Hong Kong Cantonese

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Hong Kong Cantonese
香港粵語; 港式廣東話; 香港話
Native toHong Kong, Macau and some Overseas Communities
RegionPearl River Delta
EthnicityHong Kong people
Macau people
Written Cantonese
Cantonese Braille
Official status
Official language in
 Hong Kong
Regulated byOfficial Language Division[1]
Civil Service Bureau
Government of Hong Kong
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6xgng
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese香港粵語
Simplified Chinese香港粤语
Hong Kong-style Cantonese
Traditional Chinese港式粵語
Hong Kong-Guangdong dialect
Traditional Chinese香港廣東話
Hong Kong-Guangzhou dialect
Traditional Chinese香港廣州話

Hong Kong Cantonese (Chinese: 香港粵語) is a dialect of the Cantonese language commonly spoken in Hong Kong, as well as Macau and some neighbouring areas in Canton. Although the Hong Kong people largely identify this variant of Chinese as "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 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,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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 was loaned into Hong Kong Cantonese, e.g. "巴士" (/páːsǐː/), 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 /ŋ/ 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" (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).

List of observed shifts:[2]

  • 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/): /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 (surname Ng) and (not).
  • Merging of the rising tones (陰上 2nd and 陽上 5th).[3]

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/, literally Hong Kong Constant Growth Bank, becomes /hœ́ːn kɔ̌ːn hɐ̏n sɐ́n ɐ̏n hɔ̏ːn/, sounding like Hon' Kon' itchy body 'un cold (痕身un寒). The name of Cantonese itself (廣東話, "Guangdong speech") would be /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 popular.[4]

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 , 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.[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/.

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:

Table of Colloquial Cantonese Expressions
Colloquial Cantonese Expressions(pronunciation) Literally Colloquially Explanation
離譜 (lei4 po2)

Example: 佢遲咗成粒鐘,真係離譜!

English: He's an hour late. So outrageous!

depart from the score absurd/outrageous/ridiculous/illogical music score
撞板 (jong6 baan2)

Example: 成日都咁衝動,抵佢今次撞板。

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
串 (chuen3)

Example: 你洗唔洗咁串呀!

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"
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 gwa1 dau6 foo6)

Example: 你有乜冬瓜豆腐,我會好傷心㗎!

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.[citation needed]

Imported loanwords

Selected loanwords[5] are shown below.

From English

Chinese Characters Jyutping English
& Other Definitions
Mainland Chinese
aa3 kaan1 account 户口 戶口
拗撬 aau3 giu6 argue
arguments (fights)
吵架 吵架
百家樂 baak3 gaa1 ngok6 Baccarat (card game) 百家乐 百家樂
bo1 ball
(跳)芭蕾(舞) baa1 leoi4 ballet (跳)芭蕾(舞) (跳)芭蕾(舞)
繃帶 bang1 daai2 bandage 绷带 繃帶
(酒)吧 baa1 bar
啤酒 be1 zau2 beer 啤酒 啤酒
比堅尼 bei2 gin1 nei4 bikini 比基尼 比基尼
煲呔 bou1 taai1 bow tie 领结 領結
保齡球 bou2 ling4 bowling 保龄球 保齡球
杯葛 bui1 got3 boycott 抵制 抵制
百家利 baak3 gaa1 lei6 broccoli 西兰花 西蘭花
巴打 baa1 daa2 brother 兄弟 兄弟
蒲飛 pou6 fei1 buffet 布斐 布斐
笨豬跳 ban6 zyu1 tiu3 bungee jumping 蹦极跳 蹦極跳
巴士 baa1 si2 bus 公交/公交车 公車/公共汽車
拜拜 baai1 baai3 bye 再见 再見
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
kaat1 card
卡通 kaa1 tung1 cartoon 卡通 卡通
哥士的(梳打) go1 si2 dik1 caustic soda 氢氧化钠 氫氧化鈉
芝士 zi1 si2 cheese 起司 起司
車厘子 ce1 lei4 zi2 cherry 樱桃 櫻桃
朱古力 zyu1 gu1 lik1 chocolate 巧克力 巧克力
西打酒 sai1 daa2 cider 果酒 果酒
雪茄 syut3 gaa1 cigar 雪茄 雪茄
打咭 daa2 kat1 clock in 打卡 打卡
俱樂部 keoi1 lok6 bou6 club 俱乐部 俱樂部
甘屎(架)/屎皮/論盡 gam1 si4 clumsy 笨拙/笨手笨脚 笨拙/笨手笨腳
可可 ho2 ho2 cocoa 可可 可可
可卡 ho2 kaa1 coca 古柯 古柯
可卡因 ho2 kaa1 jan1 cocaine 可卡因 可卡因
咖啡 gaa3 fe1 coffee 咖啡 咖啡
曲奇 kuk1 kei4 cookie 曲奇 曲奇
咕喱 gu1 lei1 coolie 苦力 苦力
酷哥 huk6 go1 cougar 酷哥/美洲狮 酷哥/美洲獅
忌廉 gei6 lim4 cream 克林姆 克林姆
曲(既) kuk1 crooked (bent)
bend your knees
winding road ahead
弯曲 彎曲
咖喱 gaa3 lei1 curry 咖喱 咖喱
山埃 saan1 aai1 cyanide 山埃 山埃
打令 daa2 ling6 darling 打令 打令
(一)碟(餸) dip6 dish 一道菜 一道菜
都甩(冬甩) dou1 lat1 doughnut 甜甜圈 甜甜圈
Dump(垃圾) dam2 dump (garbage) (In the dump/dumpster)
database dump
pile dump
dumped by boy-/girl-friend
倒掉(垃圾) 倒掉(垃圾)
肥佬 fei4 lou2 fail (failure) 失败 失敗
菲林 fei1 lam2 film 㬵卷 膠卷
揮/爭取 fai1 fight
fight for
打架/争取 打架/爭取
Fan fen1 si2 fan (fanatic)
fan (machine)
粉丝 粉絲
爹地/花打 de1 di4 daddy (father) 爹地 爹地
發騰 faat3 tang4 frightened (被)吓到 (被)嚇到
高爾夫球 gou1 ji5 fu1 golf 高尔夫球 高爾夫球
結他 git3 taa1 guitar 吉他 吉他
吉士 gat1 si2 guts (courage)
felt like someone just punched you in the gut




哈佬(哈囉) haa1 lou3 Hello
哈啰 哈囉
漢堡包 hon3 bou2 baau1 hamburger) 汉堡包 漢堡包
阿頭 (calque) aa3 tau2 the head of
heading to (somewhere)
领导 領導
亨里 hang1 lei5 honey 亨里 亨里
熱狗 (calque) jit6 gau2 hotdog 热狗 熱狗
呼啦圈 fu1 laa1 hyun1 hula hoop 呼啦圈 呼啦圈
雪糕 syut3 go1 ice-cream 冰淇淋 冰淇淋
燕梳 jin1 so1 insure (insurance) 保险 保險
奇異果 kei4 ji6 gwo2 kiwifruit 奇异果 奇異果
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