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Cantonese Slangs Used By Todays Generation Essay

Why not write in written Cantonese?

Cantonese speakers are not unwilling to write their own language. Nowadays, written Cantonese is often used in instant messaging, social network, advertisements and billboards. It is also gaining public attention as the Government of China wants to ban it.

There is a Yue Wikipedia site containing 40,000+ articles written in Cantonese. However, written Cantonese is almost always used only in informal writings.

For formal writings, standard written Chinese is being used. It is taught in school to write in standard written Chinese (i.e. written Mandarin). It is because Mandarin was chosen as the basis for standard written Chinese as they had the largest number of speakers during the language reform.

No matter which dialect one spoke, one still wrote in standardised Mandarin for everyday writing. However, Cantonese is unique amongst the non-Mandarin varieties in having a widely used written form. (Wikipedia)

Standard written Chinese is understood by speakers of all varieties of Chinese. Even so, there are some variations in vocabularies in different countries (see example).

Standard written Chinese can be spoken in Cantonese.

(It is interesting to know that, historically, written Cantonese has been used in Hong Kong for legal proceedings in order to write down the exact spoken testimony of a witness, instead of paraphrasing spoken Cantonese into standard written Chinese.)

Side reading: Language policy of Hong Kong

The language policy of Hong Kong is 兩文三語 (Bi-literacy and Tri-lingualism), which includes:

  • Written: Chinese & English
  • Spoken: Cantonese, Mandarin & English

Standard written Chinese is normally referred as "Chinese" (中文) or "written Chinese" (書面語) instead of "Mandarin Chinese".

For spoken Chinese (口語), Cantonese (Yue Chinese, namely 廣東話 / 粵語) is the de facto official spoken variety of Chinese in Hong Kong & Macau. It is influential in Guangdong province, and is widely spoken among overseas communities.

On the other hand, Mandarin Chinese (namely 普通話 / 國語 / 華語) is the official language of China & Taiwan, and one of the four official languages of Singapore.

Further reading

Before the 20th century, the standard written language of China was Classical Chinese, which has grammar and vocabulary based on the Chinese used in ancient China, Old Chinese. However, while this written standard remained essentially static for over two thousand years, the actual spoken language diverged further and further away. Some writings based on local vernacular speech did exist but these were rare. In the early 20th century, Chinese reformers like Hu Shi saw the need for language reform and championed the development of a vernacular that allowed modern Chinese to write the language the same way they speak. The vernacular language movement took hold, and the written language was standardised as Vernacular Chinese. Because they had the largest number of speakers, Mandarin was chosen as the basis for the new standard.

The standardisation and adoption of written Mandarin pre-empted the development and standardisation of vernaculars based on other varieties of Chinese. No matter which dialect one spoke, one still wrote in standardised Mandarin for everyday writing. However, Cantonese is unique amongst the non-Mandarin varieties in having a widely used written form. Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong was a British colony isolated from mainland China, so most HK citizens do not speak Mandarin. Written Cantonese was developed as a means of informal communication. Still, Cantonese speakers must use standard written Chinese, or even literary Chinese, in most formal written communications, since written Cantonese may be unintelligible to speakers of other varieties of Chinese.

Historically, written Cantonese has been used in Hong Kong for legal proceedings in order to write down the exact spoken testimony of a witness, instead of paraphrasing spoken Cantonese into standard written Chinese. However, its popularity and usage has been rising in the last two decades, the late Wong Jim being one of the pioneers of its use as an effective written language. Written Cantonese has become quite popular in certain tabloids, online chat rooms, instant messaging, and even social networking websites; this would be even more evident since the rise of Localism in Hong Kong from the 2010s, where the articles written by those Localists media are written in Cantonese. Although most foreign movies and TV shows are subtitled in Standard Chinese, some, such as The Simpsons, are subtitled using written Cantonese. Newspapers have the news section written in Standard Chinese, but they may have editorials or columns that contain Cantonese discourses, and Cantonese characters are increasing in popularity on advertisements and billboards.

Written Cantonese advertising banner in Mainland China It has been stated that Written Cantonese remains limited outside Hong Kong, including other Cantonese-speaking areas in Guangdong Province; e.g., (Snow, 2004). However, colloquial Cantonese advertisements are sometimes seen in Guangdong, suggesting that written Cantonese is widely understood and is regarded favourably, at least in some contexts.

Some sources will use only colloquial Cantonese forms, resulting in text similar to natural speech. However, it is more common to use a mixture of colloquial forms and Standard Chinese forms, some of which are alien to natural speech. Thus the resulting "hybrid" text lies on a continuum between two norms: Standard Chinese, and colloquial Cantonese as spoken.

Some Cantonese Learning Resources

Other References

Update 7 Sept. 2010: This post is now recategorised under ‘Colour Section.’ No other updates or amendments made.


The new school year has just started. In Hong Kong, it’s usually on 1st September or the first Monday of September. For universities and their ilk, it’s nominally 1st October, although that varies between establishments and between programmes.

This is a time when students give and get a great many words of encouragement. New friends, old friends, best friends, lovers and the loved, haters and the hated.

The usual Chinese phrase of encouragement is 加油 (jiā yóu in Mandarin/Putonghua or gaa yau in Cantonese).  加 (jiā/gaa) is literally ‘to add’ and 油 (yóu/yau) ‘oil.’ The two words in context usually translates to ‘to make more effort.’

In actuality, jiā yóu/gaa yau give a combo meaning that covers all of keep going, bring it on, go for it, keep up the chin, be strong and stay the course. It is one of those Chinese idioms that defy translation into any European language. (A bit like the word subsist from English into Chinese.)

Lots of Chinese write “add oil” for 加油 because sometimes it’s quicker or somehow more convenient to type letters than Chinese characters.

Jiā yóu in fact is not even Chinese — although you might risk being physically assaulted or raeped if even remotely suggest anything other than it’s Chinese. Jiā yóu ultimately comes to us from the Japanese via Taiwan, which used to be a Japanese annexure. (Yeah, I know, citation needed.) I can’t prove this because for most of my life I’ve always known jiā yóu to be ultimately non-Chinese.

Personally I can’t see the justification for anyone (including Chinese people) to use “add oil” when there are piles and piles of perfectly good English phrases available: Do it! Faggot!

Many years ago when most of the older scumbags folks in my family were still unburied alive, jiā yóu have always been used in a literal sense, e.g. 飛機需要加油 (the plane needs to refuel). It’s always used in a literal way by everyone else we knew anywhere for a long, long time.

Something clearly changed by the time I got stranded resettled in this gutter Hong Kong. For those who actually read Chinese, here’s how we use jiā yóu today:

老板一再叮嘱大家加油干。(The boss urges people to put in a greater effort.)

In the olden days, people were apt to say:

老板需要大家更多的努力。(The boss requires more effort from all.)

(Note: I can’t be arsed to do the sentences in simplified Chinese. Editor)

Frankly, “add oil”? People say it’s Chinese — so somehow that makes it okay. Does it? No offence, dickwad, but I don’t buy it. Wouldn’t something like Do it! or Give it your best! work better?

“Add oil” just adds another, unnecessary layer of confusion for those who have to grapple with the intricacies of an insane, polymorphic, internally inconsistent language like English. “Add oil” just gets confused with the English phrase to add oil onto fire (or the older-fashioned to add fuel to fire) — the opposite in meaning and sentiment!

Simultaneously, the shitemeisters who tend to use “add oil” are youngsters or water-in-brain types who can’t tell their linguistic left foot from their right (even in the Chinese language), and off they go and become teachers — and do jack all to stop this sinobonic faggotry in the next generation of youngsters. Heaven help us if there’s any justice in this world of ours.

* * *

Jeesoos, what the furk is eatin’ yer? It’s a Chinese thing, innit?

Well, yeah, it can’t be anything else. If it’s Chinese (and we’ll take it as Chinese, never mind actual origins), then bleeding well type 加油 (like I’m doing here). Why add another layer of homo-erotic cancer by typing a Chinese phrase transliterated into English words when there are useable English phrases available. What the hell is wrong with you?!

C’mon, kids do that. They’re only using it on chat forums and social networking sites? What’s the harm, mate?

You’re right, if it’s on the Intarwebz or shat forums or wetworking sites, then there’s no real harm done — yet. Trouble is, “add oil” is streaming itself into regular usage as if it is the proper English phrase for encouraging extra oomph. The rest of us who want to stay normal in English end up not having a flaming clue what these people are on about.

And it occurred to me just now as I’m writing this — the proper English phrase closest in meaning to add oil used to be “More speed, less haste” — hopefully still within living memory for some of us.

* * *

Not to put too fine a point on things, this kind of brute-force transliteration just shows how schizophrenic the Chinese mind can be when it comes to the English language (at least as encountered in Hong Kong).

First, people say they are ever-come-lastingly always doing their best to stick to proper English-language ‘practices.’

Now they say the use of Chinese/Japanese/Formosan/Min’nanese phrases disguised in English/Engrish words is unobjectionable because the phrase is Chinese/etc.

That’s just a whole load of codswollops.

© Learn English or Starve, 2010.

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Tagged: add oil, Chinese, english, faggotry, phraseology, transliteration, usage

Posted in: Colour Section

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