On Romanization, Preservation, and Documentation:

The term Romanization (or Latinization) is a linguistic term which refers to the manner in which (non-roman) languages are transcribed in western culture.  Southern styles* of Chinese gung fu are now most commonly preserved using the Cantonese language (廣州話), which is now the most widespread language of southern China.

While there are many non-official methods of romanizing Cantonese, there is one official system which was developed in 1970 which we will be using from here on out in the documentation of our particular style.  This system is known as Yale Cantonese.

This system of Romanization utilizes letters whose sounds are most commonly  used in English and most other European languages.  Therefore the Yale system will be the best choice for westerners to use, as it ensures the most universally accurate pronounciation.  It is also commonly available in most Chinese dictionaries.

Historically in the United States, many of the early Chinese immigrants were from the Toi San (臺山) province of southern China.  This was due to a number of natural disasters and political turmoil in the region.

The language of Toisan, known simply as Toisanese (臺山話), was the default language of most Chinese in the United States until well into the 1980's.  Toisanese is considered a dialect which most closely resembles Cantonese.

Unfortunately, Toisanese does not have an official system of Romanization.  It is also unfortunate yet important to point out that Toisanese is a dialect that in modern times is in a steady state of decline.

After the communist party rose to power, the People's Republic of China (PRC) began to implement and require the usage of the Mandarin language (官話) and it's system of Romanization, known as mandarin Pinyin.  This has led to the slow phasing out of many dialects, in preference for the new common language of the PRC.  

Hong Kong (香港) on the other hand was a British colony, and while modern Hong Kong people do learn Mandarin from a young age, they have been better able to preserve the usage of the Cantonese language.  

The written Chinese language is more or less universal throughout all the regions of China, however the PRC adopted and began to require the usage of simplified characters, while Hong Kong and Taiwan (臺灣) have continued to primarily use the traditional characters of the language.  

Due to the nature of traditional gung fu and it's history of rebellion and uprising against the various oppresive governments throughout the history of China, many of the traditional masters expatriated or went underground after the establishment of the PRC.  Many masters also ended up going to Hong Kong, which essentially became the mecca of traditional gung fu within the region of China.  

Given all of these factors, and from here on out, we shall be using the Yale system of Cantonese Romanization, along with the traditional character set to best preserve the knowledge and traditions of our lineage. 

Many of the masters which expatriated to the United States and abroad were native speakers of Toisanese, however given the lack of support for this dialect, we will only use (unofficial) Toisanese romanizations for certain proper names, and for historical documentation.  All titles and terms will now be documented in Yale Cantonese.  Please note that the numbers which represent the spoken tones will not be used, as we don't expect commoners to be aware of their purpose.

There are some select terms that have become so widely used in Mandarin Pinyin that may be commonly seen.  The best example of this is Qigong.  Other examples are generally styles of gung fu which originate in the north, such as Taiji, Baguazhang, Xing Yi, etc...

Throughout the international "Southern Fist" (南拳) community, there are a several notable associations which have adopted this same set of core language values, and we would strongly encourage the other schools to adopt this as well, in the interest of commonality and brotherhood, as traditional practitioners that our passionate about preserving our lineages.  

Thank you.



About the Author

Andre Balian

Andre Balian is one of five 6th Generation Disciple of Grandmaster Gin Foon Mark.  He is the primary instructor at the central St. Paul, MN school, and the creator of this website.