Proper Cantonese pronunciation

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Jyutping is used as the pronunciation guide in this article

After the 1980s, the proper Cantonese pronunciation has been much promoted in Hong Kong, with the scholar Richard Ho as its iconic campaigner. The very idea of "proper" pronunciation of Cantonese Chinese is very controversial, since there is no such thing as "mispronunciation" in descriptive linguistics. Law et al. defines "lazy sounds", most commonly discussed in relation to phonetic changes in Hong Kong Cantonese, as a phrase that often has an implication of the speaker being "unwilling to put forth sufficient effort to articulate the standard pronunciation".[1]

Origins and influences[edit]

The promotion of "proper" Cantonese Chinese pronunciation is partly a reaction to the so-called "lazy sounds" (懶音 laan5 jam1) adopted by the younger generations. The "lazy" pronunciations, or sound changes include:

  • merge of initial n- and l-, for example, pronouncing (naam4) as (laam4)
  • merge of initial ng- and dark-toned null/glottal onsets, for example, pronouncing (oi3) as ngoi3
  • loss of initial ng- on light-toned words, for example, pronouncing (ngo5) as o5
  • omission of the labialization -w- of gw- or kw-, for example, pronouncing (gwok3) as (gok3)
  • confusing the final consonants -k and -t, for example, pronouncing (sak1) as (sat1).
  • confusing the final consonants -n and -ng, for example, pronouncing (laang5) as (laan5)
  • confusing the syllabic consonants m and ng, for example, pronouncing (ng4) as (m4)

The nine attested phonetic sound changes in Hong Kong Cantonese, or "lazy sounds" in the format of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) can be tracked in the following table:[2]

Context Sound change or phonetic variation Examples Origins
Syllable-initial position 1. [n-] > [l-] "boy" [naːm4] > [laːm4] First appeared in the discourse in the early 1940s who had found that there had been a new (non-standard) pronunciation for originally syllable-initial [n-]. This became increasingly common in the 1970s.[3]
Syllable-initial position 2. [ŋ-] > ∅- "cow" [ŋɐu4] > [ɐu4] H.N. Cheung discovers that [ŋ-] can be added in syllable-initial positions preceding syllable-initial vowels [a, ɐ, ɔ, o] in standard Cantonese, and this became overused and preferred for both words with syllable-initial [ŋ-] and ∅- at least until the early 1970s.[4]
Syllable-initial position 3. ∅- > [ŋ-] "house" [ʊk] > [ŋʊk] See entry above.
Before /ɔ/ 4. [kʷ-] > [k] OR [kʷʰ-] > [kʰ-] "fruit" [kʷɔ2] > [kɔ2] This phenomenon of the disappearing process of labialization in a syllable-initial environment and preceding the vowel [ɔ] was first mentioned and studied by H.N. Cheung in the 1970s.[5]
Individual syllable 5. Syllabic [ŋ̩] > [m̩] "five" [ŋ̩5] > [m̩5] Syllabic [ŋ̩] was suggeested to have had origins from the syllable [ŋu], while [m̩] was found in colloquial forms of dialects.[6] This change remained intact in the first half of the twentieth century.[7]
Syllable-final position 6. [-ŋ] > [-n] 香(蕉) "banana" [hœŋ1] > [hœn1] First appeared in R.S. Bauer's 1979 study presenting the discovery of alveolarization (or fronting) in syllable-final [-ŋ] that becomes [-n].[8] The phenomenon of alveolarization started to grow in the 1950s.[9]
Syllable-final position 7. [-n] > [-ŋ] "dry" [kɔn1] > [kɔŋ1] The phenomenon of velarization was only found in the 1970s.[10]
Syllable-final position 8. [-k] > [-t] "foot" [kœk8] > [kœt8] See entry 6 above.
Syllable-final position 9. [-t] > [-k] "thirsty" [hɔt8] > [hɔk8] See entry 7 above.

To, Mcleod and Cheung delve deeper in these sound changes in contemporary Hong Kong Cantonese, and focus in particular on the four syllable-final consonants: [-ŋ], [-n], [-k], and [-t]. After conducting original research on the pronunciation of words containing these syllable-final phonetic changes, To et al. argue that syllable-final environment sound changes occur due to the tongue position at the preceding vowel, as it opts for maximum ease. Thus, their argument attests for two process: alveolarization (occurring in [-ŋ] > [-n] transitions and [-k] > [-t] transitions) and velarization (occurring in [-n] > [-ŋ] transitions and [-t] > [-k] transitions).

The following table shows the environments where the processes of alveolarization and velarization tend to occur:[11]

Sound change Environment Description
[-ŋ] > [-n] and [-k] > [-t] / {ɛ, œ, ɐ, a}___# Alveolarization is facilitated by a preceding mid-front/central vowel.
[-n] > [-ŋ] and [-t] > [-k] / ɔ___# Velarization may occur when preceded by mid-back vowel [ɔ].
[-ŋ] (no change) and [-k] (no change) / {ɪ, ʊ}___# The originally attested syllable-final velar consonants are not alveolarized when preceded by the high, front, lax vowel [ɪ] and the near-close near-back rounded vowel [ʊ].

Alveolarization tends to occur when there is a preceding mid-front or central vowel, and velarization tends to occur when the attested preceding mid-back vowel [ɔ] is present. The last example in table 2 indicates that the attested [ɪŋ] sequence doesn’t change, as the position of the tongue for the high, lax, front vowel is already in close proximity to the position needed to make the velar consonants.

To et al.'s research presents that the process of co-articulation accounts for the birth of lazy sounds. In present Hong Kong Cantonese, alveolarization is a more popular phenomenon than velarization, and the syllable-final alveolar consonants [-n] and [-t] tend to be preserved even when the preceding vowels prompt a tongue position that is further back. An example would be “dry” [kɔn]. It is rare for people to pronounce this with a syllable-final [-ŋ], although it still occurs, as 7.1% of adults tested by To et al. do this.[12]

This result is presented alongside a ranking of attested preceding vowels of the [-ŋ]~[-n] pair that demonstrate the process of alveolarization, from least likely to have a succeeding 'alveolarized' consonant, to most likely: ʊ = ɪ > ɔ < ɛ < ɐ < a < œ. The vowels [ʊ] and [ɪ] share the same percentage of alveolarization, resulting in a 0.0% chance of sound change, while the highest ranking vowel, [œ], resulted in a 37.5% chance of sound change.[13]

TV and radio programs, including game shows, have been made to promote the proper pronunciation. The campaign has also influenced the local media. Some news reporters and masters of ceremonies in Hong Kong have adopted the "proper" pronunciations.

Arguments[edit]

The "proper" readings promoted by Richard Ho are based on the fanqie spelling of Guangyun, an ancient rime dictionary reflecting the sounds of Middle Chinese. Ho states that, Cantonese Chinese phonology being the descendant of the Guangyun system, there are highly regular correspondences between the sounds of Middle Chinese and those of modern Cantonese Chinese. He also holds that the "flat" () and "sharp" () tonal distinction in Middle Chinese is the most important feature from which modern Cantonese Chinese should not deviate, especially when reciting ancient literature (Ho 1995:151). He allows exceptions in some cases of colloquial speech, but not in any cases in reading ancient literature (ibid. 152).

Ho's approach to pronunciation is prescriptive. For instance, talking about the "wrong" pronunciation of final consonants of the youth, he says:

He expresses his attitude towards sound changes, when talking about the gradual merge of [n-] and [l-] initials in Cantonese Chinese:

A major critic of Ho's approach is Wang Tingzhi. He calls Ho's prescriptive pronunciations "demonic". One of his concerns is that Cantonese Chinese comprises six historical strata, not just the one represented by the Guangyun. (Wang 2005)

Media[edit]

Ever since the arguments made around the correct way of pronouncing Chinese characters in Cantonese Chinese, different media companies in China have used their own interpretation of the correct pronunciations when broadcasting.

Hong Kong TV stations[edit]

In the year of 1981, Hong Kong TV stations followed the majority rule in terms of the correct pronunciation. At the time, the most common pronunciation for "Time" (Chinese: 時間) was to say the last character with the same pronunciation as the word "time rape" (Chinese: 時姦) in China. The shocking effect from this was realized when kindergarten kids started talking about a show "The friends time" as "The friend's rape time" due to slightly different pronunciations. After that incident, the TV stations started to realize the importance of the correct way of pronouncing characters to avoid misinterpretations.[citation needed]

Effects on Cantonese Chinese pronunciation[edit]

Hong Kong's Cantonese Chinese pronunciation changes has affected the Cantonese Chinese that was being spoken in other regions: Guangdong (Chinese: 廣東) and Guangxi (Chinese: 廣西) Provinces of China.

Many still argue about the variations in Cantonese Chinese pronunciation across different regions, some are too informal while others have other flaws. It is still a major topic that people discuss to date.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Law, Sam-Po, Roxana S.Y. Fung and Robert S. Bauer. "Perception and Production of Cantonese consonant endings". Asia Pacific Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing, 6:3, 179-195.
  2. ^ To, Carol K.S., Sharynne Mcleod and Pamela S.P. Cheung. “Phonetic variations and sound changes in Hong Kong Cantonese”. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, Vol. 29, No. 5. Taylor & Francis, 2015, pp. 333-353.
  3. ^ Cheung, H. N. Xianggang Yueyu yufa de yanjiu [Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong]. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
  4. ^ Cheung, H. N. Xianggang Yueyu yufa de yanjiu [Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong]. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
  5. ^ Cheung, H. N. Xianggang Yueyu yufa de yanjiu [Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong]. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
  6. ^ Wang, L. Hanyu yuyin shi [The History of Chinese Phonology]. Beijing, China: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 1985.
  7. ^ Ball, J. D. Cantonese made easy (3rd ed.). Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, 1907.
  8. ^ Bauer, R. S. Alveolarization in Cantonese: A case of lexical diffusion. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 7, 1979, 132–141.
  9. ^ Zee, E. Change and variation in the syllable-initial and syllable-final consonants in Hong Kong Cantonese. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 27, 1999, 120–167.
  10. ^ Zee, E. Change and variation in the syllable-initial and syllable-final consonants in Hong Kong Cantonese. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 27, 1999, 120–167.
  11. ^ To, Carol K.S., Sharynne Mcleod and Pamela S.P. Cheung. “Phonetic variations and sound changes in Hong Kong Cantonese”. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, Vol. 29, No. 5. Taylor & Francis, 2015, pp. 333-353.
  12. ^ To, Carol K.S., Sharynne Mcleod and Pamela S.P. Cheung. “Phonetic variations and sound changes in Hong Kong Cantonese”. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, Vol. 29, No. 5. Taylor & Francis, 2015, pp. 333-353.
  13. ^ To, Carol K.S., Sharynne Mcleod and Pamela S.P. Cheung. “Phonetic variations and sound changes in Hong Kong Cantonese”. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, Vol. 29, No. 5. Taylor & Francis, 2015, pp. 346.

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