Cantonese sound changes

Similar to Non-standard Mandarin (Taipei) here is a list of initials/finals pairs giving changes in the pronunciation of Cantonese (using the Yale romanisation). This is taken from:
Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar (Stephen Matthews, Virginia Yip, Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0-415-08945-X.)

As the book mentions the following changes vary between different social groups, ages amongst others. Character examples are taken from CantoDict as the book only gives Cantonese Yale transcriptions together with the English translation. The greater sign used here doesn't necessarily indicate the direction of the change as hypercorrection will lead to changes backwards to the initial change.


  • n > l

    This is a very advances sound change (first stated in 1941) as for example 諗 nám becoming lám.

  • gwo > go, kwo > ko

    Examples are 國 gwok changing to gok and 狂 kwòhng becoming kòhng.

  • k > h

    For the pronoun 佢 kéuih the inital k is changed resulting in héuih for younger speakers.

  • ng > Ø

    The initial ng is dropped for younger speakers resulting in e.g. óh for 我 ngóh furthermore resulting in free interchange.


  • k > t

    Example: 百 baak changing to baat.

  • ng > n

    Final ng is changed especially after a long vowel aa and less often after a short a and other vowels, e.g. 生 sāang resulting in sāan.

  • Ø + ng > Ø + m

    For example 五 ńgh changes to ḿh. As the author states this might happen mostly for people not using the initial ng (see above in ng > Ø).

It is interesting how people deal with these sound changes. While the given book already incorporates some of those changes fully throughout the book the authors state that there are teachers who would still correct them as unacceptable.