Hong Kong Government Cantonese Romanisation

The Hong Kong Government uses an unpublished system of Romanisation of Cantonese for public purposes which is based on the 1888 standard described by Roy T Cowles in 1914 as Standard Romanisation.[1]:iv The primary need for Romanisation of Cantonese by the Hong Kong Government is in the assigning of names to new streets and places. It has not formally or publicly disclosed its method for determining the appropriate Romanisation in any given instance.


Currently, government departments, particularly the Survey and Mapping Office of the Lands Department, consult the Chinese Language Department[clarification needed] of the Civil Service Bureau before gazetting names and the latter vet proposed names using the Three Way Chinese Commercial/Telegraphic Code Book, originally published by the Royal Hong Kong Police Force Special Branch for internal government use in 1971. The code book system is devoid of any tone indications and, being grossly simplified, is susceptible to confusion.

Although the code book has only been available for several decades, the Romanisation approach for place names in Hong Kong has been broadly consistent since before 1888. This can be seen in maps of the period[2] and in the government's publication A Gazetteer of Place Names in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories of 1960.

Typical featuresEdit

For place names, the type of the place in English is often used instead of a romanisation (e.g., "Street" and "Road" in place of "Kai" and "Lo"). Nevertheless, exceptions are not uncommon (for example, "Fong" in "Lan Kwai Fong", meaning "Square" if translated). "Wan" for "Bay" and "Tsuen" (or "Chuen") for "Estate" (or "Village") are also common. There are also many instances of surviving pre-1888 Romanisation, such as "Kowloon" and "Un Chau Street", which would be "Kau Lung" and "Yuen Chau" under this system, respectively.

Romanisation of names is mandatory in government identification documents such as identity cards issued by the Registration of Persons Office. This standard is used by the office by default though individuals are at liberty to choose their own spelling or another romanisation system.[citation needed]


All tones are omitted as are distinctions between aspirated and unaspirated stops. The distinctions between the long vowel [a] and the short vowel [ɐ] are omitted like Fat (, [fat]; meaning "to issue") and Fat (, [fɐt]; meaning "Buddha").

Some of the inconsistencies are due to a distinction that has been lost historically (a distinction between palatal and alveolar sounds, viz. ch versus ts, sh versus s, and j versus z). These consonants are no longer distinguished in present-day speech.

The following table of geographical names illustrates the standard.



IPA Yale HKG Example in Chinese
p p Sai Ying Pun 西營盤
p b p Po Lam 寶琳
t t Tuen Mun 屯門
t d t Tai O 大澳
k k Kai Tak 啟德
k g k Tai Kok Tsui 大角咀
kʰw kw kw Kwai Chung 葵涌
kw gw kw Cha Kwo Ling 茶果嶺
m m m Yau Ma Tei 油麻地
n n n Nam Cheong 南昌
ŋ ng ng Ngau Tau Kok 牛頭角
l l l Lam Tin 藍田
f f f Fo Tan 火炭
s s s So Kon Po 掃捍埔
ɕ s sh Shau Kei Wan 筲箕灣
h h h Hang Hau 坑口
j y y Yau Tong 油塘
w w w Wong Tai Sin 黃大仙
tɕʰ ch ch Heng Fa Chuen 杏花邨
tsʰ ts ts Yau Yat Tsuen 又一村
ts j ts Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙咀


IPA Yale HKG Example in Chinese
-p -p -p Ap Lei Chau 鴨脷洲
-t -t -t Tsat Tsz Mui 七姊妹
-k -k -k Shek O 石澳
-m -m -m Sham Shui Po 深水埗
-n -n -n Tsuen Wan 荃灣
-ng -ng Tsing Yi 青衣

Vowels, diphthongs, and syllabic consonantsEdit

IPA Yale HKG Example in Chinese
aa a Ma Tau Wai 馬頭圍
ah Wah Fu Estate 華富邨
ɐ a a Tsz Wan Shan 慈雲山
o Hung Hom 紅磡
u Sham Chun River 深圳河
ɛː/e e e Che Kung Miu 車公廟
iː/e i i Lai Chi Kok 荔枝角
ze Sheung Sze Wan 相思灣
z Tung Tsz 洞梓
ee Tat Chee Avenue 達之路
ɔː/o o Wo Che 禾輋
uː/o u u Kwu Tung 古洞
oo Mei Foo 美孚
œː eu eu Sheung Wan 上環
eo Nam Cheong Street 南昌街
ɵ eu u Shun Lee Estate 順利邨
yu yu Yu Chau Street 汝州街
u Kau U Fong 九如坊
ue Yung Shue Wan 榕樹灣
aːj aai ai Chai Wan 柴灣
ɐj ai ai Mai Po 米埔
aːw aau au Shau Kei Wan 筲箕灣
ɐw au au Sau Mau Ping 秀茂坪
ej ei ei Lei Yue Mun 鯉魚門
ee Lee On 利安
ay Kam Hay Court 錦禧苑
ai Shui Hau Sai Ngan Ma 水口四眼馬
i To Li Terrace 桃李台
iːw iu iu Siu Sai Wan 小西灣
ɔːj oi oi Choi Hung Estate 彩虹邨
oy Choy Yee Bridge 蔡意橋
uːj ui ui Pui O 貝澳
ɵj eui ui Ma Liu Shui 馬料水
ow ou o Tai Mo Shan 大帽山
ŋ̩ ng ng Ng Fan Chau 五分州[1]
  • ^ The standard pronunciation of 五 is [ŋ̩]. However, a more common pronunciation in Hong Kong is [m̩][citation needed] and many [ŋ̩] words are merging with it. The only word that was originally pronounced as m̩ is "唔" (not) and it is not used in place names.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cowles, Roy T (1914). Cowles' Pocket Dictionary of Cantonese. Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh Ltd.
  2. ^ "Map of Hong Kong with British Kowloon". Hongkong Almanack. 1888.

External linksEdit