absurd/outrageous/ridiculous/illogical||music score|
|撞板 (zong6 baan2)
English: He is always so impulsive, no wonder he's got into trouble this time.
|conflicting beat||make mistakes/get into trouble||beat in Cantonese Opera|
English: Do you have to be so harsh?
|skewer/to string/vulgar||harsh/extreme bluntness, lack of tact||colloquial usage for police handcuffing, broadened to incorporate harsh expression generally; alternatively, by modification of the tone value for "vulgar"|
|是但 (si6 daan6)
Example: A: 你想去邊度食飯？ B: 是但啦!
English: A: Where do you want to go to eat? B: Anything will do!
|is/yes but||whatever/anything will do/I'm easy||
derived from 肆無忌憚 (si3 mo4 gei6 daan6, disregard of constraints)
|冬瓜豆腐 (dung1 gwaa1 dau6 fu6)
English: I would be miserable if you died.
|winter melon tofu||to die||votive food offerings at funerals|
Life in Hong Kong is characterised by the blending of southern Chinese with other Asian and Western cultures, as well as the city's position as a major international business centre. In turn, Hong Kong influences have 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. Note that some of the loanwords are being used much more frequently in Cantonese-speaking areas in mainland China (e.g. Guangzhou), than in areas speaking other Chinese varieties.
Selected loanwords are shown below.
& Other Definitions
|百家樂||baak3 gaa1 lok6||Baccarat (card game)||百家乐||百家樂|
|比堅尼||bei2 gin1 nei4||bikini||比基尼||比基尼|
|煲呔||bou1 taai1||bow tie||领结||領結|
|百家利||baak3 gaa1 lei6||broccoli||西兰花||花椰菜|
|笨豬跳||ban6 zyu1 tiu3||bungee jumping||蹦极||高空彈跳|
|卡路里||kaa1 lou6 lei5||calorie||卡路里||卡路里|
|咖啡因||gaa3 fe1 jan1||caffeine||咖啡因||咖啡因|
|哥士的(梳打)||go1 si2 dik1||caustic soda||氢氧化钠||氫氧化鈉/小蘇打|
|車厘子||ce1 lei4 zi2||cherry||樱桃||櫻桃|
|朱古力||zyu1 gu1 lik1||chocolate||巧克力||巧克力|
|打咭||daa2 kat1||clock in
literally: (to) punch card
|俱樂部||keoi1 lok6 bou6||club||俱乐部||俱樂部|
|可卡因||ho2 kaa1 jan1||cocaine||可卡因/古柯碱||古柯鹼|
bend your knees
winding road ahead
|(揼垃圾)||dam2||dump (garbage) (In the dump/dumpster)
dumped by boy-/girl-friend
|肥佬||fei4 lou2||fail (failure)||失败||失敗|
|Fan士||fen1 si2||fan (fanatic)
|爹地/花打||de1 di4||daddy (father)||爸爸||爸爸|
|高爾夫球||gou1 ji5 fu1||golf||高尔夫球||高爾夫球|
|吉士||gat1 si2||guts (courage)
felt like someone just punched you in the gut
|漢堡包||hon3 bou2 baau1||hamburger||汉堡（包）||漢堡|
|阿頭 [calque]||aa3 tau2||the head of||领导||領導|
|熱狗 [calque]||jit6 gau2||hotdog||热狗||熱狗|
|呼啦圈||fu1 laa1 hyun1||hula hoop||呼啦圈||呼啦圈|
|燕梳||jin1 so1||insure (insurance)||保险||保險|
|奇異果||kei4 ji6 gwo2||kiwifruit||奇异果/猕猴桃||奇異果|
|模特兒||mou4 dak6 yi4||model||模特||模特/模特兒|
|媽咪/媽打||maa1 mi4||mummy (mother)||妈妈||媽媽|
|泊車||paak3 ce1||parking a vehicle||停车||停車|
|三文魚||saam1 man4 jyu2||salmon||鲑鱼/三文鱼||鮭魚|
|三文治||saam1 man4 zi6||sandwich||三明治
|沙甸魚||saa1 din1 jyu2||sardine||沙丁鱼||沙丁魚|
|沙士||saa1 si2||Sarsaparilla (soft drink)
||root beer: 根啤酒
|root beer: 沙士|
|私家褲||si6 gaa1 fu4||scarf||围巾||圍巾|
|(幾)梳乎||so1 fu4||relaxing (chilling)
("soft", antonym of "firm")
|士巴拿||si6 baa1 naa4||spanner (wrench)||扳手||扳手|
|士多啤梨||si6 do1 be1 lei2||strawberry||草莓||草莓|
("租车" = rental car)
|拖肥糖||to1 fei2 tong2||toffee||太妃糖||太妃糖|
|吞拿魚||tan1 naa4 jyu2||tuna||金枪鱼||鮪魚|
|維他命||wai4 taa1 ming6||vitamin||维生素||維他命|
|威化(餅)||wai1 faa4||wafer biscuit
||wafer biscuit: 威化饼
wafer (electronics): 晶圆
|wafer biscuit: 餅乾|
wafer (electronics): 晶圓
|威士忌||wai1 si2 gei6||whisky||威士忌||威士忌|
|遊艇||jau4 teng5||yachting (yacht)||游艇||遊艇|
("乳酪" = cheese)
|Chinese Characters||Jyutping||French||English||Mainland Chinese
|梳乎厘||so1 fu4 lei4||soufflé||soufflé||梳芙厘||舒芙蕾|
|Chinese Characters||Jyutping||Japanese||Japanese Rōmaji||English||Mainland Chinese
|卡拉OK||kaa1 laa1 ou1 kei1||カラオケ||karaoke||karaoke||卡拉OK||卡拉OK|
|老世||lou5 sai3||世帯主||setainushi||chief (CEO)
the Head (of a company)
|奸爸爹||gaan1 baa1 de1||頑張って/がんばって||ganbatte||Keep up! (studying)
Come on! (cheering)
|放題||fong3 tai4||食べ放題||tabe hōdai||buffet||布斐||自助餐|
|add oil||加油||gaa1 jau2|
|chop chop (hurry up)||速速||cuk1 cuk1|
Into Mainland Chinese Mandarin
|买单||埋單||maai4 daan1||(Can we please have the) bill?||结账|
|搭档||拍檔||paak3 dong3||partner||伙伴 (in ownership and business)|
舞伴 (in dancing)
|打的||搭的士||daap3 dik1 si2||to ride a taxi||乘出租车|
|无厘头||無釐頭, corruption of 無來頭||mou4 lei4 tau4||nonsensical humour (see mo lei tau)
newbie who knows nothing
|亮仔/靓仔||靚仔||leng3 zai2||handsome boy||帅哥儿|
哥们 (in China only)
|很正||好正||hou2 zeng3||(colloquial) awesome; perfect; just right||很棒|
|搞掂/搞定||搞掂||gaau2 dim6||Is it done yet? (It's) Done!
It has been taken care of!
Into Taiwanese Mandarin
|Taiwanese Mandarin||Hanyu Pinyin||Cantonese||Jyutping||English|
|(猴)塞雷||(hóu) sāiléi||(好)犀利||hou2 sai1 lei6||(very) impressive|
|Hold住||hòu zhù||Hold住||hou1 jyu6||hold on|
hang tight (hang in there)
|Japanese Kana (Kanji)||Japanese Rōmaji||Chinese Characters||Jyutping||English|
|ヤムチャ (飲茶)||yamucha||飲茶||jam2 caa4||yum cha|
|チャーシュー (叉焼)||chāshū||叉燒||caa1 siu1||char siu|
|チャーハン (炒飯)||chāhan||炒飯||caau2 faan6||fried rice|
Code-switching and loanword adaptation
Hong Kong Cantonese has a high number of foreign loanwords. Sometimes, the parts of speech of the incorporated words are changed. 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 (Cf. "yeah baby" and French "yé-yé").
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 acceptable to 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 "that 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. An excellent example (though dated) of the convenience and efficiency of such mixing is "打 collect call" replacing "打一個由對方付款嘅長途電話", i.e. 13 syllables reduced to four.
Abbreviations are commonly used in Hong Kong and have flourished with the use of short messaging over the Internet. Some examples:
|Original term||Abbreviated term||Explanation|
|Cantonese: 唔知(m4 zi1) English: do not know||5G (ng5 G)
Example: 甲: 你知唔知邊個係比德? 乙: 我5G
English: A: Do you know who is Peter? B: I don't know (5G).
|The "5" here is not pronounced as "five" but in Cantonese "ng5", which corresponds to the Chinese word "五" (ng5). Since "五"(ng5) and "唔" (m4), "知" (zi1) and "G" have similar pronunciations, "5G" is used to replace the Cantonese term 唔知, which carries the meaning of "don't know".|
|Cantonese:鍾意(zung1 ji3) English: Like||中2 (zung3 ji6)
English: I like (中2 zung3 ji6) him so much!
|Due to similar pronunciation, the "2" here is pronounced as the Chinese "二" (ji6) rather than "two". Combining this number with the Chinese character "中" (zung3), it carries similar pronunciation as "鍾意"(zung1 ji3) but the structure is much simpler.|
|Cantonese:師奶 (si1 naai1) English: Housewife||C9
English: You dress like a housewife(C9).
|The word C9 should be pronounced in English "C nine", which is very similar to Cantonese si1 naai1. It is an easier form of typing the word "師奶" without changing the meaning in Cantonese. The two characters are already on the keyboard so it is much simpler to type.|
|7-Eleven (7-11)||Se-fun(音:些粉)/ Chat1 Jai2(七仔）
English : Let's go 7-Eleven (Se-fun 些粉) to buy some drinks.
|"Chat1" is the Chinese word of seven and "Jai2" is son or boy|
|Take Away(外賣)||Haang4 Gai1(行街) (literal: walk on the street)
English: Fish Ball Noodles for take-away! (Haang4 Gai1 行街)
|This abbreviation is often used in Hong Kong-style cafés for take-away.|
Example: 甲: 你今日要番學? 乙:55
English: A: Do you need to attend school today? B:Yea.(55)
|Homophonic for "ng ng" (嗯嗯) which indicates agreement or understanding.|
English: I posted (po) a photo.
|example of common omission of final consonant (not naturally occurring in Cantonese)|
- Bilingualism in Hong Kong
- Cantonese profanity
- Code-switching in Hong Kong
- Proper Cantonese pronunciation
- Comparison of national standards of Chinese
- Hong Kong English
- The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong, whose Cantonese Romanization Scheme is known as Jyutping
- Varieties of Chinese
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