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Cantonese and Hakka Vowels


There have been much said about the similarity of sounds between Cantonese and Hakka. Indeed, they have both been collectively known as Southern Chinese. They share the common features of preserving all the six classes of vowel type endings, -p, -t, -k, -m, -n, and -ng., whereas in Standard Mandarin, Putonghua, only the latter three consonant type endings are extant.

In this work, we shall compare Cantonese and Hakka vowels, first by noting all the endings found in Cantonese, and comparing them to Hakka. From these endings, we can extract the vowels to investigate.

I have looked up the words from Roy T. Cowle's "Pocket Dictionary of Cantonese".

Cantonese and Hakka Endings

The following 53 Cantonese endings are in Meyer Wempe romanisation and are as follows,

               Cantonese Ending Inventory

a	aai	aak	aam	aan	aang	aap	aat	  

aau	ai   	ak	am	an	ang	ap	at	

au	e	ei	ek	eng	eu	euk	eung	

i	ik	im	in	ing	ip	it	iu	

o	oh	oi	ok	om	on	ong	op	

ot	oo	ooi	oon	oot	ue	uen	uet	

ui	uk	un	ung	ut	

The 47 Hakka endings as found within this site are in SaTdiuGok Romanisation. They are:

            SaTdiuGok Hakka Ending Inventory

a	ai	ak	am	an	ang	ap	at	

au	e	em	en	ep	et	i	ia	

iak	iam	iang	iao	iap	im	in	io	

ioi	iok	ion	iong	iot	ip	it	iu	

iuk	iun	iung	o	oi	ok	on	ong	

ot	u	ui	uk	un	ung	ut

(Please note that they are NOT table to table comparisons. They have be pre-formatted this way so that they do not take up too wide a space.)

We shall split up the sounds into three parts, Initial, Vowel, and Ending, where only the vowels will be of interest here. The initials and endings shall not be discussed, but made use of for demonstrating character examples.

Cantonese and Hakka Vowel Comparisons

We shall compare the sounds of Cantonese and try to establish their equivalent relationships in Hakka. Below is a table of the relations found between the two dialects, sorted by the type of endings horizontally, and by the various vowel and equivalent in Hakka.

Although the sounds of Cantonese are thus represented, it is hoped that they are clear enough to the reader as to their values. Hakka sound values can be found here. For the word C. /leu1/, H. /le2/ , it is a Southern dialectal character, but there is no equivalent in Big5, so it has been created here, though it can be represented seperately as two characters, the 'tongue' radical and the Mandarin 'lei' character. It means "to dribble saliva" for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. Admittedly, this is one of only a few -eu Cantonese words. The other dialectal character shown here is C./geui/ or H. /kioi/, which is Southern dialectal for 'to be tired'.

Cantonese long vowels are represented by a double vowel cluster. However, in the case of -aa-, I have just shortened it to -a- without any detriment to the relative comparisons between Cantonese and Hakka. For listeners, the "aa" dipthong lasts minutely longer than the single "a" vowel. "oo" is homophonous with the sound "wu:". So, "-ooi" as in the 'ash' /fooi/ would sound as though /fwu:i/ or /fu:i/, where the colon : indicate the prolonging of the preceeding vowel sound.

Within the romanisation here for SaTdiuGok Hakka, there is no special distinction for long vowels, except where they appear in a word. If vowels occur as the last element at the end of a sound, it will have a long value. If it is before another vowel or consonant at the end of the sound, it is short.

Hakka vowel dipthongs

There are a number of vowel dipthongs in SaTdiuHok Hakka which can be derived from other Hakka dialects. Quite often, I have rationalised them to absorb a glide. For instance, the -e- vowel can be found to derive from Meixian (MX) -ia-, so, MX /siat5/ is STG /set5/, a homophone for the words 'snow' and 'colour'. Bound up in the -e- vowel is also a glide which is prefixed to the -e- as -ie-, which further represents that the link to -ia- through this change. So for 'moon' MX /ngiat6/ whilst STG /nget6/ or /ngiet6/ if the glide is fully represented. One further mapping of this sound is as follows; ian = en MX /mian2/ STG /men2/ 'cotton'. Let us gather up all the Hakka vowels and compare them to the Cantonese

Where the vowels are of similar values, character readings are often similar, given the difference in the tone contours of both dialects, making correlations possible. In fact, from Table 2, it becomes clear that certain Hakka sounds have only one type of mapping into Cantonese. For example, Hakka -io- will always have the Cantonese equiivalent -eu-, as witnessed by the examples given in Table 1.

The similarity of such the vowels in both dialects seems to add to the belief that Cantonese is indeed related to Hakka, albeit disantly.

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This page was created on Thursday 12th February 1998
and last updated on Thursday 19.2.1998.

© Dylan W.H.S. 1996-1998

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