The Road of Jyutping (Cantonese Romanization) in Hong Kong and Its Social Implications and Applications

Suen Caesar Lun

City University of Hong Kong, China, Peoples Republic of


The Road of Jyutping (Cantonese Romanization) in Hong Kong and Its Social Implications and Applications

There have been several Cantonese Romanization Schemes for Cantonese , e.g. Wade-Giles, Yale, Wong Shek Ling’s, etc. but none has been taken seriously to represent Cantonese in daily applications (Sze 2002). Some have been used for transcribing names and the adoption is usually unsystematic and ad-hoc. Many are just restricted to the transcription of Chinese (including native Cantonese characters) in dictionaries and are not well known to the general public who seldom care for looking up Chinese characters. In 1993, the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong (LSHK) gathered some member linguists to devise a comprehensive scheme based on ASCII codes only that incorporates the advantages of many existing systems after long heated debates for a year and eventually announced formally in the Fourth International Conference on Cantonese and other Yue Dialects in December 1994. the so-called LSHK Jyutping Scheme. Since then, Jyutping has had a long road to go to get to the educational sector, the Hong Kong governments (both the British-Hong Kong Government and the HKSAR Government) and the private sector. More than ten years have passed and some results have been seen.

However, to the advocates, there is still not enough break-through in Jyutping’s exposure to the general public. Ordinary citizens usually have a vague idea of representing Cantonese using ‘English letters’. It is evident that the codification of Cantonese making use of Jyutping is both needed for the mother-tongue education promoted by the HKSAR government for it should facilitate the learning of Putonghua and English through a conscious contrast and comparison with Cantonese, the dominant vernacular in the street, which is a dialect of Southern Chinese so that negative interference can be avoided. Though some progress has been seen, it is far from enough. Moreover, confronted with the telecommunications and IT needs of the modern world, a standard way to represent the language phonemically and phonetically is most needed for daily applications. However, not enough effort has been seen in this direction and there is still a long road to go for Cantonese Jyutping to succeed in all walks of life. Considering that Jyutping is not on the high priority list of the government and not an extremely profitable endeavor for the private sector which looks to the north for business opportunities, the long march of Jyutping is going to be tough. This paper will try to describe and discuss the roadmap for the Jyutping Scheme to get the popularity it deserves and thus it can serve as the standard Romanization Scheme to represent Cantonese in all walks of life.

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 6 (Standardization, Codification)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 14