The Hong Kong Government uses an unpublished system of Romanisation of Cantonese for public purposes which is based on the 1888 standard described by Roy T Cowles in 1914 as Standard Romanisation.:iv The primary need for Romanisation of Cantonese by the Hong Kong Government is in the assigning of names to new streets and places. It has not formally or publicly disclosed its method for determining the appropriate Romanisation in any given instance.
Currently, government departments, particularly the Survey and Mapping Office of the Lands Department, consult the Chinese Language Department[clarification needed] of the Civil Service Bureau before gazetting names and the latter vet proposed names using the Three Way Chinese Commercial/Telegraphic Code Book, originally published by the Royal Hong Kong Police Force Special Branch for internal government use in 1971. The code book system is devoid of any tone indications and, being grossly simplified, is susceptible to confusion.
Although the code book has only been available for several decades, the Romanisation approach for place names in Hong Kong has been broadly consistent since before 1888. This can be seen in maps of the period and in the government's publication A Gazetteer of Place Names in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories of 1960.
For place names, the type of the place in English is often used instead of a romanisation (e.g., "Street" and "Road" in place of "Kai" and "Lo"). Nevertheless, exceptions are not uncommon (for example, "Fong" in "Lan Kwai Fong", meaning "Square" if translated). "Wan" for "Bay" and "Tsuen" (or "Chuen") for "Estate" (or "Village") are also common. There are also many instances of surviving pre-1888 Romanisation, such as "Kowloon" and "Un Chau Street", which would be "Kau Lung" and "Yuen Chau" under this system, respectively.
Romanisation of names is mandatory in government identification documents such as identity cards issued by the Registration of Persons Office. This standard is used by the office by default though individuals are at liberty to choose their own spelling or another romanisation system.
All tones are omitted as are distinctions between aspirated and unaspirated stops. The distinctions between the long vowel [a] and the short vowel [ɐ] are omitted like Fat (發, [fat]; meaning "to issue") and Fat (佛, [fɐt]; meaning "Buddha").
Some of the inconsistencies are due to a distinction that has been lost historically (a distinction between palatal and alveolar sounds, viz. ch versus ts, sh versus s, and j versus z). These consonants are no longer distinguished in present-day speech.
The following table of geographical names illustrates the standard.
|pʰ||p||p||Sai Ying Pun||西營盤|
|k||g||k||Tai Kok Tsui||大角咀|
|kw||gw||kw||Cha Kwo Ling||茶果嶺|
|m||m||m||Yau Ma Tei||油麻地|
|ŋ||ng||ng||Ngau Tau Kok||牛頭角|
|s||s||s||So Kon Po||掃捍埔|
|ɕ||s||sh||Shau Kei Wan||筲箕灣|
|w||w||w||Wong Tai Sin||黃大仙|
|tɕʰ||ch||ch||Heng Fa Chuen||杏花邨|
|tsʰ||ts||ts||Yau Yat Tsuen||又一村|
|ts||j||ts||Tsim Sha Tsui||尖沙咀|
|-p||-p||-p||Ap Lei Chau||鴨脷洲|
|-t||-t||-t||Tsat Tsz Mui||七姊妹|
|-m||-m||-m||Sham Shui Po||深水埗|
Vowels, diphthongs, and syllabic consonants
|aː||aa||a||Ma Tau Wai||馬頭圍|
|ah||Wah Fu Estate||華富邨|
|ɐ||a||a||Tsz Wan Shan||慈雲山|
|u||Sham Chun River||深圳河|
|ɛː/e||e||e||Che Kung Miu||車公廟|
|iː/e||i||i||Lai Chi Kok||荔枝角|
|ze||Sheung Sze Wan||相思灣|
|ee||Tat Chee Avenue||達之路|
|eo||Nam Cheong Street||南昌街|
|ɵ||eu||u||Shun Lee Estate||順利邨|
|yː||yu||yu||Yu Chau Street||汝州街|
|u||Kau U Fong||九如坊|
|ue||Yung Shue Wan||榕���灣|
|aːw||aau||au||Shau Kei Wan||筲箕灣|
|ɐw||au||au||Sau Mau Ping||秀茂坪|
|ej||ei||ei||Lei Yue Mun||鯉魚門|
|ay||Kam Hay Court||錦禧苑|
|ai||Shui Hau Sai Ngan Ma||水口四眼馬|
|i||To Li Terrace||桃李台|
|iːw||iu||iu||Siu Sai Wan||小西灣|
|ɔːj||oi||oi||Choi Hung Estate||彩虹邨|
|oy||Choy Yee Bridge||蔡意橋|
|ɵj||eui||ui||Ma Liu Shui||馬料水|
|ow||ou||o||Tai Mo Shan||大帽山|
|ŋ̩||ng||ng||Ng Fan Chau||五分州|
- ^ The standard pronunciation of 五 is [ŋ̩]. However, a more common pronunciation in Hong Kong is [m̩] and many [ŋ̩] words are merging with it. The only word that was originally pronounced as m̩ is "唔" (not) and it is not used in place names.
- List of common Chinese surnames shows how they are romanised in this scheme.
- Cowles, Roy T (1914). Cowles' Pocket Dictionary of Cantonese. Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh Ltd.
- "Map of Hong Kong with British Kowloon". Hongkong Almanack. 1888.