"Kong Girl Phonetics"

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New issue of Sino-Platonic Papers (no. 317 [August, 2021]):

“'Kong Girl Phonetics': Loose Cantonese Romanization in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement,” by Ruth Wetters (free pdf)


Cantonese in Hong Kong occupies a specific cultural and political niche, informed by the unique context of the Hong Kong identity. During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, protesters used modified Cantonese online to evade detection and cement their identity as Hong Kongers. One way in which this was achieved is through a new online vernacular, dubbed “Kong girl phonetics” Kong nui ping jam. This vernacular borrows from grassroots romanization, English phonetics, number substitutions, and bilingualism in English and Cantonese to exclude all readers except young Hong Kong people, who show high bilingualism and high tech literacy and share the vocabulary of protesters. This essay explores aspects of this protest vernacular through non-comprehensive analysis of a thread on LIHKG (Lineage: Hong Kong Golden) lin dang 連黨 that is the first recorded example of “Kong girl speech.”

Aspects of Kong nui ping jam identified here are: use of both Cantonese and English vocabulary, use of protest-specific vocabulary, loose romanization that does not correlate to any existing system, textspeak such as abbreviations, and number substitutions borrowed from both English and Cantonese. As well as Kong nui ping jam, another online vernacular is “Kongish,” most visible on the “Kongish Daily” Facebook page, which has a mostly English vocabulary but borrows ending particles, difficult-to-translate vocabulary, and grammar structures from Cantonese, so that the sentence is legible in English but recognizably Cantonese in origin.

Young people are often the drivers of linguistic innovation as well as social and political activism, so it is not surprising that the Hong Kong protest movement has resulted in linguistic innovation. However, the new National Security Law in Hong Kong looks likely to curtail such freedom of expression, so potentially usage of such forums will decline as it becomes more dangerous for individuals to express anti-government sentiments online.

The dynamics of Kong nui ping jam (“Kong girl phonetics”), in terms of language and script change, are reminiscent of nǚshū 女書 ("women's writing / script") in late imperial and early 20th-century southern China and female Japanese kana writing that developed during the medieval period and was sometimes called onnamoji 女文字 ("women's writing / script") or onnade 女手 ("women's hand").  In all of these cases, women were innovators of scripts that were closer to daily speech than male dominated classical, literary language.


Selected readings


  1. Chas Belov said,

    September 13, 2021 @ 11:13 pm

    My Cantonese is at best rudimentary. I was able to puzzle out some of it once I saw the English translations. I do worry that articles such of this can endanger people still in Hong Kong who took part in the activities.

    The final r practice also appears in Singlish, as with the final particle lor representing feeling sorry for oneself.

  2. Chaak-ming Lau said,

    September 14, 2021 @ 1:00 am

    I wonder if the LiHKG thread really is the first recorded example of Kong girl speech.
    > a thread on LIHKG (Lineage: Hong Kong Golden) lin dang 連黨 that is the first recorded example of “Kong girl speech.”

    Romanized Cantonese was quite popular in the days of ICQ. Percentage of Cantonese/English in ICQ conversations varies across users. On one end of the spectrum you get something closer to Kongish Daily, on the other end you get romanized Cantonese. Even the name "港女拼音" was used earlier than the launch of LiHKG. I found at least two Facebook replies from my friends that used "港女拼音" or "港女式拼音" when referring to this form of romanization in 2014/2015.

    Also I'd like to point out that
    1. LIHKG should be 連登 (lin4 dang1) instead of 連黨 (lin4 dong2) (b
    2. Jam is the Jyutping for 音, but it would be Yum or Yam in Kong Girl phonetics.

    @Chas Belov I don't this will cause too much of an issue. I am pretty sure all Lihkg posts have been scraped by the government to extract whatever they need for prosecution.

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