|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|
Although Hong Kongers refer to the language as "Cantonese" (), publications in mainland China describe the variant as Hong Kong dialect (), 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.
This section does not cite any sources. (February 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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 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. 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 mainland China, prompting the Hong Kong Government to close its border. Illegal immigration from mainland China into Hong Kong nevertheless continued.
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.
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. "" (/pá:s?:/), literally, "bus". 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.
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:?/, literally Hong Kong Constant Growth Bank, becomes /hoe?:n k:n hn sn n h:n/, sounding like Hon' Kon' itchy body 'un cold (un?). The name of Cantonese itself (, "Guangdong speech") would be /k:? t w?:/ without the merger, whereas /k:? t w?:/ (sounding like "": "say 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/.
This section does not cite any sources. (February 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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|
| (lei4 po2)
English: He's an hour late. So outrageous!
|depart from the score||absurd/outrageous/ridiculous/illogical||music score|
| (jong6 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?
|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"|
| (si6 daan6)
Example: A? B: !
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 ? (si3 mo4 gei6 daan6, disregard of constraints)
|? (dung1 gwa1 dau6 foo6)
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.
Selected loanwords are shown below.
& Other Definitions
|baak3 gaa1 ngok6||Baccarat (card game)|
|bei2 gin1 nei4||bikini|
|bou1 taai1||bow tie|
|baak3 gaa1 lei6||broccoli|
|ban6 zyu1 tiu3||bungee jumping|
|kaa1 lou6 lei5||calorie|
|gaa3 fe1 jan1||caffeine|
|()||go1 si2 dik1||caustic soda||?||?|
|ce1 lei4 zi2||cherry|
|zyu1 gu1 lik1||chocolate|
|daa2 kat1||clock in|
|keoi1 lok6 bou6||club|
|ho2 kaa1 jan1||cocaine|
bend your knees
winding road ahead
|()||dam2||dump (garbage) (In the dump/dumpster)
dumped by boy-/girl-friend
|fei4 lou2||fail (failure)|
|Fan?||fen1 si2||fan (fanatic)
|/||de1 di4||daddy (father)|
|?||gou1 ji5 fu1||golf||?||?|
|gat1 si2||guts (courage)
felt like someone just punched you in the gut
|hon3 bou2 baau1||hamburger)|
|[calque]||aa3 tau2||the head of
heading to (somewhere)
|fu1 laa1 hyun1||hula hoop|
|jin1 so1||insure (insurance)|
|kei4 ji6 gwo2||kiwifruit|
|gat1 lei6||lucky (you)
|mou4 dak6 yi4||model|
|/||maa1 mi4||mummy (mother)|
|paak3 ce1||parking a vehicle|
|saam1 man4 jyu2||salmon|
|saam1 man4 zi6||sandwich|
|saa1 din1 jyu2||sardine|
|saa1 si2||Sarsaparilla (soft drink)
|root beer: |
|si6 gaa1 fu4||scarf|
|(?)||so1 fu4||relaxing (chilling)
("soft", antonym of "firm")
|si6 baa1 naa4||spanner (wrench)|
|?||si6 do1 be1 lei2||strawberry|
("" = rental car)
|to1 fei2 tong2||toffee|
|tan1 naa4 jyu2||tuna|
|wai4 taa1 ming6||vitamin|
|(?)||wai1 faa4||wafer biscuit
||wafer biscuit: ?
|wafer biscuit: ?|
|wai1 si2 gei6||whisky|
|?[e.g. ]||wui5||would (e.g. He would know)||?||?|
|jau4 teng5||yachting (yacht)|
|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|
|chop chop (hurry up)||chuk1 chuk1|
|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 parts of speech of the incorporated words are changed. 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 acceptable to 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.
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?(ng4 zi1) English: do not know||5G (ng5 G)
Example: ? ?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 is the Chinese word "?" (ng5). Since "?"(ng5) and "?" (ng4), "?" (zi1) and "G" are having similar pronunciations, we used 5G to replace the Cantonese term", which carries the meaning of don't know. (Sometimes "idk" is more often to express "I do not know".)|
|Cantonese:(zung1 ji3) English: Like||?2 (zung3 ji6)
English: I like (?2 zung3 ji6) him so much!
|Due to similar pronunciation, the "2" here is pronounced as the Chinese "?" (ji6) rather than "two". Combining this number with the Chinese character "?" (zung3), it carries similar pronunciation as ""(zung1 ji3) but the structure of this martian language term is much simpler.|
|Cantonese:(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 "" 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(?:)/ Chat1 Jai2()
English : Let's go 7-Eleven (Se-fun ) to buy some drinks.
|"Chat1" is the Chinese word of seven and "Jai2" is son or boy|
|Take Away()||Haang4 Gai1() (literal: walk on the street)
English: Fish Ball Noodles for take-away! (Haang4 Gai1 )
|This abbreviation is often used in Hong Kong-style cafés for take-away.|
Example: ? ?:55
English: A: Do you need to attend school today? B:Yea.(55)
|Homophonic for "ng ng" () which indicates agreement or understanding.|
English: I posted (po) a photo.
|example of common omission of final consonant (not naturally occurring in Cantonese)|