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Fun with language: how to say SkyTrain in Cantonese

A SkyTrain near Main Street-Science World.

A little while ago there was a conversation on the blog about what SkyTrain can be called in Cantonese. Which was really fascinating, because I had no idea there were other names for SkyTrain around town!

Here’s the full conversation thread, but these comments provide a good summary:

Andrew S:

It’s kinda interesting, everyone that speaks Cantonese that I know (including me) call the SkyTrain “fai-cheh” (like “fast car” or “fast train”) :P
“Let’s ride the SkyTrain!” becomes “Dahp fai cheh la!” (kind of…)

Tim Choi explained the etymology a bit further:

As Andrew stated, “cheh” appears to be used for any ground vehicle, ranging from baby carriages/buggies to rickshaws to bicycles to trucks to tanks.

Ways to say “train” include the following:
“li cheh” – ‘li’ means a series, so a series of ground vehicles = train!
“foh cheh” – ‘foh’ means fire, and so a vehicle that uses fire describes the early steam trains, and thus the term is used more commonly for heavy rail.
“fai cheh” – ‘fai’ means fast, and thus used to describe express trains (the Westcoast Express, for example, is called “xih on fai cheh”, where “xih” means “west” and “on” means “coast”).

If you want to say “Let’s take Skytrain!”, one possible translation would be “yuh cih dahp [preferred translation for SkyTrain] ah!”. “Yuh cih” means “[all] together”. The ‘c’ in “cih” is pronounced like “church” without the ‘hurch’, and the ‘ih’ is like “ick” without the ‘k’ sound.
“ah” or “la” are exclamations you can use to end off statements.

So, there you have it: SkyTrain in Cantonese :)

And I’d love to know if anyone else call SkyTrain or buses by a different name in other languages. Are they literal translations of SkyTrain or something slightly different in English?


  • By Jean, March 24, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

    Well, since Vancouver is truly Canada’s Pacific Rim city, meaning its demographic population and ancestors came from across the Pacific, it seems suitable to explain abit of idiomatic Chinese..even for folks who have lost the language alot. :) Explaining it English really makes Cantonese seem more complicated to master. :)

    Public transit is a great thing, when one is new to the country. And in Vancouver, when much of the light rail routes are aboveground, one sees alot.

  • By geoff, March 24, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

    in the traditional chinese section of the translink’s multilingual schedule or chinese/cantonese newspapers such as mingpao often refer skytrain as “gaa hung lit ce”, where “gaa hung” means above-ground and “lit ce” series of vehicles. this, in my opinion, bears more resemblance to the english. simplified chinese/mandarin also refers it as “tin tit”, “tin” sky, “tit” rail. on a side note, i would have loved to see “un train en ciel”! lol

  • By Aaron A., March 24, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

    My grandmother who is who I mostly speak Cantonese with, calls it “foh cheh”, which just means train, though I suppose “fai-cheh” also works!

  • By Margie, March 25, 2011 @ 7:57 am

    In my native French (my mother is from Québec, my father is from Belgium), we will call the SkyTrain just as one would in Paris or Montreal… “Le Métro”.

    Some, lessen this… to “Le SkyTrain”. (Yes, as far as I know.. it’s a male, despite having a female voice).

  • By Sewing, March 25, 2011 @ 8:45 am

    The “cheh” in the Cantonese name for SkyTrain must be 車, which indeed is used to denote any kind of land vehicle–not only in the Chinese languages, but in Korean and Japanese as well.

    As Tim already explained, the character gets combined with other characters to denote the specific type of vehicle. As some other examples:

    電 is electricity, so 電車 is streetcar. (Sorry, don’t know how to pronounce it in Cantonese, but in Korean it’s “juncha” and in Japanese it’s “densha.”)

    天 is heaven or sky, so 天車 would be the (sort of) literal translation for “SkyTrain.” (But it seems that in Taiwan at least, it means “overhead crane,” according to a Google image search.)

    All that being said, in Korean, SkyTrain is called by the very exotic name of 스카이트레인, which sounds like…wait for it…”SkyTrain”!

  • By ericmk, March 25, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    Like Margie notes, I call the SkyTrain “le SkyTrain” when I speak French (rarely!). Perhaps it’s masculine because sky (le ciel), train(le train), and metro (le métro) are all masculine in French? I’m not a native speaker, so I can’t know for sure!

  • By Tim Choi, March 25, 2011 @ 11:04 am

    @Geoff: Aye, the MingPao name for SkyTrain you quoted is the one I prefer to use and the one I originally posted way back in the original discussion thread as well. Vindication, haha!

    @Sewing: “electricity” in Canto is pronounced “deen” – quite a bit different from the Korean and Japanese!

  • By Ric, March 25, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    In cantonese I call the Skytrain “tean cheh”, when it is operating above ground, where “tean” means sky and cheh means car.

    When the skytrain is operating underground I call it a subway. Sorry but I don’t know how to spell the chinese pronunciation.

    This was back from my years in Hong Kong where their skytrain type of service is underground and so for me it’s called subway, which makes me call our skytrain “subway” while it’s underground.

    I chinese I call the West coast express “foh cheh” where foh means fire and cheh means car. I call the west coast express “foh cheh” since in that is the name for any type of heavy rail service with drivers in chinese culture.

    When I read the chinese newspapers such as ming bo, during the time when the West coast express was celebrating it 15th anniversary the newspapers called it “xih on fai sen”, where sen means line.

  • By Last351, March 26, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    In my native language, we call the 99-Bline the “sardine can”, for the obvious reasons!

  • By Ernest, March 26, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    I was watching The Farchild TV News (cantonese) and they pronounced it “Gah hoong leet che”

  • By Ernest, March 26, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    @ Ric:
    Subway in Canto is pronounced “Day teet”

    (Sorry it’s a double post!)

  • By Michael Kushnir, March 26, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

    as the others have said, i describe it to my francophone friends simply as “le métro.” although, i suppose, for clarity’s sake, one could call it “le SkyTrain,” which would be masculine in any case since loanwords from other languages are (generally) considered to be masculine, regardless of orthography (i.e. le new-hampshire).

    also, even though skytrain’s equivalents in paris and montreal are largely underground, here one would still say “je suis dans le métro” instead of “je suis sur le métro” – which literally means “i am literally on top of the train.”

  • By Rabab, March 26, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    In Arabic, we transliterate SkyTrain… سكايترين… but, because many Arabs (I’m Lebanese mind you)… cannot say “sk” easily.. so, we add the vowel “i”… as in, “is” or “it”.. to the word when we pronounce it… “iskaaitreen”. I have heard once a Syrian person call it “metro” ميترو as would be said in France, French must have been his second language.

  • By Cliff, March 27, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    To me, “metro” is the international standard name for any rapid transit system.

    If someone asked me where the metro was in Vancouver, I’d point them to the nearest SkyTrain station. If I was in San Francisco and asked a local where the metro was, I hope they would understand I’m referring to the BART.

    “Metro” is international and should transcend all languages!

  • By Tim Choi, March 27, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    Another one I can add is Turkey – their subway system is simply called “Metro”, while the word for their tram/LRT is “tramvay”. Also of note are the “Füniküler” (funicular) subways and “teleferik” suspended cable cars.

    Don’t know what they use for our SkyTrain though!

  • By Gary, March 28, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    On the topic of language, some prankster @ TransLink has used Latin in your Transit Service Changes for April 18 2011 web page. I suggest you monitor your employees more closely. It looks very unprofessional.

  • By Miguel, March 28, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    I like to do the “when in Rome” thing. It’s just Skytrain…

  • By James, March 28, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    Gary: Lorem Ipsum is a popular placeholder text.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 29, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    Gary: yep, James has it. They’ve taken it off to fix it now!

  • By Cliff, March 31, 2011 @ 8:32 am

    Too bad. That would have been a fantastic April Fools joke.

  • By Adrian, March 31, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    I’ve heard “hing teet” being used to describe SkyTrain as well, and it’s not an inaccurate term. By definition, “hing teet” is light rail, and the SkyTrain system is technically considered a light rail system, but a much more advanced one that does not have any sort of street integration (hence ALRT term used by Bombardier).

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