Cantonese: ng- / zero initial

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brofeelgood

Senior Member
English, 中文
Moderator's Note: split from this thread.
There are several Cantonese words for "scratch", so in theory, both are correct.

抓 - aau
扌肴 / 挍 - ngaau

"Lazy tones" is merely a layman term to classify both improper and non-standard pronunciations. There are cases where the core meaning of the phrase is preserved despite the use of non-standard pronunciations, e.g. 我愛音樂 (ngo-ngoi-yam-ngok vs o-oi-yam-ok).

Unfortunately, there are also countless other cases where hilarity ensues, e.g. 恆生銀行 (hang-sang-ngan-hong vs han-san-an-hon), which sounds like 痕身印汗 or 痕身銀行 (Itching Body Bank)..
 
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  • OneStroke

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    It's not a youngster thing. My grandparents, now in their 90s and 80s, pronounces 我 as "ngo", 你 as "lei", 呢 as "li", 死 as "sei", 歐 as "ngaau"(homophonous with the word "to scratch", dunno how to write that one), 亞 as "ngaa" (my grandmother says that both "aa" and "ngaa" is used, but she feels that the former is more colloquial while the latter is more formal)
    The dictionary pronunciations are 'ngo', 'aa' and 'au' for 我, 亞, and 歐, actually.

    The rule of thumb is 'ng for yang sounds, zero initial for yin sounds.'

    "Lazy tones" is merely a layman term to classify both improper and non-standard pronunciations. There are cases where the core meaning of the phrase is preserved despite the use of non-standard pronunciations, e.g. 我愛音樂 (ngo-ngoi-yam-ngok vs o-oi-yam-ok).
    The standard pronunciation should be 'ngo oi jam ngok'.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    The dictionary pronunciations are 'ngo', 'aa' and 'au' for 我, 亞, and 歐, actually.
    The point is not about which are the "correct" pronunciations. The point is the merge of the two initials in natural speech, and the stigmatization of the zero initial that leads to hypercorrection. When one grows up being instilled in their minds that ng- is what "educated/refined" people say, one may end up using ng- all the time.
     

    brofeelgood

    Senior Member
    English, 中文
    First of all, thanks Onestroke for the correct pronunciation of 我愛音樂. :thumbsup:

    A question on yang/yin sounds. Is a yang sound equivalent to Jyutping tones 4, 5 and 6...
    牛 = ngau4
    我 = ngo5
    樂 = ngok6

    And a yin sound to tones 1, 2 and 3?
    歐 = ou1 / ngou1
    矮 = ai2 / ngai2
    惡 = ok3 / ngok3

    I've observed that ng- words do not have alternative pronunciations (異讀音). This means a word like 我 is only technically correct as ngo and not o, and the same for 樂 (ngok and not ok). Maybe there are exceptions out there, but I can't think of one right now.

    On the other hand, if the primary pronunciation is the one without ng-, then there is almost without fail, an alternative pronunciation by adding an ng- in front, like 歐, 矮 and 惡.

    Can someone confirm this? Or does it sound like another silly theory? I'm thinking, that may be the reason why some people use ng- with everything, since the odds of being wrong are really low.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    On the other hand, if the primary pronunciation is the one without ng-, then there is almost without fail, an alternative pronunciation by adding an ng- in front, like 歐, 矮 and 惡.
    Hello. No, there are no "alternative pronunciations", from the perspective of prescriptivism. One either says a zero initial or a ng-. The zero initial and the ng- have two different Middle Chinese sources (影母 and 疑母 respectively), and there can be no confusion.

    In some Yue dialects the two initials merge to become ng-, and in some to become zero. Cantonese belongs to the latter group, from the perspective of descriptive linguistics.
     

    OneStroke

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    First of all, thanks Onestroke for the correct pronunciation of 我愛音樂. :thumbsup:

    A question on yang/yin sounds. Is a yang sound equivalent to Jyutping tones 4, 5 and 6...
    牛 = ngau4
    我 = ngo5
    樂 = ngok6

    And a yin sound to tones 1, 2 and 3?
    歐 = ou1 / ngou1
    矮 = ai2 / ngai2
    惡 = ok3 / ngok3
    Yes, that's right.

    I've observed that ng- words do not have alternative pronunciations (異讀音). This means a word like 我 is only technically correct as ngo and not o, and the same for 樂 (ngok and not ok). Maybe there are exceptions out there, but I can't think of one right now.

    On the other hand, if the primary pronunciation is the one without ng-, then there is almost without fail, an alternative pronunciation by adding an ng- in front, like 歐, 矮 and 惡.

    Can someone confirm this? Or does it sound like another silly theory? I'm thinking, that may be the reason why some people use ng- with everything, since the odds of being wrong are really low.
    Are you using Prof. Richard Ho's dictionaries by any chance? His opinion is that it's acceptable to replace the zero initial with ng but not the other way around because, according to him, replacing the zero initial with ng is done by people who are 'more capable' at pronunciation...
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    His opinion is that it's acceptable to replace the zero initial with ng but not the other way around because, according to him, replacing the zero initial with ng is done by people who are 'more capable' at pronunciation...
    You've got to love this kind of "standard". So you can be wrong in an "acceptable" way, because that particular kind of wrongness shows your "capability". This is really having the best of both worlds.:D
     

    brofeelgood

    Senior Member
    English, 中文
    My reference is the 《粵語審音配詞字庫》 http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/

    This project is an amalgamation of works from four sources, including Professor Ho's 《粵音正讀字彙》.

    I made the observation on alternative pronunciations based on small-scale empirical (a.k.a. crude and unscientific) samplings on the resource database found on the site.

    yang
    牛 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%A4%FB
    我 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%A7%DA
    樂 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%BC%D6

    yin
    歐 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%BC%DA
    矮 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%B8G
    惡 - http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/search.php?q=%B4c
     

    OneStroke

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    ^I've used the database for years and I confirm that your observation is correct. :thumbsup: (By the way, they've launched a new version of the site; I wasted some hours playing with it, so I thought you might be interested :p). Prof. Ho's dictionary and 周's dictionary are generally the only ones which support the ng initial for zero initial characters.
     
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    brofeelgood

    Senior Member
    English, 中文
    A-ha! Thanks for the tip on the new site. This is great. I'm sure I'll have many hours of fun with it too.
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Oh, for me it's easy. The ng- and zero initials are the same as Wenzhounese.:D Or any Southern dialect that still have ng- consonant and doesn't merge it with zero initial.

    To me it seems that people speaking use all zero-initials, while when singing all ng.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    In some Yue dialects the two initials merge to become ng-, and in some to become zero.
    For example:
    牛: 高要 ŋɐu, 廣州香港 ŋɐu, 大良市橋 ɐu
    我: 高要 ŋɔ, 廣州香港 ŋɔ, 大良市橋 ɔi
    樂: 高要 ŋɔk, 廣州香港 ŋɔk, 大良市橋 ɔk
    歐: 高要 ŋɐu, 廣州香港 ɐu, 大良市橋 ɐu
    矮: 高要 ŋai, 廣州香港 ɐi, 大良市橋 ɐi
    惡: 高要 ŋɔk, 廣州香港 ɔk, 大良市橋 ɔk
    亞 as "ngaa" (my grandmother says that both "aa" and "ngaa" is used, but she feels that the former is more colloquial while the latter is more formal)
    Both [a] and [ŋa] are used for 亞 in 樂昌 and 高要.
     
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