Saturday, April 2, 2016

Cantonese Session(1) - How to pronounce 香港 (Hong Kong)?

Apart from being an app developer, I'm an amateur linguist, especially in phonology. I feel obliged to tell all of you how beautiful the Cantonese language is, starting from now I'll be writing posts about my mother tongue.

First of all, let's talk about how to pronounce Hong Kong, the cultural hub of the language.

It's /hoeng1 gong2/(香港) in jyutping(粵拼), the standard romanisation scheme for Cantonese.

The IPA equivalent is /hœŋ˥ kɔŋ˧˥/, hope this doesn't scare you ;)

  • h is simple, the h sound in English (e.g. horse /hɔːs/)
  • œ doesn't exist in either RP or American English, but for French speakers it's no foreign sound. In French orthography œu (e.g. cœur /kœʁ/) is pronounced as /œ/
  • In Mandarin Chinese, the diphthong üe is pronounced as œ (e.g. yue /ɥœ/ )
  • ŋ is ng, nothing special (e.g. sing /sɪŋ/ )
  • k is a little bit tricky. In Cantonese(and most other Sinitic languages), there're contrasts between aspirated and unaspirated plosives (e.g. /pʰ,tʰ,kʰ/ vs /p,t,k/ ), while voiced and voiceless contrasts are absent (e.g. /p,t,k/ vs /b,d,g/ ). To unnoticed ears, the unaspirated plosives in Cantonese /p,t,k/ may be mistakenly recognised as /b,d,g/. However if you're a native speaker of French, Spanish or any language in which contrasts in voicing exists, you'll spot the difference.
  • It's becoming overly technical, in short it's exactly like the k in skin /skɪn/
  • ɔ is simple, law /lɔː/

Okay, we've done with the cryptic vowels and consonants, how about the two even weirder guys, ˥ and ˧˥ ?

Remember, all Sinitic languages are tonal languages (Shanghainese is an interesting exception though), tones discern phonemes. Inaccurate use of tones is a hallmark of broken Chinese :)
  • ˥ is the high tone, indicating that throughout the articulation of this sound the contour remains in the high level.
  • ˧˥ is the mid rising tone, indicating that the contour starts at the middle level and rises to the high level somewhen in between.

tl;dr, check and get our app Cantonese Dictionary from here!

Resonance, cofounder of AppAppWorks