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Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Why do I sometimes hear nei5, and sometimes lei5?
Pronunciation among native Cantonese speakers in China can be different from that of Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong. A lot of people in Hong Kong, especially the younger generations, use a lot of their own conversational slang and tend to speak what we call a "lazy tongue," or 懶音 (laan5 jam1). An example is the word "you"; the right way to pronounce it is nei5, but in Hong Kong many people pronounce it as lei5.
Let's get into more details. Why do the variations exist?
In the recent two or three generations, lazy tongue pronunciations have became more common; the most significant variations are between the 'n' and 'l', 'ng' and 'o', and 'gw' and 'g' consonants. Undoubtedly, the lazy tongue pronunciations are more natural and fluid in speech, and is acceptable because others can still understand the meaning based on context despite the un-standard pronunciations. Moreover, the Hong Kong school system focuses on standard Chinese writing more than colloquial Cantonese speech (unless one is in the recitation or debate team), hence, the lazy tongue is rarely corrected. Nowadays, it's common to hear a few lazy tongue pronunciations here and there in daily conversation.
So, will the “lazy tongue” pronunciation eventually take over the standard pronunciation?
Despite being used commonly, lazy tongue is still frowned upon in some industries that require clear and proper pronunciation, such as newscasters, radio hosts, actors, etc.
In recent years, there were also a few TV programs focusing on fixing the lazy tongue issue, and teaching young generations about the importance of using standard pronunciation.
Let's look at some examples, for instance, 'gw-' vs 'g-'. 國(gwok3) means "country", but someone with lazy tongue would pronounce it as gok3, which consequently changes the meaning and causes confusion. While 外國 (ngoi6 gwok3) means "overseas", the lazy version 外閣 (ngoi6 gok3) means "foreign minister".
Interestingly enough, there is occasionally hypercorrection of the lazy tongue pronunciations. For example, 愛 (oi3) is sometimes pronounced as ngoi3 mistakenly when the speaker thought the standard form had an 'ng' consonant.


How was it? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)


Please to leave a comment.
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CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Friday at 06:30 PM
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What Cantonese learning question do you have?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Friday at 10:42 AM
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Hi Ian,

Thanks for your question.

You can check the corresponding Jyutping on our website or here: https://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/.

And for your inquiry,

壓 (aat3), 亞 (aa3), 鴨 (aap3), 晏 (aan3). 😉


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Thursday at 08:32 AM
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Do you have any tips for knowing for sure which words have the "ng" in front and which words don't?

I've only just now learned that 爱 is pronounced "oi" instead of "ngoi." I just assumed that basically any Cantonese word that starts with a vowel should have the "ng" sound in front of it.

How about 压? 亚? 鸭?晏?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Monday at 02:51 PM
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Hello Kevin,

Thank you very much! It is our pleasure! ❤️️😆


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Saturday at 11:22 AM
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Thank you for this series, Olivia, it's very interesting!