How to introduce yourself in Hong Kong Cantonese

Is Cantonese a Language?

With the topics I have covered previously, I believe now you will have enough materials to start introducing yourself in Hong Kongese! Now there might be occasions where you will need to introduce yourself, given the occasion is where you are surrounded by Hong Kongers or Cantonese people, or just to show off to a Cantonese friend. If you are clearly not of Cantonese heritage, people will actually be super impressed, because to be fair, not a lot of people will go out of their way to learn Cantonese, since many more people do speak Mandarin than Cantonese in the Chinese Language. The Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd speaks Mandarin, when people first found out, people were quite shocked. Anyway, there are many many foreigners that speak Mandarin extremely fluently nowadays. But still many people do speak Cantonese around the world, according to the Language Atlas of China 2nd edition, there are about 68 million people that speak Cantonese in China, and imagine just how many more that are not within China. So I am very happy that you guys are, and keep up the good work! Let’s continue to build our Cantonese community and not let this language wither away!

Today I will be talking about how to introduce yourself. I will be focusing on 3 questions only on this episode. They are What is your name? Where are you from and what languages do you speak. I will also be speaking about a quite controversial topic in Hong Kong, which has been talked about for years now, that is whether Cantonese is a language.

First thing first, to acknowledge someone you don’t know or an acquaintance, other than locking eyes and smiling, usually in Hong Kong we do a small nod. You don’t have to be smiling. If you are nice you can. In school, we also do a small nod to teachers to show respect.

你叫咩名丫?(Dummy PY: Nay Guil Meh Meng Ah?) - What is your name?

In the case where you are just by yourself meeting someone, and the other person is trying to figure out what your name, or you are trying to figure out what their name is, in a casual way you will say 你叫咩名丫?(Dummy PY: Nay Guil Meh Meng Ah?) literally you are called what name? So meaning what is your name. 你叫咩名丫?In the formal and more polite way, you can add the term, 請問 (Dummy PY: Chang Men), basically means excuse me for asking. In full you will say 請問你叫咩名丫?(Dummy PY: Chang Men Nay Guil Meh Meng Ah?) So literally means, excuse me for asking, what is your name?

你係邊個?(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor?) - Who are you?

*Note that we don’t usually ask “Who are you?” 你係邊個?(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor?) literally means you are who/ which person? Because it sounds very rude, if you do really want to say who are you, it’s best to add 請問. In full it will be 請問你係邊個?(Dummy PY: Chang Men Nay Hi Been Gor?)

你係乜水?(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Mud Shui?) - Who the heck are you?

If you hear this you will know the person is being rude. Usually if the person if being defensive, they will say 你係乜水?(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Mud Shui?) literally means “you are what water?” It doesn’t make sense in literal English because it’s slang. Basically the undertone is “who the heck are you?”

*邊個 (dummy PY: Been Gor) and 乜水 (Dummy PY: Mud Shui) both mean “Who”, the difference is in the connotation. 邊個 (dummy PY: Been Gor) can also mean “which” depending on the context. You will see an example later.

How to respond?

哈囉, 我係XXX (Dummy PY: Ha Low, Ngo Hi xxx) - Hello, I am XXX

You will say, “哈囉, 我係XXX" (Dummy PY: Ha Lo, Ngo Hi xxx) meaning Hello, I am XXX. Just pretty much in the opening of the podcast, where I say Hello 大家好,我係Dummy” you can omit the 大家好, because in the greeting I mentioned that 大家好 is basically hello everyone. So “Hello, I am xxx” you will say Hello 我係XXX.

哈囉, 我叫XXX (Dummy PY: Ha Low, Ngo Guil xxx) - Hello, I am called XXX

You can also say 哈囉, 我叫XXX (Dummy PY: Ha Low, Ngo Guil xxx) meaning Hello, I am called XXX. 叫 (Dummy PY: Guil) there are many meanings to this character depending on the context. In this context it means the word call, but not when you are calling someone over the phone, we have a different way of saying it. 叫 (Dummy PY: Guil) can also mean calling you over, or requesting you. So like let’s say my mom is saying “喂,你丫妹叫你。" she is saying “hey, your sister is looking for you.” or you can use this word 叫 (Dummy PY: Guil) to say the animals are making sounds, like birds chirpings, you will say 雀仔叫,so meaning the bird is making sounds.

So then when you need to ask them back, you will say, “你呢?" (Dummy PY: Nay Lei?) meaning “and you?”

Basic information about you.

"你係邊道黎嫁?" (Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Dou Lei Ga?) - Where are you from?

You might be asked, “Where are you from?” in Cantonese it is "你係邊道黎嫁?" (Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Dou Lei Ga?) literally means you are where coming from? "你係邊道黎嫁?" so meaning where are you from?

"你係邊個國家黎嫁?" (Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor Gwok Ga Lei Ga?) - Which country are you from?

They might ask, “Which country are you from?” "你係邊個國家黎嫁?" (Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor Gwok Ga Lei Ga?) Literally means you are which country coming from? Remember the sentence structure isn’t the same as English. That is why I provide the literal translation so you guys can hear the grammatical structural differences. Here you see the term 邊個 (Dummy PY: Been Gor) again. Here 邊個 (Dummy PY: Been Gor) means “which” as you can see the word 國家 (Dummy PY: Gwok Ga) meaning country after it.

我係香港黎嘅 (Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Lei Ge) - I am from Hong Kong.

Then you can say “I am from Hong Kong” for example. "我係香港黎嘅" literally means “I am Hong Kong coming from”. So the sentence structure is different from English. Usually in English sentence structure, it is Subject - Verb- Noun, but here in Cantonese, there are 2 verbs, one is 係, which is the verb to be, 黎 is the action verb meaning come from. This grammatical structure is used a lot in referring to locations. So for example, “I am playing upstairs.” in Cantonese it will be 我係樓上玩(Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Loud Sheung Wan),literally means, “I am upstairs playing.” I used this example because the grammatical structure of this particular sentence is like the Cantonese one. Where as if you were to say in English “I am at the playground playing” there are prepositions involved where in Cantonese the prepositions are sometimes implied. Anyway, so remember if you have so say “I am from Canada.” remember not to directly translate the English into Cantonese because it doesn’t make sense.

我係香港人 (Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Yan) - I am a Hong Konger.

Or in another way, you can simply say what nationality you are. Say for example, when they ask "你係邊道黎嫁?" (Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Dou Lei Ga?) - Where are you from? You can say “I am a Hong Konger” for example, in Cantonese it is 我係香港人(Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Yan), literally means I am Hong Kong person. 我係香港人(Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Yan)

*For the names of countries, I didn’t cover all in the last episode. But if you are interested in knowing the more about names of different countries, please refer back to my last episode on “What is happening in Hong Kong? Places where Hong Kongers might move to.”

你識講咩話?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Gong Mei Wa?) - What languages do you speak?

Finally, once they found out you are actually not a Hong Konger, or maybe you are. They might go ahead and ask you “Oh, what languages do you speak?” 你識講咩話?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Gong Mei Wa?) Literally means “You know speak what language?” so what languages do you speak? 你識講咩話?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Gong Mei Wa?) The word 話 (Dummy PY: Wa) focuses more on the speaking portion of the language. 講 (Dummy PY: Gong) means speak or talk.

你識咩語言?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Mei Yu Yeen?) - What language do you know?

Another way of asking would be 你識咩語言?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Mei Yu Yeen?) Literally you know what language? The term 語言 focuses more of a well rounded language, like speaking listening, writing, comprehension etc.

你識咩文?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Mei Men?) - What language do you know?

There is also another way of asking you this question, it would be 你識咩文?(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Mei Men?) - What language do you know? The word 文 focuses more on the written portion of the language. But people aren’t that specific when asking you that question, they don’t actually want to know which one you speak, or which one you can read. I mean you can elaborate, but this is the most general picture here.

So now when you have to respond, for languages that you speak, you will kind of say the location + the word 話 or 文. So for example, "I speak Cantonese" you will say "我識講廣東話" (Dummy PY: Ngo Sick Gwong Dong Wa) Literally means I know how to speak Cantonese. Or let’s say “I speak Mandarin” "我識講普通話" (Dummy PY: Ngo Sick Po Tong Wa). Now the interesting thing is that very much like when you say I speak scottish and welsh for example, the broad umbrella term for the language is English英文 (Dummy PY: Ying Men). So same with Cantonese and Mandarin, the broad umbrella term is Chinese 中文(Dummy PY: Jong Men). So if you tell other people “我識中文” (Dummy PY: Ngo Sick Chong Men) meaning I know Chinese, people might still ask you if you speak Cantonese or Mandarin. Because it isn’t clear. When you just say 中文 Chinese and be speaking in cantonese, they might wonder if you speak Mandarin as well, or vice versa.

Great, so why is there a confusion? What is Chinese 中文 and what are considered dialects 方言and languages 語言? So back in 2014 January, the education bureau in Hong Kong pointed out that Cantonese is a non officially recognized language but it’s a dialect of Han Chinese. Later some argued that no one would use Cantonese to learn Chinese, and hence started the entire topic of whether Cantonese can be continued to be used to learn chinese and whether Mandarin should take over. Just to give you guys a bit more of a context here, as a Hong Konger, when I have to write in Chinese, as in an essay, from a young age, I was told that in order to write Chinese fluently, I should use Mandarin to think while writing. That is because the grammar and the terminologies used in Cantonese and Mandarin are very different. Now the definition of what is considered a language or a dialect is still debatable. Generally speaking, I am quoting from ISO 639-3 standard (Codes for the representation of names of languages part 3), one of the criteria is “Two related varieties are normally considered to belong to the same individual language if speakers of each variety have inherent understanding of the other language variety (that is, can understand each other based on knowledge of their own language variety without needing to learn the other language variety) at a functional level.”

We had to learn Mandarin in school, in elementary school all the way to secondary school, much like French in Ontario Canada where I reside. So many Hong Kongers, the younger generation, had to learn Mandarin. Say for example my parents generation, never did learn Mandarin, so they didn’t even know how to sing the Chinese Anthem until the handover in 1997 when they had to learn it. On the other hand, most Mandarin speakers with no Cantonese background cannot really understand Cantonese, unless they are some sort of linguistic geniuses.

Usually people also argue that in order to be its own language, the language should have both the oral system as well as the written system, which goes back to what I have said about Chinese writing. Interestingly, people might not know this (not calling you out if you didn’t know) but basically every sound we utter in Cantonese can be written out, which these characters are likely not understood by non Cantonese speakers. So what do you think? If you have been learning Cantonese for sometime, or you have also learned Mandarin, would you consider Cantonese a language or a dialect? Definitely like to know the opinion of a Cantonese language learner. For myself at least, Hong Kongese is a dialect of Cantonese, with many other dialects like GuangZhou Cantonese, Toishanese, Chiu Chowese etc. But that’s just me.

Let’s move on to the vocab, so you can find words that are specific to your life. The sentences we talked about will be reviewed at the end.

English - 英文

(Dummy PY: Ying Men)

Chinese - 中文

(Dummy PY: Jong Men)

Cantonese - 廣東話

(Dummy PY: Gwong Dong Wa)

Mandarin - 普通話

(Dummy PY: Po Tong Wa)

French - 法文

(Dummy PY: Faat Men)

German - 德文

(Dummy PY: Duck Men)

Spanish- 西班牙文/ 西班牙話

(Dummy PY: Sai Barn Ah Men/ Sai Barn Ah Wa) Japanese - 日文 (Dummy PY: Yat Men)

Korean - 韓文

(Dummy PY: Hon Men)

Italian - 意大利文/ 意大利話

(Dummy PY: Yee Die Lay Men/ Yee Die Lay Wa)

Portugese - 葡萄牙文/ 葡萄牙話

(Dummy PY: Po Tow Ngah Men/ Po Tow Ngah Wa)

Russian - 俄文/俄羅斯話

(Dummy PY: Ngo Men/ Ngo Lo See Wa)

What is your name? - 你叫咩名丫?

(Dummy PY: Nay Guil Meh Meng Ah?)

Excuse me for asking - 請問

(Dummy PY: Chang Men)

Who are you?- 你係邊個?

(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor?)

Who the heck are you? - 你係乜水?

(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Mud Shui?)

Hello, I am XXX - 哈囉, 我係XXX

(Dummy PY: Ha Low, Ngo Hi xxx)

Hello, I am called XXX - 哈囉, 我叫XXX

(Dummy PY: Ha Low, Ngo Guil xxx)

And you? - 你呢?

(Dummy PY: Nay Lei?)

Where are you from? - "你係邊道黎嫁?"

(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Dou Lei Ga?)

Which country are you from? - "你係邊個國家黎嫁?"

(Dummy PY: Nay Hi Been Gor Gwok Ga Lei Ga?)

I am from Hong Kong. - 我係香港黎嘅

(Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Lei Ge)

I am a Hong Konger. - 我係香港人

(Dummy PY: Ngo Hi Heung Gong Yan)

What languages do you speak? - 你識講咩話?

(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Gong Mei Wa?)

What language do you know? - 你識咩文?

(Dummy PY: Nei Sick Mei Men?)

I know how to speak Cantonese. - "我識講廣東話"

(Dummy PY: Ngo Sick Gwong Dong Wa)

I know Chinese - “我識中文”

(Dummy PY: Ngo Sick Chong Men)

Dialects - 方言

(Dummy PY: Fong Yeen)

Languages - 語言

(Dummy PY: Yu Yeen)


1. Is Cantonese a language?

2. What’s a Language, Anyway?

3. The Problem of Language Identification

4. 教育局教學資源網指「粵語非母語」 Ben Sir質疑矮化粵語