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Taking an example, the place in Hong Kong called Tsz Wan Shan(慈雲山), the 1st character is Tsz, but in the cuhk's database, there is no such notation in the list of the initials/consonants(聲母), is the initial 'T' or 'TSZ'? What's the right way to look up this character in Cantonese?

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  • “Tsz Wan Shan” does not look like something from a romanisation system; it looks like an ad-hoc approximation. The CUHK link you posted supports Jyutping (粵拼; select initial, final, and tone under the option 選擇粵音), you should just use that for lookup (ci4 wan4 saan1).
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 4 at 9:30
  • What exactly is an ad-hoc approximation? Is there any rules? I mean those plates are made by the government not individual person.
    – fluter
    Commented May 4 at 11:13
  • The CUHK database does not use the Wade-Giles system, which was (and still is) the official transliteration system used in Hong Kong. Commented May 6 at 3:45

4 Answers 4

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As far as I can tell, Hong Kong uses the Wade-Giles system to transliterate Cantonese into English.

BTW, the combination "tsz" is still in used today.

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  • I'm curious how can the combination Tsz can be divided in terms of initials(聲母) and finals(韻母)? It looks all 3 are consonants to me.
    – fluter
    Commented May 6 at 5:32
  • Can you provide some references? Wade-Giles is a system of Mandarin romanisation. Maybe you're thinking of Yale?
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 6 at 23:37
  • @dROOOze Yale appeared on the scene way too late. Maybe parts of it was later adopted. Commented May 7 at 1:20
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there’re several romanisations of cantonese since 19th century, “ts” was used mainly before 1900s (“ch” was preferred afterward)

if, a place name in hong kong, that it’s romanisation is difference from the usual; most likely, it was based on an older romanisation scheme.

eg: the dictionary “a tonic dictionary of the chinese language in the canton dialect”, published in 1856, page 719 has “慈” as “tsz”

enter image description here

https://archive.org/details/tonicdictionaryo00will

have fun :)

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This goes back to 19th century Cantonese, as recorded e.g. in Wells' 1856 tome A tonic dictionary of the Chinese language in the Canton dialect, with particular emphasis on the phonology of the 西關 Xiguan district of Guangzhou.

A clear distinction between /i/ and the apical vowel /ɿ/ (also transcribed /ź̩~ɯ~ɨ/ in more conventional IPA) is noted. The distribution of this apical vowel is more restricted than in the Beijing Mandarin of the time, only occurring after /s/, /ts/, /tsʰ/ as an allophone of /i/. Thus 慈 /tsʰź̩/ is distinguished from 遲 /tʃʰi/, the latter having a different initial to the former.

In more modern Cantonese, the apical vowels merged into the /i/ vowels along with the loss of the alveolar vs palatal distinctions in the affricates and sibilants. But the distinction persisted into the 20th century in some speakers, and it was prestigious enough to have been recorded on film.

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You may wish to refer to the Hong Kong Government Cantonese Romanisation, which is still to this day used to transliterate place names and people's names (e.g., Tsz Ching is a very common name).

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  • Thanks for this - this is the correct answer.
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 9 at 0:24

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