S. L. Wong (phonetic symbols)

S. L. Wong (phonetic symbols)

:"For Cantonese romanisation scheme derived by S. L. Wong, see S. L. Wong (romanisation)."

Wong Shik Ling (also known as S. L. Wong) published a scheme of phonetic symbols for Standard Cantonese based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in the book "A Chinese Syllabary Pronounced according to the Dialect of Canton". The scheme has been widely used in Chinese dictionaries published in Hong Kong. The scheme, known as S. L. Wong system (黃錫凌式), is a broad phonemic transcription system based on IPA and its analysis of Cantonese phonemes is related to the theories of Y. R. Chao.

Other than the phonemic transcription system, Wong also derived a romanisation scheme published in the same book. See S. L. Wong (romanisation).


Before devising the system, Wong studied many phonetic transcription and romanisation system, including Eitel's and other earlier schemes, for Cantonese. He found that many of them are not accurate enough for use. He researched in Standard Cantonese and published his results in the book in 1938.


The system, with minor variations, has been adopted by some other Hong Kong Chinese dictionaries including 中文字典, namely Chinese Dictionary by 喬蜆農 (Kiu Yin Nung), 中華新字典, namely Chung Hwa New Dictionary and 商務新字典, namely Commercial Press New Dictionary. Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau formulate Standard Cantonese Pinyin romanisation based on the system.

In Chinese phonological studies, other systems more phonetic in character are collectively referred to as "the narrow transcription" (i.e., phonetic transcription) even though they are not necessarily exact phonetic transcription systems. It should be noted that the various "narrow" transcriptions by different scholars are not identical due to the scholars’ differing analyses of the Cantonese phonemes (for example, the IPA|/ts/ phoneme might be analyzed as IPA|/tʃ/).

For convenience purposes, in the rest of this article, when the "broad" system is mentioned it refers to S. L. Wong’s system; when "narrow" is mentioned, it refers to a representative narrow system but does not imply that all narrow systems are as described.


Cantonese like other Chinese languages is monosyllabic. Each syllabus is divided into initial (consonant), final (vowel and following consonant) and tone.


Chinese phonology traditionally stresses on finals because it is related to rhymes in the composition of poems, proses and articles. There are 53 finals in Standard Cantonese.

Except IPA|/aː/ and IPA|/ɐ/, long and short vowels in Standard Cantonese have complementary distributions and therefore do not function contrastively. Thus, IPA|/i/ and IPA|/ɪ/ can be considered the same phoneme IPA|/i/; the same can be said of IPA|/u/ and IPA|/ʊ/ (representing the same phoneme IPA|/u/), and IPA|/œ/ and IPA|/ɵ/ (also written IPA|/œ̝/) (representing the same phoneme IPA|/œ/). The long vowel symbol "IPA|ː" can also be omitted since these allophonic long and short vowels have different points of articulation in modern Standard Cantonese.


The 10 basic vowel phonemes are: IPA|/a/, /ɐ/, /ei/, /ɛ/, /i/, /ou/, /ɔ/, /œ/, /u/ and IPA|/y/ as shown in the following table:

*For the long Close-mid front unrounded vowel IPA|/e/, IPA| is used instead of IPA| in IPA.
*For the long Close-mid back rounded vowel IPA|/o/, IPA| is used instead of IPA| in IPA.
*IPA|/ɐ/ must be followed by vowels IPA|/i/, IPA|/u/ or finals IPA|/m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /p/, /t/, /k/.
*The use of a more phonetic (i.e., narrow) transcription for vowels, for example distinguishing between IPA|/i/ and IPA|/ɪ/. When adopting a phonetic transcription for vowels, the symbol IPA|/ɵ/ is often replaced by the symbol IPA|/ø/.

Falling diphthong finals

All vowel phonemes except IPA|/ɐ/ form vowel 9 finals themselves.

Some vowel phonemes can followed by vowel phonemes IPA|/i/, /u/ or /y/ to form 8 falling diphthong finals:

yllabic nasal finals

Syllabic IPA|/m/ and IPA|/ŋ/ are also two finals in Cantonese: IPA|/m̩/ and IPA|/ŋ̩/.


Here are the 53 finals in a table:


While the system uses 1 to 9 as tone numbers, some adaptations use 1 to 6 system, i.e. replacing 7, 8, 9 with 1, 3, 6 respectively.

Some dictionaries use slightly different tone symbols. For example, in "IPA|jyt 'IPA|jɐm IPA|dziŋ IPA|duk dzi IPA|wɐi" (粵音正讀字彙), a superscript + is used to represent the tone contour 55, and the symbol √ replaces the original tone symbol / “to improve legibility”.


There is no single syllable with 9 tones. Here uses the syllable /fɐn/ for level, rising and going tones and /sik/ for entering tones as an example.


#cite book|title=A CHINESE SYLLABARY PRONOUNCED ACCORDING TO THE DIALECT OF CANTON|first=S. L.|last=Wong|publisher=Chung Hwa Book Co.,(H.K.) Ltd.|year=1941|location=Hong Kong

ee also

*S. L. Wong (romanisation)

External links

* [http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-can/ The Chinese University of Hong Kong Research Centre for Humanities Computing: "Chinese Character Database: With Word-formations Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect"]
* [http://input.foruto.com/ccc/jyt/ 粵語拼盤] : Learning the phonetic system of Cantonese

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