Cantonese is spoken by at least 70 million people mainly in the south east of
China, particularly in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan. It
is also spoken in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and
among Overseas Chinese communities in many other countries.
In many schools in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong, Cantonese is the medium of
instruction, though the students are taught to read and write standard Chinese,
which they read with Cantonese pronunciation. Cantonese is also the main language
of business, the media and government in both Hong Kong and Macau.
Cantonese has appeared in writing since the 17th century. It is used mainly in
personal correspondence, diaries, comics, poetry, advertising, popular newspapers,
magazines and to some extent in literature. There are two standard ways of written
Cantonese: a formal version and a colloquial version. The formal version is quite
different from spoken Cantonese but very similiar to Standard Chinese and can be
understood by Mandarin speakers without too much difficulty. The colloquial version
is much closer to spoken Cantonese and largely unintelligible to Mandarin speakers.
In Hong Kong, colloquial Cantonese is written with a mixture of standard Chinese
characters and over a thousand extra characters invented specifically for Cantonese.
The extra characters are included in the Hong Kong Supplementary Characters Set (HKSCS).
Special Cantonese characters
A selection of characters and words used in colloquial written Cantonese, with
Yale romanization, their equivalents in Standard Written Chinese with Cantonese
and Mandarin pronunciation, and English translations.
啤啤仔 (bihbījái) is often written BB仔
Romanization systems for Cantonese
Many different systems for writing Cantonese with the Latin alphabet
have been devised. These include:
The Meyer-Wempe romanisation system was developed by two Catholic missionaries
in Hong Kong: Bernhard F. Meyer and Theodore F. Wempe during the 1920s and 1930s.
The Yale romanisation system was developed at Yale University by Parker Huang and
Gerald Kok. It is designed for American students learning Cantonese so the
pronunciation is based on American English.
The Sidney Lau romanisation system was developed by Sidney Lau, the principal
of the Hong Kong Government Language School, for the radio series, "Cantonese-by-Radio",
which was broadcast during the 1960s. It is an adaptation of the Meyer-Wempe system.
The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong (LSHK)
came up with a new scheme for Cantonese
Romanisation known as Jyutping, in 1993. Jyutping can be used to write
all the sounds of modern Cantonese and uses numbers to mark tones. It can
also be used as a computer input method for Cantonese.
Guangdong Romanization (广州话拼音方案)
Guangdong Romanization for Cantonese was first published by the
Guangdong Provincial Education Department in 1960. It is used mainly
in publications in and about Cantonese published in the PRC. There
are also simliar systems for transliterating Teochew, Hakka, and
Penkyamp Romanization is a joint effort by enthusiasts in Guangzhou with a aim
of coming up with an alternative script to write Cantonese.
A romanisation system for Cantonese based on Vietnamese spelling conventions and
developed by Sky Darmos. Further details
Comparison of Cantonese romanization systems
Only Meyer-Wempe and Yựtyựt distinguish between the
/ɕ/ and /s/ sounds as this distinction is not made by most
speakers of Guangzhou Cantonese, and most dictionaries stopped
distinguishing them in the early 1950s. This distinction can
also be made in Jyutping, though only some people do so.
In Guangdong Romanization j, q, x are only used in front of
i and u: u is pronounced like ü in these cases.
The high level and high falling tones are not usually distinguished and have
merged together in Hong Kong Cantonese.
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