With Mandarin making more and more in-roads into Cantonese speaking Hong Kong, I'm wondering what characteristics set it apart from Standard Mandarin or other regional Mandarin dialects and/or accents.

I'm not asking so much about native Mandarin speakers that have relocated to Hong Kong. But about Hong Kongers whose first language is Cantonese but also speak fluent Mandarin.

When a Mandarin speaker visits Hong Kong what stands out most?

Other areas where Mandarin is spoken with identifiable regional differences have Wikipedia articles, but Hong Kong does not. Compare the articles on Mandarin in Singapore and Taiwan for instance.

(If it is felt that this question would fit in better at linguistics.SE I am not opposed to migrating it there.)

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    There's definitely sometimes a slight different in pronunciation. For instance, Leung Chunying seems to somtimes have "bad" pronunciation compared to "standard" Mandarin, and from what I've seen, this is something that isn't uncommon among native speakers of Cantonese.
    – user3410
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:25
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    I don't know how anyone can answer this question. Hong Kong people speak Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. Easier if you can hear it for yourself. Too troublesome to describe in writing though examples can be given with an idea of how they would pronounce it differently from the standard pronunciation.
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:30
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    @hungerartist: Sorry, I've just noticed what seems to be an odd trend on the site of contributors to make posts along the lines of "I'm not interested in your question." / "Your curiosity is misplaced, just be satisfied with Standard Mandarin.", etc type things. I hope it's not a real trend. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:44
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    Pang Ho-cheung speaking Mandarin youtube.com/watch?v=0ZXo-b9e-f0
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:51
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    Rather than migrate this question to linguistics.SE I'm going to ask it there too. Here's a link in case anybody here is interested in how the responses compare: What qualities does Hong Kong Mandarin have? Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


I am hardly an expert on this topic. I know basically nothing about Cantonese-influenced Mandarin per se, but I'll offer an answer of the variety that I think hippietrail is looking for. Hopefully other people will be like "I now understand what a good answer to this question is supposed to look like, and furthermore, I know more than that idiot Stumpy Joe Pete! I'll answer it!".

As I mentioned in an answer to a similar question, most southern Mandarin has the characteristic of merging zh ch sh into the z c s series (e.g., "zhi" pronounced as "zi"). Cantonese does this, so I expect HK Mandarin accents to do so.

In Cantonese (among the many many other differences in pronunciation) the g and k are preserved in places where, in Mandarin, they have been palatalized into j and q. For example, 北京 is pronounced "bak1 ging1". (Aside: this helps to explain the outdated Western spellings of "Beijing" as "Peking" and "Chongqing" as "Chungking"--the qs and js were originally velar! As for the p/b k/g thing... blame the Europeans.) Sometimes this shows through in people's Mandarin. For instance, some HK classmates of mine mistakenly guessed the pronunciation of 季节 as "gui4jie2" (instead of "ji4jie2").

It's not only ks and gs that became j and q. There were also fricatives and affricates that palatalized in similar circumstances (before [i]/[j]). See here and look for the /tɕ/ /tɕʰ/ /ɕ/ parts.

Possibly related to that: I once had a very young student with a rather hilarious Mandarin accent (I don't know if she was a Canto speaker). In at least some circumstances, zhi would become ji, chi would become qi, and shi would become xi. This culminated in her yelling about a spider:


Standard: lao3shi1, lao3shi1, you3 zhi1zhu1 a!

Her: lao3xi1, lao3xi1, you3 ji1zhu1 a!

I say that it's possibly related, because in Cantonese, 师 = si1 and 蜘 = zi1 (where the i's are actual [i]s! Not like Mandarin!). By analogy to Cantonese words pronounced sik and zik, you would expect the Mandarin to be xi and ji. So, like I said, possibly related.

  • I see. Good post! Similar phenomenon with Hokkien speakers (also southern Chinese like Cantonese speakers). They don't distinguish zh/ch/sh from z/c/s. It all sounds like the latter. I don't know if it's out of habit or laziness.
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 2:00
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    @amateur It's from influence from their native 方言--if the language you grow up speaking doesn't have a particular sound, chances are you'll have trouble producing it when learning another language (or 方言). For example, most English-language learners have trouble with "th" ([ð] and [θ]) so they merge that sound with something else. E.g., [z] and [s], as in, "I sink zis is it", or [d] and [f], as in "I fink dis is it". It's not a personality trait like laziness or something. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 2:29
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    Forgot to say Taiwan as an example, they already study Mandarin in school but still don't bother to pronounce zh/ch/sh when talking to each other. I say lazy because ex. 什么 becomes "so mo". Also "sheng" becomes "sen" (no h sound, and no g). Oh! And a popular one is 十 and 四 both sound "si" so 十四 and 四十 are "si si" (no idea if 14 or 40!)
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 2:39
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    @amateur You're saying that if you learn a language in school, and your pronunciation is not perfectly standard, then you're lazy? Should I tell my Chinese coworkers how lazy they are for not pronouncing "th"s as [ð] and [θ]? Maybe I should tell all Americans what lazy bums they are for speaking English with a weird, non-British accent! ...but seriously, I think "lazy" is really, really bad choice of words to describe the phonology of a particular accent or dialect. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 19:51
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    Cantonese merges the initial consonants of some q- and ch- characters in mandarin, for instance, 窗 and 枪 are homophones in Cantonese. There is a joke saying that a Cantonese was on a train in mainland China. He felt hot and wanted to open the window, so he asked the passenger besides him: "你动不动? 不动我就开枪了". (He meant to say 你冻不冻, 不冻我就开窗了)
    – user58955
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 23:38

I'll give my attempt at an answer. I don't have quite the time to give a long list of examples that I see as common qualities, but I can try to add some more in later if necessary.

As mentioned by Stumpy Joe Pete, the zh, ch, sh sounds will sometimes be pronounced as z, c, or s. This may possibly be more prominent in words that sound similar in Mandarin. For instance, a speaker may pronounce the 沙 in 沙田 as sa1 rather than as sha1, which essentially is the Cantonese pronunciation of 沙.

More generally, Hong Kong speakers in particular may be prone to mispronunciation of standard Mandarin (compared to those in 廣東) - the above is a part of this issue. Part of this is probably simply that Mandarin is used less in Hong Kong, outside of school settings or interactions with mainland Chinese. This generally tends to "materialize" by way of Hong Kong speakers pronouncing words/characters more similar to how they might in Cantonese, even when speaking in Mandarin. Anecdotally, two examples of this would be 李家仁's 小明上廣州 song in Mandarin, where (as one example) 上 is pronounced to sound more like the Cantonese soeng5 than the Mandarin shang4, or 崔世安's infamous instances of mispronouncing Mandarin in public. The latter is (or was?) the chief executive of Macau, but I believe his Mandarin provides a fairly good illustration of how Hong Kong speakers of Mandarin might use pronunciations of words closer to Cantonese pronunciations than the "correct" ones in Mandarin.


In Cantonese, N and L are often mutually mixable. For example, nian2 年 could be like nien or lien. So when a Canto speakers tries to say it, it could be like nlian2. Another classic example is 你 which may be nei or lei.
Even more classic is when someone is from 湖南 and we hear they are from 荷兰 but perhaps linguistically HuNan Hua and Canto are similar mixing their Ns and Ls.

Some cheats for tones like Second tone in Mandarin nearly always is 4th tone (lowest) in Cantonese like 平 or 层. But of course there are tone sandhis like for 楼 (I read that in a book by Kataoka and Lee).

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