Linguisteria e Programmettas

Sound correspondence between Mandarin and Cantonese


This page shows the results of a small investigation that I did out of interest: a comparison of the pronunciations of Chinese characters between Mandarin and Chinese.

Note about the included characters

For this comparison, I've used only monophonic characters, due to polyphonic having complex equivalence relationships between the different pronunciations. This does not affect the comparison results much, and I may include the polyphonic characters in the future.

Format of the results

I separately compared the initials (聲母/声母) and the finals (韻母/韵母) of each syllable, as well as the tones of all the characters. In addition, I used my own romanization scheme for the characters, Loama'z/Loamazi, which is described on its own page.

Due to the different ways that some sounds are categorized in Mandarin and Cantonese, this adds some complexity to my analysis when deciding how to split a syllable. For example, "gwang" in Mandarin would be analyzed as "g-wang" (with "g" being the initial and "wang" the final), but in Cantonese, it would be "gw-ang" instead. As a result, I've added "pseudo-initials" to the results where appropriate, which are sounds that occur in a language but are not categorized as an initial. Examples would be the aforementioned "gw", as well as the semivowels "y" and "w", which are part of the final in Mandarin, but are initials in Cantonese. Wherever they occur, they are wrapped in parentheses.

I've removed the final plosive occurring in Cantonese syllables, as they do not correspond to anything in Mandarin (and don't affect the correspondence of the finals in any way), and removing them helps clarify the clusters in the results.

In the tones comparison, I've treated the checked tones (tones 7, 8, and 9) as the same as the unchecked tones (tones 1, 3, and 6), since they have the same contours.

Viewing the results

The initials, finals, and the tones are presented in the three charts below. For the initials and finals, first select a sound from the dropdown menu, and the chart will appear, showing all the characters that contain that sound, and all the sounds that it corresponds to in the other language. The charts initially shows Mandarin-to-Cantonese results; to view correspondences in the opposite direction, click on "Flip direction".


Select a Mandarin initial: Flip direction


Select a Mandarin final: Flip direction


Observations about the tones

Clearly, the contours generally don't match up (except for the high flat tone), but the pattern is still pretty clear, which can be summed up as:

Mandarin Cantonese
Flat (ā) High flat (ā)
Rising (á) Low falling (a̖)
Bounce (ǎ) Mid/low rising (á/a̗)
Falling (à) Mid/low flat (ä/a̱)


The source code that I wrote for generating the charts' data can be found here.