Turning English into Cantonese: The Semantic Change of English Loanwords

  • John C. Wakefield


Wakefield describes English loanwords in Hong Kong Cantonese, explaining how their meanings have changed from what they originally were in English. He presents in detail a number of fascinating examples, such as the adjective ku1, which was borrowed from English’s “cool.” This word is typically used as a compliment in English to describe someone or something as fashionably attractive, while the borrowed version ku1 has a pejorative meaning, describing a person as distant or unfriendly. Another example is the loanword hep1pi2 (“happy”), which is an adjective that can additionally be used as a verb in Cantonese, meaning to do something that makes one happy, referring to anything from drinking with friends to having sex. Wakefield’s discussion of loanwords portrays some fascination consequences of language contact.


Loanwords Hong Kong Cantonese Semantic change Lexical borrowing Language contact 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John C. Wakefield
    • 1
  1. 1.Hong Kong Baptist UniversityHong KongHong Kong

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