Referring to Cantonese Sheik, 北 is normally pronounced as 'bak', as in 北角 (bak gok - a train station in Hong Kong). However, I have seen instances where it is pronounced as 'pak' as in 北潭涌 (Pak Tam Chung- a place in Hong Kong).

So, is 北 officially pronounced as 'bak'? or as 'pak'?

PS: I want to know for 白 as well, is it paak? (as in 白泥- a place in Hong Kong) or 'baak' as in 白色(baak sik - white color)?

Can b and p be used interchangeably or is there an official pronunciation?

  • It is similar to Bay vs. Buy
    – lxg
    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:27
  • @ lxg Not sure what you mean by this. Can you clarify?
    – monalisa
    Feb 21, 2018 at 6:10

4 Answers 4


is definitely bak1.

is baak6.

I believe this b/p issue is probably just a romanization problem. Remember 北京 was Peking in times past.

Words that start with b are usually represented by letter [p] in IPA and that is how many romanizations started, from IPA.

The Meyer–Wempe Cantonese romanization system is one such pinyin that does write the IPA initial [p] as p and not b.

  • Got it, but how about the pronunciation of these letters though? In Hong Kong, 北京 is pronounced more like pak ging while 北角 is pronounced more like bak gok. There are subtle differences in the 'p' and 'b' and I wonder how these came to be, especially since the pinyin states it should be 'b'
    – udidosa
    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:01
  • 1
    @Urvil I think your ears may be playing tricks on you. If you check out 北角 on forvo.com/word/%E5%8C%97%E8%A7%92/#yue and then listen to 北京 forvo.com/word/%E5%8C%97%E4%BA%AC/#yue I think you will find they are both predominantly pronounced with an opening b sound or [p] in IPA. If not, what you might be hearing is 方言 and not "官话".
    – Mou某
    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:46
  • 3
    @Urvil I pronounce 北京 and 北角's 北 as bak1. Never heard anybody pronounce 北京 as pak1 before.
    – paper1111
    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:46

The /b/ in Cantonese and /b/ in IPA are not the same sound. Cantonese /b/ is more like an unaspirated IPA /p/ or if you want, an unvoiced IPA /b/. The 北 in 北京 and 北角 are exactly the same sound. 白 is /baak6/, same /b/ sound as in 北 , unvoiced and unaspirated bilabial stop.


There is actually no /pak/ in Cantonese. At all. There are a few characters that are pronounced /paak/ [long a:], 拍, 啪, 泊, 帕, 魄, 珀, 舶, 檗, 蘗, 汃, but that's about it.

As others have mentioned, romanization != pronunciation. 北 (which is, by the way, the only character pronounced /bak/), is always /bak/, and nothing else. 北角, 北京, 北潭涌, 北海, it's all /bak/. If you hear anything else, you need to listen again.

Same goes for 白 (and 百, 伯, 迫, 柏, 蔔, 佰, 舶, 帛, 匐, 菔, 踣). The only (but important) difference is that it's a long [a:].

  • 1
    This would probably just confuse the OP more, but the IPA for a Cantonese p is [pʰ] and for a Cantonese b, it's [p]. There aren't any truly voiced stops (e.g., IPA [b]) in Cantonese at all. Feb 21, 2018 at 21:10
  • 1
    OP isn’t confused, OP is Happy their question is answered
    – udidosa
    Feb 21, 2018 at 22:24

However, I have seen instances where it is pronounced as 'pak' as in 北潭涌 (Pak Tam Chung- a place in Hong Kong).

Pak Tam Chung in Cantonese is pronounced as (bak1 taam4 cung1), when Cantonese is romanised, b is usually turned into p. For example, 白田 (place in Hong Kong) is romanised as "Pak Tin" while the pronunciation is baak6 tin4 and 寶達 (another place in Hong Kong) is romanised as "Po Tat" while the pronunciation is bou2 daat6.

Remember, the romanisation is not the pronunciation!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.