Despite the efforts of the central government to clamp down on and diminish the role of Cantonese in education and in public life generally, the language has been experiencing a heady resurgence, especially in connection with the prolonged Umbrella Movement last fall.
"Cantonese resurgent" (12/11/12)
"Translating the Umbrella Revolution" (10/3/14)
"Cantonese protest slogans" (10/26/14), etc.
Of course, if you write by hand, you're not constrained by electronic fonts, but can use any special characters you wish. But if you want to enter Cantonese into electronic devices, then you are subject to various constraints, including your own ability to interface with the software. From what I've personally witnessed and from what my informants tell me, people rely on one or more of the following methods to input Cantonese, usually in combination:
Hanyu Pinyin (the official romanization of the PRC)
Jyutping (romanization developed by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong and favored by linguists, but not official)
Yale (widely used for teaching Cantonese) or other romanization
Touch pads (finger tracing / writing) — often users switch to this only when they have to write a Cantonese character that is not in normal fonts
And, believe it or not, English! Many of my HK friends use English (words) — at least part of the time — to input Cantonese. For example, if you type in "umbrella", you can select from saan3 傘, jyu5saan3 雨傘, or ze1 遮.
Bob Bauer polled the 14 students in his class at the University of Hong Kong on what input methods they use for Chinese characters. Here are the results:
| 速成 ("rapid")
[modified form of Tsang-chieh]
|筆 劃 (strokes)||0||8|
|*iPhone 手指 (finger)||(1)||1|
(relies on scanning)
*This student said she indirectly input Chinese characters into her computer with her iPhone which automatically emailed to her computer the Chinese texts she had written on the iPhone with her finger.
As a friend from Hong Kong puts it:
…people use all kinds of methods (倉頡 [Tsang-chieh]、速成 ["rapid"]、粵語拼音 [romanization for Cantonese]、漢語拼音 [Hanyu Pinyin]、九方 [Q9]). I guess it depends on the age of the person? A lot of the pre-1997 generation use touch pads (finger writing), this is because they don't know any other writing systems without exerting a lot of effort in learning.
As another friend put it, for "casual, brief" writing of actual Cantonese (as opposed to "Chinese"), people will often rely on writing on a touch pad with one's finger, but that doesn't seem to be much favored for longer and more "formal" (i.e., "Chinese" [zung1man4 中文]) texts.
Up to now, the situation has been fairly messy and complicated, for most people often involving reliance on multiple methods, because of the following reasons:
1. lack of an official Cantonese romanization that is taught in the schools to all students
2. an abundance of special characters for writing Cantonese that are not in usual fonts (to write Cantonese, you need a thousand or more of them)
3. strong discouragement of students from writing Cantonese by teachers and educational authorities, hence lack of familiarity with writing Cantonese and the failure to sanction input methods for Cantonese in schools and universities
4. minimal commitment of software companies to develop input methods designed especially for Cantonese (as opposed to zung1man4 中文 ["written Chinese"])
The good news is that Google recently introduced a powerful method for inputting Cantonese that is succinctly described in this short video. Even if your spelling is not perfect, the system is "intelligent" enough to guess at what you're trying to type. I suspect that, with the advent of Google's Cantonese input method, people will be further encouraged to write in Cantonese, since the burden of switching from one imperfect system to another will be obviated.
For many additional posts on Cantonese and related issues, see here.
[Hat tip James Dew; thanks to Bob Bauer, Mandy Chan, Dehuai Yao, and Norman Leung]