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Lesson Transcript

Matt: Hello everybody. Welcome to our Pronunciation series! I'm Matt.
Nicole: 大家好 (daai6 gaa1 hou2), I'm Nicole.
Matt: Today we’re going to start with the basics and slowly work our way up!
Nicole: That’s right, first we’ll talk about what Cantonese sounds are made of.
Matt: Now as some of you might already know, Cantonese uses a character system for its writing language.
Nicole: But despite its beauty the characters don't really give any phonetics to its pronunciation.
Matt: And they also don't indicate which tones they pronounce in. So to better learn the pronunciation, fortunately there's a phonetic system that we've talked about before that's called Jyutping.
Nicole: Yes, Jyutping, it gives us the phonetics and the tones of each character so even if we can't read the character we can still sound the word.
Matt: The Jyutping system is formed of small elements that make up a word. So that when you see the words you can pronounce them.
Nicole: That's right, so you learn the small bits first and then you can go on to string them together.
Matt: Right. Cantonese sound can be called syllables.
Nicole: These syllables can be a standalone word or they can be combined together to form compound words, which quite often they are.
Matt: Each syllable is made up of an initial sound, a final sound and a tone.
Nicole: Right. So basically Jyutping are broken down into initial sounds, final sounds, and six tones. And these initials and finals are sounds of cantonese characters transcribed into romanized letters.
Matt: They look a lot like English but they're more like the symbol for the Cantonese pronunciation.
Nicole: That’s right. There are altogether about 19 initials in Cantonese. This is the sound that a Cantonese word starts with. There are about 58 compounds or final sounds that combine with those to make Cantonese syllables.
Matt: Basically these 19 initials and 58 finals can be put together to form many possible Combinations.
Nicole: Hm, so can you guess how many altogether they can form?
Matt: I can’t do the math in my head right now.
Nicole: Anyway, As we mentioned Jyutping uses the same letters as English, but when you end up seeing it spelled like you sometimes do in Newspapers, you can't pronounce them like you would in English.
Matt: Definitely not. Even if you want to, it'll be difficult. They look like weird English words with lots of Zs and Cs inside of them.
Nicole: Well, the tones in Jyutping are represented by a number placed on the right side of the syllable. They're numbers from 1 to 6.
Matt: That’s right. So it’d look like there’s a number following each words. We'll discuss further in the coming lessons.
Nicole: But don't worry. Although you can't pronounce all Jyutping combinations like English, you'll find it quite straight once you grasp the initials and finals.
Matt: So, Cantonese doesn’t have that many sounds to begin with, compared with other languages, right?
Nicole: That's right. There are only 600 plus syllables or individual word sounds...
Matt: Only 600?
Nicole: It could be worse, like 6,000 or something.
Matt: That’s right. So there are lots of homophones in Cantonese, which means words that share the same sounds. Something you love, but can also be something you hate.
Nicole: love and hate are very close.
Matt: It would mean that would mean you have less word sounds to learn, however the downside of it is...
Nicole: you'll need the context to get what a word means.
Matt: But it happens in English too. You'll get used to it. It's all context.
Nicole: Okay now 600 possible sounds. I'm sure no one wants to sit here and listen to us go on with 600 possible sounds.
Matt: Probably not, but we can play a fun game called 'Laugh at the Foreigner's Pronunciations' game.
Nicole: Hahah good idea. But I won't laugh at you Matt, or our listeners. I understand how hard it is to learn a new language, so as long as you're trying, that's good.
Matt: So what I'm going to do is I'll read a Jyutping sound like it would sound if an English speaker would pronounce it, and then Nicole will correct me.
Nicole: . That way our listeners will know what NOT to say.
Matt: will help us learn what we SHOULD say.
Nicole: Sounds good. So I'll spell the Jyutping word and you'll say it.
Matt: I'm ready.
Nicole: first Jyutping word, t o e.
Matt: that's too easy. Toe!
Nicole: That's the typical English way of pronouncing it. But in Cantonese, it sounds like this 'toe'.
Matt: Sounds so different. Can we have it one more time?
Nicole: It's a challenging sound that sounds nothing like its counterpart in English.
Matt: Right. It's like the "ur" in "fur". But you don't need to roll your tongue, just kinda make your lips round.
Nicole: (sounding the 'oe' slowly) When you make the 'oe' sound your lips are round like you're about to throw up.
Matt: 'toe' should sound like...
Nicole: “toe”.
Matt: . Gimme another one, Nicole. I'm not embarrassed.
Nicole: l-o-e-n-g
Matt: Let me think about it (… and pronounces leong)
Nicole: That’s very close. But it’s 'loeng'.
Matt: It's not difficult because I've heard a lot of those big names in HongKong movies like Tony Loeng, Maggie Choeng.
Nicole: Exactly. However one thing that's worth noticing is that the -ng ending sound in Cantonese is a lot softer than in English, and it's quite nasal. “ng”.
Matt: Right. Is this -oe in 'loeng' the same as the “toe” word we just talked about?
Nicole: Yes, -OE.. and – OENG.. and finally – LOENG. You can see how “loeng” is formed by these smaller parts.
Matt: That’s a little bit easy when we break it down like that. What’s our next one?
Nicole: DOEK.
Matt: Another sound that involves -oe? Well I’m gonna go with the English pronunciation and say that it’d be 'doek'.
Nicole: Thank you Matt, for sacrificing yourself. In Jyutping it should be 'doek'.
Matt: So it's not “doek” but...
Nicole: “doek”.
Matt: Sounds a little bit like “duck”, and notice how Nicole says the ending sound...
Nicole: “doek”.
Matt: The word is spelled D-O-E-K, but that final K is pronounced slightly differently than the regular K. This is called a “glottal stop”, and we have this in the expression “uh-oh” in English. “Uh-oh.” Notice the little break in between the two syllables – this is defined as the glottal stop.
Nicole: Yes, very good explanation. And in Cantonese, the ending consonant K is always silent, which means you don't have to pronounce them.. 'doek', 'joek', ‘soek’...
Matt: It is also true for the Ps and Ts at the end of some Cantonese words.
Nicole: That’s right. -p -t -k, these are the only three glottal stops in Cantonese.
Matt: Ok now let’s move on to our next word.
Nicole: OK, J-I-K.
Matt: ( says 'jik') !
Nicole: That sounds like it, but in Cantonese, it’s 'jik'.
Matt: The consonant, or the starting sound on this word is a little different than English.
Nicole: Yes. In Jyutping, 'J' sounds like 'y' in the English word 'yes'. So it’s “jik”.
Matt: if I want to transcribe it into English it would be 'yik'.
Nicole: Yeah it would seem so. So remember in Jyutping, 'J' sounds like 'j', as in “yes”.
Matt: in this word we have the glottal stop K, which is not pronounced.
Nicole: Right. “Jik”
Matt: OK, I think we got that word down, what's our next one?
Nicole: BIU
Matt: (says biu)
Nicole: Very close. In Cantonese it’s “biu”.
Matt: In Cantonese the middle 'i' sound is longer and stronger like in English when you say 'bee'.
Nicole: Right. And then you add the U to the end. BeeeeeU. It means a watch. Like in the sentence 'I bought a new watch', I bought a new BIU.
Matt: Alright, Nicole, shoot me another one.
Nicole: SYU.
Matt: That’s a little bit difficult, I’m gonna go with ‘Sy-u’.
Nicole: Are you breaking it into two words? ‘Sy-u’?
Matt: Well you can’t have them together like that.
Nicole: Excellent pronunciation!
Matt: Really?
Nicole: On your english pronunciation, excellent! But in cantonese it sounds like “syu”.
Matt: Oh so the “yu” sound is quite nasal.
Nicole: Right. It is made by pronouncing an ‘i’ first, and then stretch it a little bit, and round your mouth, like “yu”.
Matt: Okay, Nicole, what about the next word we have.
Nicole: OK. Next one we have is SYUN.
Matt: So it’s just the same as the last word we had, except with an extra 'N' on to the end. Alright, so this one’s going to be… uh… ‘sy-un’?
Nicole: ‘Sy-un’ it sounds like a Cantonese store or Cantonese restaurant’s name. Actually, it's a nasal version of the last word “syu”, so it's “syun”. You see how I add the nasal part at the end?
Matt: Alright--I think we shouldn't overwhelm our listeners today.
Nicole: Right. We shouldn't tell them 'fun' is not pronounced as ‘fun’ but “fun”, ‘sat’ is not ‘sat’ but “sat”.
Matt: We have a lot of other tips on this lesson in our premium lesson PDFs.
Nicole: Yes, you can find the PDFs in the premium learning center.
Matt: The PDF for this lesson has a lot more tricky words and sounds, and also suggestions on how to shape your mouth and how to make the sounds.
Nicole: So you can sound like a Native Cantonese speaker.
Matt: Yes. So you’ll be a CANtoneser, not a CANToneser.
Nicole: So thanks for listening and we'll see you on the site.
Matt: And tune in again for our next Pronunciation lesson.
Nicole: I’m Nicole
Matt: And I’m Matt.
Nicole: Bye!


Please to leave a comment.
😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 06:30 PM
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Cantonese characters--do you love or loathe them? :) tell us!

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Monday at 10:55 AM
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Hi Annie,

Thanks for your questions. 😉

This is the pronunciation rule, just like in other languages, there may also have different pronunciations for "y" sound. You just need to memorize the "j" in Jyutping sounds like "y" in English.

粵拼 (jyut6 ping3) is the contraction of 粵語拼音 (jyut6 jyu5 ping3 jam1) (Cantonese + Pinyin).


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Friday at 04:30 PM
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I am just curious... from this lesson, no. 6 of in this list of Romanized Jyutping pronunciations "[jik]" is explained that "j" is pronounced as like "y" as in yes in English. What is the origin of the word "Jyutping" and why would there be a need to join 'j' and 'y' together?

Thanks so much.

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Thursday at 05:14 PM
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Hello Henry,

Thank you for your question.

We're not sure if this would help, but could you try the following?

Make sure to select the keyboard to “Chinese Traditional Hong Kong” instead of “Chinese Traditional Taiwan”.

Hong Kong people mainly use “Traditional Chinese characters”, and people from mainland China use “Simplified Chinese”.



Team CantoneseClass101.com

Tuesday at 11:30 PM
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I want to use cantonese in iPhone, but when i turn my keyboard to 'Chinese, Traditional', cantonese pronounciation didn't work. In Hong kong, people use which keyboard? Anyone in Hongkong use 'Chines, simplified' keyboard???

Cantoneseclass101.com Verified
Sunday at 08:23 AM
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Hello Domi,

You are absolutely right! :thumbsup:

Knowing common radicals of traditional Chinese characters can help you greatly on learning the meaning of the letters. You can check out the link listed below. You may find it useful and interesting.



Team CantoneseClass101.com

Monday at 06:12 AM
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I love Cantonese characters and I prefer traditional writing over simplified. Removing radicals from characters making them easier to memorize but also more difficult to understand (because radicals in characters are usually logically related to describe meaning of character they are part of).

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Saturday at 12:57 PM
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Hi Kabut,

Thank you for your comment. About the rest of the pronunciations like 9 [pung] and 10[me], you may check out the link listed below. You can just click the triangular shape "play icon" in the Jyutping Chart to practice the pronunciation.


I hope you will find it useful!:smile:


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Tuesday at 03:25 PM
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This audio lesson ends at commenting on 8.[fun] sound.

Where is the rest of the lesson about 9 [pung] and 10[me] sound??

I have checked next lesson and it is about tones.

Thursday at 01:07 PM
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Hi David Lloyd-Jones,

Thank you very much for the info, we'll check it out :wink:

Yeah, I won't be surprised if there really are a thousand characters used exclusively for HK pronunciations, I bet most people don't even know how to write them even though we say it everyday.

You're right, there are so much cultural insights that we can observe in a language or dialect, that are in a different direction of separate evolution than other regions that speak the same language or dialect. :thumbsup:


Team CantoneseClass101.com

David Lloyd-Jones
Monday at 04:40 PM
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That's super!

On the subject of rights, linguistic pride, etc., there's a Hong Kong (or is it Cantonese) Linguistics Society. I haven't been on their site in years, so I'm not being terribly helpful, but maybe you know about them, and could post.

Back around the time of the return to Chines authority -- or whatever the "correct" word is -- this Society put out a Cantonese word processor, free on the Web. To my astonishment (I only read the docs, never actually used it), it said it has a thousand (!) characters used exclusively for Hong Kong pronunciations.

Even if we assume this is Cantonese, not just Hong Kong, since as you have said the orthographies are different, this would seem to me to represent a pretty awesome departure in the direction of separate evolution.

Any thoughts?