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Cantonese as written language in Hong Kong

香港書面粵語

Robert S. Bauer
Published Online: 2018-03-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2018-0006

Abstract

A unique potpourri of historical, political, social, cultural, and linguistic factors have all influenced the development of the Hong Kong Cantonese language so that it has emerged into a distinctive, independent form of Chinese; while it most certainly shares features with other Chinese languages, nonetheless, it can be described as separate, different, and special. Hong Kong Cantonese and Putonghua are two mutually-unintelligible languages. The Cantonese language is not simply the standard Chinese characters plus their Cantonese pronunciations. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong Cantonese that sets it apart from all other regional Chinese languages is its highly conventionalized written form that is being widely used throughout this speech community. What we clearly observe is that Hong Kong Cantonese-speakers are transcribing with Chinese characters and even English letters the lexicon and grammar of their Cantonese speech; this practice was precisely expressed by Huang Zunxian 黃遵憲 of the late Qing dynasty in his phrase《我手寫我口》(ngo5 sau2 se2 ngo5 hau2) 1, literally, ‘my hand writes my mouth’, i.e. I write the way I speak. This must be appreciated as no mean feat, given the lack of formal standardization, along with the fact that Cantonese-speaking schoolchildren are not explicitly taught to read and write Cantonese but learn to do so informally and indirectly through exposure to its pervasive use. In other words, in Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking children have acquired their Cantonese speech in the usual way from their parents and peers but without ever learning how to read or write its written form; and, up until relatively recently, they went to school to learn how to read and write a language, that is, standard Chinese/Putonghua, which they did not speak (this situation has been changing as an increasing number of schools have switched over to using Putonghua as their medium of instruction over the past 15 years or so). Not surprisingly, the combination of standard Chinese characters used in non-standard ways with uniquely Cantonese (nonstandard, dialectal) characters and English letters in a text of written Cantonese renders it almost unintelligible to Putonghua speakers from mainland China and Taiwan.

Five processes can be observed operating in written Cantonese: viz., traditional usage of the standard Chinese characters, as well as their phoneticization, indigenization, semanticization, and alphabeticization (through intimate contact with English). Related to these five processes are 12 basic principles that underlie written Cantonese. In combination together these processes and principles provide us with the means for systematically analyzing written Cantonese. In order to promote the eventual standardization of written Cantonese, this study has identified two main problems of variation in the transcription of Cantonese lexical items that still require appropriate resolution.

摘要

有啲歷史、政治、社會、文化、語言因素巧妙融合,令香港粵語發展成獨立無雙嘅漢語。香港粵語肯定同其他區域漢語有啲共同特色,但仍然係獨特語言,同「標準漢語」分庭伉禮。香港粵語同普通話係兩種相互無法互通嘅語言。而且香港粵語唔單止係標準漢字加粵語發音。香港粵語有個好明顯嘅特徵,可以區分佢同其他區域漢語,就係香港粵語經已發展成相當約定俗成嘅書面形式,喺香港言語社群廣泛使用。我哋好清楚觀察到講香港粵語嘅人用漢字同英文字母寫粵語詞彙同語法。香港人呢個做法正係跟住晚清朝黃遵憲所謂「我手寫我口」,字面意思即係,我隻手所寫嘅文字跟實我個口所講嘅説話。由於書面粵語尚未正式標準化,所以香港書面粵語有呢個成就,都經已非常值得讚賞。仲有呢,喺香港講粵語嘅細路返學校都冇機會直接學讀學寫粵語。但係因爲書面粵語喺香港相當普遍使用,所以啲學生接觸書面粵語嘅機會都幾多,結果佢哋靠非正式同間接途徑,都學習識睇識寫書面粵語。換言之,香港講粵語嘅細路都係以平常方式,從父母、朋友箇道學識粵語,但就冇學如何讀寫書面粵語。直到最近,佢哋上堂學讀作標準中文,但呢種語言佢哋其實唔會講嘅 (另一方面,最近十幾年,情況變緊,越嚟越多香港學校改用普通話做教學語言)。香港書面粵語,以非標準方式用標準漢字,加埋獨特粵語字 (非標準方言字)、 以及英文字母,唔出奇中國大陸同台灣講普通話嘅人嚟香港就幾乎睇唔明書面粵語。

書面粵語可見下列五種過程: 即係,標準漢字傳統用法,以及漢字語音化、本土化、語義化、同字母化 (經由與英文密切接觸)。同呢五種過程有關者尚有十二個基本原則,係做為書面粵語嘅基礎。結合起嚟,呢啲過程同原則就係幫我哋做有系統性分析書面粵語嘅手段。為咗實現書面粵語最終標準化,本研究確認粵語詞彙嘅書寫方法有兩個主要變異問題 (即係前後唔一致),仍然需要妥善解決。

Keywords: Cantonese; Cantonese character; Cantonese word; Hong Kong Chinese; modern standard written Chinese; written Cantonese

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About the article

Published Online: 2018-03-28

Published in Print: 2018-03-26


Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 103–142, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2018-0006.

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