|Hong Kong Cantonese|
|Native to||Hong Kong, Macau and some Overseas Communities|
|Region||Pearl River Delta|
|Ethnicity||Hong Kong people|
Official language in
| Hong Kong|
|Regulated by||Official Language Division|
Civil Service Bureau
Government of Hong Kong
|Hong Kong-style Cantonese|
|Hong Kong-Guangdong dialect|
|Hong Kong-Guangzhou dialect|
Hong Kong Cantonese (Chinese: ?) is a dialect of the Cantonese language commonly spoken in Hong Kong, as well as Macau and a few of neighbouring areas in Canton. Although the Hong Kong people largely identify this variant of Chinese with the term "Cantonese" (), a variety of publications in Mainland China describe the variant as Hong Kong speech ().
There are slight differences between the pronunciation used in Hong Kong Cantonese and that of the Cantonese spoken in the neighbouring Guangdong Province, where Cantonese (based on the Guangzhou dialect) is a main lingua franca.
Over the years, Hong Kong Cantonese has also absorbed foreign terminology and developed a large set of Hong Kong-specific terms. These differences from the Guangzhou dialect 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 (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.
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 main center of Cantonese. Cantonese became the dominant spoken language in Hong Kong. The frequent migration between Hong Kong and mainland 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 to halt the massive 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 Teochew 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 of Guangzhou. 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. "" (/pá:s?:/), literally, "bus". Hong Kong people even started to calque English constructions, for example, "? (?) make sense" (literally, "it still does not make sense."). Therefore, the vocabularies of Cantonese in Mainland China and Hong Kong substantially 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 initial /n/ into /l/ and the deletion of /?/ 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" (), 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 (/?/) 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:
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 (), /hoe?:? k:? h s n h:?/, becomes /hoe?:n k:n hn sn n h:n/, sounding like Hon' Kon' itchy body ( /hn sn/) 'un cold (UN? /n h:n/) . The name of Cantonese itself (, "Guangdong speech") would be /k:? t w?:/ without the merger, whereas /k:? t w?:/ (sounding like "": "speak eastern speech") and /k:n t w?:/ (sounding like "" : "chase away eastern speech") are overwhelmingly popular.
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 [lek'kou?], "Nancy" pronounce ['l?nsi] 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 the surname ?, or the word ?, 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 /?/, 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 /:i/, but the word is often pronounced /:i/.
Due to Hong Kong's unique historical background, Hong Kong Cantonese has evolved differently from the Mandarin 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|
|?||sik6 wong4 gaa1 faan6||eat Royal meal||being incarcerated|
|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" / "live at Her Majesty's pleasure". 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.
Selected loanwords are shown below.
& Other Definitions
|/||de1 di4||daddy (father)|
|/||maa1 mi4||mammy (mother)|
|Part?||paat1 si2||(auto/computer/machinery) parts|
|Fan?||fen1 si2||fan (fanatic)
bend your knees
winding road ahead
|daa2 kat1||punch card|
|?Pro||hou2 pou3||(very) professional
He's a professional
|Pro?||pou3 faai1||Provide (services)|
|(?)||so1 fu4||relaxing (chilling)
("soft" is the antonym of "firm")
|OH!||ou1||OH! (surprised reaction)||?!||?!|
|?(eg )||wui5||would (e.g. He would know)||?||?|
|Dump()||dam2||dump (garbage) (In the dump/dumpster)
dumped by boy-/girl-friend
|wai1 si2 gei6||whisky|
|baa1 bai3||bapre (ya whatever, stop showing-off!)|
|si6 gaa1 fu4||scarf|
|si6 baa1 naa4||spanner (wrench)|
("" = rental car)
|()||go1 si2 dik1||caustic soda||?||?|
|?||si6 do1 be1 lei2||strawberry|
|ce1 lei4 zi2||cherry|
|kei4 ji6 gwo2||kiwifruit|
|gat1 si2||guts (courage)
felt like someone just punched you in the gut
|(?)Face?||fei1 si2||face (dignity)
|root beer: |
|gat1 lei6||lucky (you)
|zyu1 gu1 lik1||chocolate|
|saam1 man4 zi6||sandwich||
("" is incorrect)
("" is incorrect)
|saam1 man4 jyu2||salmon|
|saa1 din1 jyu2||sardine|
|tan1 naa4 jyu2||tuna|
|High tech||High tech
|()||haa1 lou3||Hallo (Hello)
|to1 fei2 tong2||toffee|
|gaa3 fe1 jan1||caffeine|
|ho2 kaa1 jan1||cocaine|
|kaa1 lou6 lei5||calorie|
|wai4 taa1 ming6||vitamin|
|bei2 gin1 nei4||bikini|
|jin1 so1||insure (insurance)|
|(?)||wai1 faa4||wafer biscuit
||wafer biscuit: ?
|wafer biscuit: ?|
|?gweh||se4 gwe1||scared (of)|
|fei4 lou2||fail (failure)|
|?(?)||zaa1 ce1||to drive||?(?)||?(?)|
|paak3 ce1||to park|
|bou1 taai1||bow tie|
|ban6 zyu1 tiu3||bungee jumping|
|jau4 teng5||yachting (yacht)|
|?||gou1 ji5 fu1||golf||?||?|
|quali||ko1 li2||qualification (qualify; have a say)
|fu1 laa1 hyun1||hula hoop|
|baak3 gaa1 lei6||broccoli|
|baak3 gaa1 ngok6||Baccarat (card game)|
|keoi1 lok6 bou6||club|
|mou4 dak6 yi4||model|
|fei1 lam2||photographic film|
we have a robber on our hands
|(?)Cash?||ke1 syu4||(pay by) cash||(?)||(?)|
|hon3 bou2 baau1||hamburger (burger)|
|(calque)||aa3 tau2||the head of
heading to (somewhere)
|Chinese Characters||Jyutping||French||English||Mainland Chinese
|so1 fu4 lei4||soufflé||soufflé|
|Chinese Characters||Jyutping||Japanese||Japanese R?maji||English||Mainland Chinese
|OK||kaa1 laa1 ou1 kei1||?||karaoke||karaoke||OK||OK|
|lou5 sai3||setainushi||chief (CEO)
the Head (of a company)
|gaan1 baa1 de1||?||ganbatte||Keep up! (studying)
Come on! (cheering)
|fong3 tai4||?||tabe h?dai||buffet|
|add oil||gaa1 yau2|
|bok choy||baak6 coi3|
|char siu||caa1 siu1|
|chop chop (hurry up)||chuk1 chuk1|
|chop suey||(?)||zaap6 seoi3|
|chow mein||caau2 min6|
|choy sum||coi3 sam1|
|dim sum||dim2 sam1|
|gai lan||gaai3 laan2|
|har gow||haa1 gaau2|
|hoisin sauce||hoi2 sin1 zoeng3|
|kung fu||gung1 fu1|
|lo mein||lou1 min6|
|nunchaku||loeng5 zit3 gwan3|
|Pai gow||paai4 gau2|
|shu mai||siu1 maai6|
|yum cha||jam2 caa4|
|maai4 daan1||(Can we please have the) bill?|
|paak3 dong3||partner|| (in ownership and business)|
|daap3 dik1 si2||to ride a taxi||?|
|, corruption of||mou4 lei4 tau4||nonsensical humour (see mo lei tau)
newbie who knows nothing
|/||leng3 zai2||handsome boy|
(in China only)
|hou2 zeng3||(colloquial) awesome; perfect; just right|
|/||gaau2 dim6||Is it done yet? (It's) Done!
It has been taken care of!
|Taiwanese Mandarin||Hanyu Pinyin||Cantonese||Jyutping||English|
|(?)||(hóu) s?iléi||(?)||hou2 sai1 lei6||(very) impressive|
|Hold?||hòu zhù||Hold?||hou1 jyu6||hold on|
hang tight (hang in there)
|Japanese Kana (Kanji)||Japanese R?maji||Chinese Characters||Jyutping||English|
|? ()||yamucha||jam2 caa4||yum cha|
|()||ch?sh?||caa1 siu1||char siu|
|()||ch?han||caau2 faan6||fried rice|
Hong Kong Cantonese has a high number of foreign loanwords. Sometimes, the part of speech of the incorporated words are also changed, like "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, "?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 ?" 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, " 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" () can be used like "? su1 ? su1 aa3?" (are you sure?) as if it were its Cantonese counterpart "", 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 "? collect call" replacing "?", i.e. 13 syllables reduced to four.