English/Chinese Terms Connected to Cantonese

Beginning in the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, Chinese settlers to Western countries primarily came from Guangdong province, and many of the first Westerners seeking to conduct trade with China found their base in neighboring Hong Kong. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many early terms traded between English and Chinese (as in English terms derived from Chinese, and vice versa) were more specifically trade-offs between English and Cantonese. With the overwhelming dominance of Mandarin in characterizing “Chinese” the world today, though, it seems that the influence of Cantonese in shaping such language trade is underestimated, ignored, or unknown to most.

But there is indeed a large list that persists, and I have long wanted to draft a list of such “loanwords,” as some call them; perhaps most notable is the multitude of Chinese terms for proper nouns (cities, countries, universities, etc) that sound closer to their English counterparts when spoken in Cantonese, as compared to when spoken in Mandarin.

Ideally, this list could be updated later as I or others came up with more loanwords or whenever I have time, but here’s to start:

[Note 1: The letter “j” has a silent value using jyutping.]

[Note 2: I used the format English word: Chinese characters (Cantonese pronunciation) below.]

Cantonese to English:

bok choy: 白菜 (baak6 coi3)
chop suey: 雜碎 (zaap6 seoi3)
chow mein: 麵 (caau2 min6)
dim sum: 點心 (dim2 sam1)
kumquat: 柑橘 (gam1 gwat1)
longan: 龍眼 (lung4 ngaan5)
lychee: 荔枝 (lai6 zi1)
ketchup(?): 茄汁 (ke4*2 zap1)
wok: 鑊 (wok6)
wonton: 雲吞 (wan4 tan1)

kowtow: 叩頭 (kau3 tau4)
kung fu: 功夫 (gung1 fu1)
sampan: 舢舨 (saan1 baan2)
typhoon: 颱風 (toi4 fung1)

(*see Wikipedia for more)

Early and some existing (English) romanizations for Chinese proper nouns come from Cantonese:

Peking (as in Peking duck), Nanking (as in the Rape of Nanking), Canton, and Toisan are some that I can think of off the top of my head.

“Chiang Kai-shek” is based on the Cantonese pronunciation of “蔣介石” as “zoeng2 gaai3 sek6.” Similarly, the common Western romanization of  “Sun Yat-sen” follows the Cantonese pronunciation of one of his names, “孫逸仙,” pronounced “syun1 jat6 sin1.” With that said, I’ve been annoyed on a few occasions, hearing some refer to “Chiang Kai-shek” as not based on a (proper) Chinese pronunciation.

English to Chinese:

Some of the below Chinese terms are only used by Cantonese speakers.

[Note: In Chinese, usually, a “口” radical placed on the left of a character will indicate that the new “口”+__ character is to be pronounced as the original character is, but will only used for its pronunciation [lacking the meaning of the original character]. In the case of “咖啡,” “咖啡” follows the individual pronunciations of “加” (gaa1) and “非” (fei1) to create the sound “gaa1 fe1” based off the pronunciation of “coffee”; “加非” itself without the “口” radicals lacks much meaning. As “加” is pronounced as “jia1” in Mandarin, it is clear that the term “咖啡” used to mean “coffee” in Chinese is derived from Cantonese, or else “咖啡” would be pronounced as “jia1 fei1” in Mandarin, rather than “ka1 fei1” as it is today. The same goes for “curry.”]

coffee: 咖啡 (gaa1 fe1)
curry: 咖喱 (gaa3 lei1)
chocolate: 朱古力 (zyu1 gu2*1 lik6*1) [Because “朱古力” only sounds like “chocolate” in Cantonese, Mandarin speakers have derived a different Chinese character representation of “chocolate” that resembles the English pronunciation of “chocolate” when pronounced in Mandarin.]
cheese: 芝士 (zi1 si6*2)
salmon: 三文魚 (saam1 man4 jyu4*2)
sandwich: 三文治 (saam1 man4 zi6)
strawberry: 士多啤梨 (si6 do1 be1 lei4*2)

Proper nouns – Places:
Boston: 波士頓 (bo1 si6 deon6*2)
California: 加州 (gaa1 zau1)
Canada: 加拿大 (gaa1 naa4 daai6)
Chicago: 芝加哥 (zi1 gaa1 go1)
Las Vegas: 拉斯維加斯 (laai1 si1 wai4 gaa1 si1)
Mexico: 墨西哥 (mak6 sai1 go1)
Netherlands (based on “Holland”): 荷蘭 (ho4 laan4*1)
New York: 紐約 (nau2 joek3)
San Francisco: 三蕃市 (saam1 faan4 si5)
Rome: 羅馬 (lo4 maa5)
Seattle: 西雅圖 (sai1 ngaa5 tou4)
Singapore: 星加坡 (sing1 gaa3 bo1)
Spain: 西班牙 (sai1 baan1 ngaa4)
Sweden: 瑞典 (seoi6 din2)
Switzerland: 瑞士 (seoi6 si6*2)
Toronto: 多倫多 (do1 leon4 do1)
Vancouver: 溫哥華 (wan1 go1 waa4)
Washington: 華盛頓 (waa4 sing6 deon6)

Plus, just about every place in Hong Kong’s romanized name is based on its Cantonese pronunciation (although some old names are from derived from other dialects like Hakka). Streets named after British persons similarly are represented in Chinese by combining Chinese characters based on their pronunciations in Cantonese.

Harvard: 哈佛 (haa1 fat6)
Stanford: 斯坦福 (si1 taan2 fuk1)
Yale: 耶魯 (je4 lou5)

bus: 巴士 (baa1 si6*2)
partner: 拍檔 (paak3 dong3)
taxi: 的士 (dik1 si6*2)