Yale romanization of Cantonese

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Traditional Chinese 耶魯
Simplified Chinese 耶鲁
Cantonese Yale Yèh-lóuh

The Yale romanization of Cantonese was developed by Gerard P. Kok for his and Parker Po-fei Huang's textbook Speak Cantonese initially circulated in looseleaf form in 1952 [1] but later published in 1958. [2] Unlike the Yale romanization of Mandarin, it is still widely used in books and dictionaries, especially for foreign learners of Cantonese. It shares some similarities with Hanyu Pinyin in that unvoiced, unaspirated consonants are represented by letters traditionally used in English and most other European languages to represent voiced sounds. For example, [p] is represented as b in Yale, whereas its aspirated counterpart, [pʰ] is represented as p. [3] Students attending The Chinese University of Hong Kong's New-Asia Yale-in-China Chinese Language Center are taught using Yale romanization. [4]


Despite originally being a romanisation scheme to indicate pronunciations, some enthusiasts actually employ the Yale romanisation to explore writing Cantonese as an alphabetic language, elevating it from its assistive status to a written language in effect.


[ p ]
[ ]
[ m ]
[ f ]
[ t ]
[ ]
[ n ]
[ l ]
[ k ]
[ ]
[ ŋ ]
[ h ]
[ w ]
[ ts ]
[ tsʰ ]
[ s ]
[ j ]


[ ]
[ ɛː ]
[ ]
[ ɔː ]
[ ]
[ œː ]
[ ]
[ ]
[ ŋ̩ ]


Graphical representation of the tones of six-tone Cantonese. Cantonese Tones.png
Graphical representation of the tones of six-tone Cantonese.

Modern Cantonese has up to seven phonemic tones. Cantonese Yale represents these tones using a combination of diacritics and the letter h. [5] [6] Traditional Chinese linguistics treats the tones in syllables ending with a stop consonant as separate "entering tones". Cantonese Yale follows modern linguistic conventions in treating these the same as the high-flat, mid-flat and low-flat tones, respectively.

No.DescriptionIPA & Chao
tone numbers
Yale representation
1high-flat˥ 55sīnsīk
high-falling˥˨ 52sìn
2mid-rising˨˥ 25sín
3mid-flat˧ 33sisinsik
4low-falling˨˩ 21sìhsìhn
5low-rising˨˧ 23síhsíhn
6low-flat˨ 22sihsihnsihk


Traditional Simplified Romanization
你好Néih hóu

Sample transcription of one of the 300 Tang Poems by Meng Haoran:

Chēun híu
Maahng Houh-yìhn
春眠不覺曉,Chēun mìhn bāt gok híu,
處處聞啼鳥。chyu chyu màhn tàih níuh.
夜來風雨聲,yeh lòih fūng yúh sīng,
花落知多少?fā lohk jī dō síu?

See also

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The Yale romanization of Mandarin is a system for transcribing the sounds of Standard Chinese, based on Mandarin Chinese varieties spoken in and around Beijing. It was devised in 1943 by the Yale sinologist George Kennedy for a course teaching Chinese to American soldiers, and popularized by continued development of that course at Yale. The system approximated Chinese sounds using English spelling conventions in order to accelerate acquisition of pronunciation by English speakers.

The Cantonese Transliteration Scheme, sometimes called Rao's romanization, is the romanisation for Cantonese published at part of the Guangdong Romanization by the Guangdong Education department in 1960, and further revised by Rao Bingcai in 1980. It is referred to as the Canton Romanization on the LSHK character database.


  1. Huang, Parker Po-fei (1965). Cantonese Sounds and Tones. New Haven, CT: Far Eastern Publications, Yale University. p. Foreword.
  2. The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Chinese Language , p. 40.
  3. "Cantonese". Omniglot. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  4. "CUHK Teaching Materials" . Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  5. Ng Lam & Chik 2000: 515. "Appendix 3: Tones. The student of Cantonese will be well aware of the importance of tones in conveying meaning. Basically, there are seven tones which, in the Yale system, are represented by the use of diacritics and by the insertion of h for ..."
  6. Gwaan 2000: 7. "Basically, there are seven tones which, in the Yale system, are represented by the use of diacritics and by the insertion of h for the three low tones. The following chart will illustrate the seven tones: 3 Mid Level, 1 High Level, 5 Low Falling, 6 Low Level..."

Further reading