Development of Cantonese writing tradition in the past two centuries

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Although Hong Kong is often described as a community of trilingualism and bilteracy (兩文三語), focus has been placed on the spoken form of Cantonese and its writing tradition receives relatively less attention. There are a number of related issues centering the writing tradition of Cantonese: Cantonese as a proper writing system, orthographic representation of Cantonese colloquial words, compilation of learning and teaching materials on Cantonese, etc. While the earliest extant Cantonese text could be dated back to the late Ming dynasty, the late Qing dynasty became high time of the production of Cantonese materials as a large number of missionaries arrived in the southern coastal region of China. They compiled a lot of language materials on Cantonese such as textbooks, translation of the Bible, dictionaries, and religious stories for various purposes (Shin Kataoka). In mid-20th century, we witnessed the rise of literary works written in Cantonese such as 三及第 (Fanny Li). Around the same period, a significant number of Cantonese movies were also produced, among which some have been transcribed into corpora for research purposes (Andy Chin). In the past two decades, Cantonese has also been used in formal contexts such as when senior government officials giving speech, signaling the emergence of a high-register Cantonese in the speech (Hintat Cheung). Cantonese has also been one of the favorite languages learned by foreigners, and a number of Cantonese dictionaries and teaching materials have been compiled recently (Lau Chaak Ming). All the above scenarios involve the orthographic representation of Cantonese. This panel aims to compare and discuss the changes of the representation system during the past two centuries, which can shed light on the future development of Cantonese.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


Kataoka, S., Li, F., Chin, A., Lau, C. M., & Cheung, H. T. (2016, December). Development of Cantonese writing tradition in the past two centuries. Paper presented at The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong Annual Research Forum 2016 (ARF 2016), The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


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