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Jul 22, 2009 12:03 PM

why is it spelled "har gow" with an R?

i couldn't find any other topics on this board, so if one exists, please point me to it!

i confess to only knowing a tiny bit of cantonese, but it's always irked me why the translation of the steamed shrimp dumplings is called haR gow. as far as i can tell from hearing how it is pronounced in cantonese, there is no R sound at all. is there an R sound in mandarin?

the same thing occurs for the steamed bbq pork buns (chaR siu bao)...i just don't get it. is there anyone that can explain? thanks!

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  1. In the Jyutping system, a prawn in romanized as 'haa' with the 'aa' final indicating that it should be pronounced with a high flat tone (think of saying 'aah'). Some romanization systems use a single 'a' with a diacritical mark. Just about all of the romanized Cantonese words I've seen on signs and menus don't use any standard system at all and that's what has happened with 'har'

    My guess is that 'har' came about as an approximation of the stretched out final. Spelling it as 'ha' would prompt people to pronounce it with a quick and falling tone while 'haa' looks like it's a typo. The way a native Cantonese speaker would try to pronounce 'har' should sound close to the right pronunciation despite the soft distortion at the end.

    In Mandarin, the pinyin romanization is xie (shieah), first tone (high). There is an 'r' sound in some accents, notably in Beijing.

    4 Replies
    1. re: PorkButt

      Is that sorta why Xiamen mai fun is usally written "Ha moon mai fun" (or ocassionally Amoy may fun") on chinese menus. I couln't help noticing (when I ordered some for lunch today) that the way the Chinese lady behind the counter (who certianly sounded like a native chinese speaker) pronounced when she called the order down to the kitchen it really did sound like "ha moon" (maybe "ha moo" but it was definely "ha" I heard not "sha" (which is what I think "Xia" is supposed to be pronouced as)

      1. re: jumpingmonk

        Xiamen is the pinyin romanization of the city of Amoy. In Cantonese it is pronounced "ha (different tone from har) moon" but in Mandarin Xia is pronounced more like (forgive me for my Mandarin ability is almost non existent) "Shiah".

          1. re: Blueicus

            Right, and because the first syllable has a different tone than 'haa' the meaning is completely different. Though naming a city 'Shrimp Gate' could be seen as chowish, no?

            I'll break out my dictionary again. In Cantonese it's 'hah (low constant tone) muhn (low falling tone)' or Lower Gate.

      2. I've never seen it written as "Har" Gow - always Ha Gow in 50+ years of visiting Chinese resturants all across the China Towns and other places in America.....

        Now Char siu bao I've always seen spelled with the "r"

        2 Replies
        1. re: KiltedCook

          I once saw it as Cha Shoe Bow, I almost had to scream!

          1. re: KiltedCook

            A Google search for "ha gow" yields 4450 hits while "har gow" results in 18800 matches.

            When I was young, none of the sit-down or even to-go dim sum places in SF and Oakland had menus, just prices for the 'size' of the dish.

          2. It's very simple. Hong Kong was a British Crown Colony until 1997. Now, put on your best BBC imitation voice and pronounce "Har." Guess what? It comes out "hah." Now say "char." Get it?