Remarkable Name of a Hong Kong Restaurant

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From Bob Bauer:

Bob explains:

The photograph shows the front of a Hong Kong restaurant which has not only chosen as its name the colloquial indigenous Cantonese word, 冚棒唥 ham6 baang6 laang6 ‘all; in all’ (Sidney Lau 1977:324), but has also displayed this name in BOTH Chinese characters AND Jyut Ping. We should especially note that the Cantonese romanization is correct AND complete with tone numbers!

I asked Bob:

With three 6th tones in a row, is there some kind of saṃdhí going on there when it's pronounced aloud?

Bob replied:

To the best of my knowledge there is no tone sandhi (samdhi?) in this colloquial polysyllabic word.

In my all my years of speaking Cantonese (beginning in 1974) I've always pronounced this word with the three low tones in succession.

Phonetically-motivated tone sandhi in Cantonese typically involves a change of tone to High Level
under the influence of a neighboring High Level tone:

for example, 今晚 gam1 maan5 'tonight' => gam1 maan5/1

In careful speech this word would be pronounced with High Level tone + Mid-low Rising Tone.  However, in casual speech through perseveratory assimilation of the first High Level tone, the Mid-low Rising tone is changed to High Level.

I further asked Bob:

Also, the first and third characters are "special" characters unique to Cantonese, right?

Do they have identifiable meanings by themselves?  I.e., do they represent individual Cantonese morphosyllables, each with a meaning of its own?  Or do they only function to convey sound in polysyllabic expressions like this one?

He replied:

Because the written form of Cantonese has never undergone standardization, transcribing colloquial Cantonese words can be quite messy, that is, arbitrary, inconsistent, etc.

As it turns out, the first character 冚 has at least two different pronunciations and associated meanings:

1. kam2 'to cover'

2. ham6 'all, whole' (this character/morphosyllable occurs in other combinations)

I can mention here that Sidney Lau's dictionary uses a completely different colloquial character to write
this morphosyllable, viz., 口 + 感 (which I'm not able to input here). I'm assuming he invented this character.

The second character 棒 is a standard Chinese character with standard Cantonese pronunciation paang5.  Historically, its initial consonant was the voiced bilabial stop *b-, so I assume that at some point in the past it was pronounced baang6 in Cantonese. But, as with many other characters, its voiced initial consonant became devoiced and aspirated and the syllable now carries the Mid-low Rising tone.

The third character 唥 is a colloquial character which is pronounced either laang1 or laang6, depending on what morphosyllable it transcribes. For example: 唥鐘 laang1 zung1 'electric bell, buzzer; alarm clock'; and 冚棒唥 ham6 baang6 laang6 'all, in all, whole'.

Writing any and all of the spoken Sinitic topolects, including Pekingese, with Sinographs, is problematic.  As pointed out in countless Language Log posts, the Sinographs work pretty well for Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, but they are woefully inadequate for transcribing the full range of the topolects.

Selected readings (only for Cantonese)


  1. E. N. Anderson said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 7:58 pm

    In waterfront Cantonese it was pronounced haamb'laang. It's rumored to be a non-Chinese word originally. Anybody know a Zhuang or other non-Han origin for it?

  2. Daniel Tse said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 8:46 pm

    It's not clear whether it's of Han origin or not, but there are Cantonese words with a similar shape such as gaak3 laak1 dai2 (armpit) which may well be remnants of Old Chinese forms which have been reconstructed with a /kl/ initial.

  3. Calvin said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 10:24 pm

    I think the more correct (or just alternate) wording are 冚唪唥. I have never encountered 棒 pronounced other than paang5 in Cantonese, but it is Mandarin pronunciation bàng is close to baang6.

  4. Calvin said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 10:26 pm

    唥 when pronounced as laang1 is a word imitating sound of a mechanical bell like those on the old-fashioned alarm clock (i.e. ones with couple bells atop, or just listen to Pink Floyd's "Time"). So 唥鐘 is more meant for bell, not buzzer. Alarm clock is commonly called 鬧鐘 ("noisy clock").

  5. Chas Belov said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 2:01 am

    I was taught haamb'laang as the pronunciation when I studied Cantonese. I was surprised by the ng on the middle syllable.

  6. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 8:21 am

    You know what else is neat? There's a cursive ligature connecting the "g" and the "6" in the last two syllables. Kinda makes it "feel" like the tone marker is "part" of the word itself, and not some awkward over-layered diacritic or cantillation mark. Incorporation is good.

    Maybe it's just my chauvinism for the 26 letters that have served me so well for so long, but when I look at a written language like, say, Vietnamese or Hmong, I kind of want to jump in a time machine and confront the creator of those alphabets and ask, "Hey there, are you really sure you wanna stick with the _Roman_ alphabet for this? 'Cause it doesn't really look like that's working out for you so much in a square-peg / round-hold kinda way."

  7. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 8:23 am

    hole, *hold.

  8. tsts said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 12:03 pm

    @Chas Below @E N Anderson: Yes, I also remember it taught and spoken as haamb'laang or maybe haambalang in Hong Kong. I remember learning it fairly early on – it seems like a word that many Cantonese teachers like to teach their students and that as a result many students know. (Sort of like the mamahuhu of Cantonese.)

  9. Chas Belov said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 11:41 pm

    @tsts, ah, yes, more like haambahlang. And when I used it with a Cantonese-speaking friend once, they said, "That is a very Cantonese word!"

  10. Chas Belov said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 2:42 am

    Confirming the Yale romanization hahmbahlaahng (altogether) from the U.S. Foreign Service Cantonese Basic Course Volume Two, which would have been the document I learned it from. It can be found on pages 241, 243, and 397,

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 10:59 am

    I have just been discussing 冚棒唥 with my (Cantonese-speaking, L2) wife, and was asking her what the significance was of the non-initial "h" in the Yale transcription. She did not know, so I consulted Wikipedia and learned that a non-initial "h" indicates that the word carries one of the low three tones. That made sense, but I was unable to discover why "h" was chosen for this purpose as opposed to any other symbol. Could any knowledgeable LL reader enlighten me, please ?

  12. Daniel said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

    Philip Taylor, probably because it doesn't imply a new consonant sound for English speakers.

  13. cliff arroyo said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 4:14 pm

    "I was unable to discover why "h" was chosen for this purpose as opposed to any other symbol"

    What I remember is that a vowel followed by a word final h will normally be lower in pitch than a vowel followed by a word final glottal stop, so that might have something to do with it.

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