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Take, for example, the chorus to Beyond's 喜欢你.

喜欢你 那双眼动人 笑声更迷人 愿再可 轻抚你 那可爱面容 挽手说梦话 像昨天 你共我

As far as I can tell, the lyrics are in Standard Chinese even though they are sung in Cantonese. I see nothing particularly Cantonese about the grammar or vocabulary here. Would it not sound idiomatically correct if one tried to sing the same lyrics with Mandarin pronunciation? Instead, the so-called "translation" is this.

忘记你 美丽的眼睛 温柔的声音 我答应 忘记你 脆弱的背影 我们的故事 我努力 忘记你

  • 2
    As far as I know, 粤语歌 usually has two sets of 歌词 due to rhyme. One is for Mandarin, and the other Cantonese. In Chinese, we call this kind of rhyme 押韵. The Mandarin version might not "押韵" when it becomes Cantonese (and vice versa). I think that's the reason why there are two sets of lines. – dan Nov 4 at 0:59
  • @dan agree. some lyrics in Cantonese are not very acceptable to Mandarin speakers. – sylvia Nov 4 at 1:23
  • @dan rhyming usually isn't a bigger problem than tones, namely, the relative tones of the 平上去入 and of the musical notes. For lyrics in Standard Chinese, it is more likely that the rhyming is kept intact than the tones in relative to musical notes. – Daniel Cheung Nov 26 at 18:33
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For your example, it is more like 2 different songs based on the same rhythm rather than translation, because the meaning of the lyrics are far from each other. And for the reasons we redo the lyrics in Mandarin: a) Sometimes, the pronunciation of the original lyrics in Mandarin doesn't fit the rhythm. b) Some of the expressions used in Cantonese are not commonly used in Mandarin, like in this example: "愿再可", "你共我" are not standard expressions in Mandarin.

  • But my understanding was that Cantonese speakers didn't write out Cantonese phrases, but used Standard Chinese. Isn't written Chinese supposed to reflect spoken Mandarin, even in Hong Kong? – K Man Nov 5 at 12:12
  • For your question, a) Cantonese do write out Cantonese phrases in standard Chinese sometimes, see example: [Cantonese] 好耐无见,我好挂住你啊![Mandarin] 好久不见,我很想念你啊! b) Written Chinese is not suppose to support Mandarin only, but used to support all the different dialects across the country, since Chinese is not a pronunciation based language but a form of ideogram, this is the biggest different between Chinese and English. – Z.D.Chen Nov 7 at 5:24
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It is very common to write Cantonese songs in either Standard Written Chinese or Colloquial Cantonese. Both are sung in Cantonese pronunciations.

We only translate colloquial Cantonese dialogues in movies or TV. into Standard Written Chinese as subtitles, so the Mandarin speaking audience can understand the dialogues

We do not translate colloquial Cantonese lyrics into Mandarin, We just add a SWC lyrics beside the colloquial Cantonese one, or put SWC translation in brackets beside Cantonese terms that Mandarin speakers might not understand

Example:

  • Colloquial Cantonese: 邊有半斤八両咁理想?

  • SWC translation of Colloquial Cantonese: 那有半斤八両這麼理想?

  • Colloquial Cantonese with SWC translation in brackets: 邊有(那有)半斤八両咁(這麼)理想?

For Cantonese songs written in SWC lyrics, there's no need for translations

There are some Cantonese songs rewritten into Mandarin with completely different lyrics that's supposed to be sung in Mandarin. For example, 上海灘 has one original version that's in Cantonese and one Mandarin version that's sung in Mandarin

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