Welcome to a guide/tutorial/you-name-it for learning Jyutcitzi, which is a novel script designed for the scribing of Cantonese. The guide consists of multiple parts, where each part will fit into one Medium story (NB: I haven’t written all of them yet, but I know there are quite a few to write, please bear with me!).
By the end of this part (Part 1), you will:
- have a basic understanding of how Cantonese phonetics and syllables work
- gain an appreciation of how Jyutcitzi (粵切字) relates to the Faancit (反切) system
- have a basic understanding on how to compose Jyutcitzi
To help you understand the Jyutcitzi script, various exercises are provided after new concepts are introduced. You are encouraged to attempt them in order to familiarize yourself with Jyutcitzi. Answers to the exercises will be provided at the end of the next part (to be posted in a separate Medium story at a later date).
Note: For simplicity, this guide adopts Jyutping for the phoneticization of Cantonese. However, extensive knowledge on Jyutping or any other Cantonese romanization scheme is not necessary for this guide.
Introduction to Jyutcitzi
Inspired by the syllabic design of the Hangul alphabet, Jyutcitzi (粵切字) is a phonetic syllabic script which is based on the Faancit (反切) system, where Faancit was a method for recording the pronunciation of Honzi (漢字) when reading Classical Chinese. However, we need to go through the phonetics of Cantonese Honzi first before introducing Jyutcitzi.
In Cantonese, the pronunciation of each Honzi is characterized by three parts: the Honzi’s onset (聲母), final (韻母) and tone. For the sake of this guide, you can think of:
- the onset as the starting consonant(s) of the syllable (e.g. 班 (baan1) and 鼻 (bei6) share the same “b-” onset)
- the final as a vowel, or everything else which follows the initial, excluding tone (e.g. 非 (fei1) and 鼻 (bei6) share the same “-ei” final)
- the tone as how the syllable’s pitch changes over the duration of the pronunciation. Cantonese has six tones, which can be easily memorized using mnemonics such as 三碗半牛腩麵 (saam1 wun2 bun3 ngau4 naam5 min6).
Let’s briefly conclude with the Cantonese pronunciation of 東 (English: east) before moving to our first exercise. The Honzi 東, which is phoneticized as dung1 in Jyutping, is characterized by the onset “d”, the final “ung” and tone 1 (the highest one in Cantonese).
Exercise 1: Using words.hk or Wiktionary (a website for searching up Cantonese pronunciations), identify the (i) onset (聲母) (ii) final (韻母) and (iii) tone for the following Honzi: (a) 香 (b) 港 (c) 粵 (d) 字
Faancit records Honzi pronunciation using two Honzi, where the first Honzi is used for representing the onset, and the second Honzi is used for simultaneously representing the final and tone. For instance, the Honzi 東 is written as「德紅切」, where :
- 「德」 encodes the onset “d”,
- 「紅」 encodes the final “ung” in addition to some tone from Classical Chinese; and
- 「切」represents the mere fact that Faancit is being used.
Jyutcitzi is based on Faancit in the sense that Jyutcitzi also uses onsets and finals in order to represent Cantonese syllables. For example, the image below shows the Jyutcitzi for「香港」(hoeng1 gong2).
To keep things simple for now, we have omitted tones in the above Jyutcitzi. From the image, we can see that each Jyutcitzi uses two Jyutcitzi components (one for the onset and one for the final) in order to encode one syllable. Specifically, the first Jyutcitzi has the onset 亾 = h and final 丈=oeng, and the second Jyutcitzi has the onset丩=g and final 王 = ong. Combined together, this gives 亾丈·丩王 = hoeng gong.
Elementary Rules for Jyutcitzi
Now let’s dive into the elementary rules governing Jyutcitzi. Jyutcitzi provides a fixed set of blocks, with one specific block for each onset or final in Cantonese. As seen in the previous image, Jyutcitzi characters are then formed by combining the blocks. Here is a table of Jyutcitzi blocks for the possible onsets in Cantonese:
As expected, we can see that 19 possible onsets give rise to 19 different onset blocks, with two special ones for addressing the Honzi 「唔」.
In Jyutcitzi, the onset block(s) dictate the spatial arrangement of the blocks in the Jyutcitzi. Apart from the last two entries, notice how each onset block is accompanied by one of two types of spatial arrangement rule, namely:
- the left-right rule ⿰, i.e. place the onset and final blocks on the left and right respectively; or
- the top-bottom rule⿱, i.e. place the onset and final blocks on the top and bottom respectively
The English /r/ sound is often pronounced as the “w” sound for English-derived Cantonese which are written using Latin character. For example, the Jyutping for “RAM” and “rap” is wem1 and wep1 respectively. As a result, we designate 「禾」to be the Jyutcitzi block for /r/¹.
We also designate 𠄡 (Unicode: U+20121) as the character to replace Honzi with a “ng/m” onset and a zero final, i.e.「唔」. The pronunciation of 「唔」can be further specified by adding a dot to the top or bottom of the character, which gives rise to the two final entries “ng” and “m” respectively in the table.
Okay, now for the table of Jyutcitzi blocks for the possible finals in Cantonese:
As expected, we can see that the 56 possible finals derived from the Cantonese Honzi pronunciations give rise to 56 different onset blocks. Note that the combination of the 9 “vowel” sounds on the left and 9 “end” (on the top) sounds gives rise to more than 56 combinations, but we can safely ignore the empty entries for now, since there are no Honzi with finals corresponding to these empty entries.
Before we jump to some more exercises, let’s see how we can build the Jyutcitzi characters for the phrase 「粵字改革」, which roughly translates to “Reformation of Cantonese Characters” in English. To do that, we:
- First find the Jyutping pronunciation of 「粵字改革」, which gives us jyut6 zi6 goi2 gaak3.
- Next, we have to find the onset and final blocks for each Honzi. This gives us 「央乙·止子·丩丐·丩百」. Here, we use the dot symbol “·” in order to separate the components into syllables.
(NB: It suffices to stop at this step if we are writing online, since Jyutcitzi has not been included in the set of Unicode characters yet)
- Finally, we just need to use the spatial rules to assemble the blocks together for each Honzi, which gives rise to the colored Jyutcitzi in the image below:
And that’s basically it on how you can assemble Jyutcitzi! This also concludes the first part of the guide in terms of learning. If you spot any mistakes in this story, please let me know, and I will update the story accordingly. If not, I will see you in part 2!
Edit: Part 2 is now available here! https://haemzbaengzlaengz.medium.com/a-guide-to-jyutcitzi-part-2-of-many-to-come-fbf229c37d91
: Some readers will be unsatisfied by the use of 「禾」for representing both w- and r- as it may cause confusion. For example, both English “way” and “ray” would become 「禾丌」in Jyutcitzi. To resolve this, we will need a dedicated consonant block for r- (more on this on a separate Medium post).
The only way to familiarize yourself with Jyutcitzi is practice practice practice, so here are some exercises to get started! To facilitate learning, the exercises are ordered by increasing difficulty.
Note: Since we haven’t talked about how the six Cantonese tones can be marked in Jyutcitzi, tone marking can be omitted in the following exercises (don’t worry, we’ll talk about it in Part 2).
Exercise 2: Write the following Cantonese-specific Honzi phrases using Jyutcitzi. To help you, the Jyutping pronunciation of each phrase has been provided.
(a) 䒐䒏 (mang2 zang2, also written as 忟憎 or 𤷪𤺧)
(b) 冚唪唥 (ham6 baang6 laang6, also written as 冚𠾴唥)
(c) 弊傢伙 (bai6 gaa1 fo2, also written as 弊家伙, 𡃇家伙 and 弊家夥)
(d) 虢礫緙嘞 (kwik1 lik1 kwaak1 laak1, also written as 闃礫緙嘞)
(e) 㪐㩿 (lak1 kak1)
(f) 山旮旯 (saan1 kaa1 laa1, also written as 山卡罅 and 山旯旮)
Exercise 3: Jyutcitzi can be used for writing non-Honzi Cantonese phrases as well. Write the following Latin character-containing or English-derived Cantonese phrases using Jyutcitzi. To help you, the Jyutping pronunciation of each phrase has been provided.
(a) rap (wep1, Latin character-containing)
(b) WiFi (waai1 faai1, Latin character-containing)
(c) book房 (buk1 fong4, Latin character-containing)
(d) 車 cam (ce1 kem1, Latin character-containing)
(e) Eng Lit (ing1 lit1, derived from English “English Literature”)
(f) 拗撬 (ngaau3 giu6, derived from English “argue”, also written as 詏撬)
(g) 肥佬 (fei4 lou2, derived from English “fail”)
(h) set 士碌架 (set1 si6 luk1 gaa2, Latin character-containing and English-derived)
Exercise 4: Write the following Honzi sentences using Jyutcitzi. To help you, the Jyutping pronunciation of each sentence has been provided.
(a) 吾系甘牙禾。 (ng4 hai6 gam1 ngaa4 wo4, this isn’t proper Cantonese is it…)
(b) 今晚打老虎。 (gam1 maan5 daa2 lou5 fu2, “Cantonesified” version of the French phrase “Comment-allez vous”, i.e. “How is it going?” in English)
(c) 好耐冇見喇喎。 (hou2 noi6 mou5 gin3 laa3 wo3)
(d) 痕就唔好𢯎啦。 (han4 zau6 ng4 hou2 ngaau1 laa1)
(e) 唔知噉樣會唔會好睇啲呢？(ng4 zi1 gam2 joeng2 wui6 ng4 wui6 hou2 tai2 di1 ne1, Note how Jyutcitzi eliminates all the 口 radical-containing Honzi in phrase)
(f) 余與汝，遇於雨。汝語余：「於雨餘，於汝寓，汝娛余，汝予乳，予余娛，余預羽，羽娛乳，娛乳餘，汝如雨，余御汝，如魚愉，御汝餘，愈譽余。」——黃霑 (Hint: use the repeat character「々」after the first occurence if the Jyutcitzi consecutively appears multiple times. jyu4 jyu5 jyu5, jyu6 jyu1 jyu6. jyu5 jyu5 jyu4 : “jyu1 jyu5 jyu4, jyu1 jyu5 jyu6, jyu5 jyu4 jyu4, jyu5 jyu5 jyu5, jyu5 jyu4 jyu4, jyu4 jyu6 jyu5, jyu5 jyu4 jyu5, jyu5 jyu4 jyu5, jyu4 jyu6 jyu5, jyu4 jyu5 jyu6, jyu6 jyu5 jyu4, jyu6 jyu6 jyu4.” — wong4 zim1, an “interesting” classical Chinese poem)
For the ambitious reader, I have also provided a fruitful exercise which hints at concepts to be introduced in the next post.
Exercise 5: This question aims to convert the following Honzi-Latin mixed script sentence, which is commonly spoken at the end of a Cantonese Youtube video, into Jyutcitzi:「 記得要 like，share，subscribe，同留 comment，千祈唔好唔記得㩒埋隔離個鐘仔呀！」However, we need some more Jyutcitzi rules before we can do this.
(a) What words/phrases cannot be written down using only the rules introduced in this guide? Why?
(b) To solve the orthography issue in (a), we need a Jyutcitzi rule to handle zero onset or zero final “syllables”. Specifically, we just add the zero block「𭕄」on top of the onset or final. To aid comprehension, we illustrate by several examples in the first image below. Using this knowledge, write down the Jyutcitzi for the words/phrases you found in part (a). Which word/phrase can we still not write down? Why?
(c) Given the Jyutcitzi for “skwim” in the second image below, write down the problematic word/phrase from part (b) using Jyutcitzi.
(d) Using the knowledge from the previous parts, convert the mixed script sentence into Jyutcitzi.