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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The acquisition of Cantonese phonology Tse, Sou-Mee


This study describes the acquisition of phonology by three children learning Cantonese as their native language. Wai, the primary subject in the study, was observed longitudinally for a period of a year. Wing and Ching, the other two subjects, were observed cross-sectionally for purpose of comparison. Unlike other studies of the acquisition of Chinese phonology, this study proposes an explicit set of analytic procedures and criteria for the phonological analysis of children acquiring Cantonese. The analysis uses Ingram (1981) as its starting point. Altogether, I present four kinds of phonological analyses. They are (1) phonetic analysis, (2) analysis of reduplication, (3) substitution analysis, and (4) phonological process analysis. In the phonetic analysis, I look at two aspects of the children's phonetic ability. These are (1) the total number of segmental sounds and the articulation scores, which are the gross quantitative measures of the phonetic ability of the children's speech, and (2) the analysis of individual segments. Based on these results, I set up an inventory of the early sounds acquired in Cantonese. It is felt that such an inventory can be compared to those of other Cantonese subjects and to those of children learning other languages. In the analysis of reduplication, I distinguish two types of reduplicated forms in the subjects' speech. Type A forms are limited to 'baby talk'. The equivalent of this type of reduplicated form in Cantonese is the baby talk 'baabaa' for sheep, or 'kaka' for car in English. Type B forms are cases where the child reduplicated the adult model. In studying the young child's reduplication in Cantonese, it is necessary to look for both types of reduplication to separate the child who actually reduplicates from the one who is simply repeating reduplicated models. The results of the analysis of Type A reduplicated forms are consistent with the findings from English (e.g. Fee and Ingram, 1982) which show that reduplication occurs early and then decreases greatly. It is also found that the greatest number of the Type A forms are nouns. The, second greatest number are verbs. Adjectives/adverbs are the least frequent. The substitution analysis compares the phonology of. the child's words to their adult models to determine the matches and mismatches between them. In order to quantify this, I adopt two measures to calculate the extent to which matches occur. They are the proportion of matches and the proportion of data. The proportion of matches is the number of matches over the total number of adult sounds attempted by the child. The proportion of data is the number of sounds attempted over the total number of possible sounds in Cantonese. Based on these measures, the substitution of sounds of each subject is examined and compared with the others. Moreover, I also establish a hierarchy of difficulty for the individual segments for Wai. As far as the tone substitutions are concerned, the results justify the general finding that the mastery of tones occurs well in advance of the mastery of segments. All the subjects studied made few errors. In Cantonese, it has been proposed that a tone sandhi rule is commonly observed (Chao, 1947). The rule states that when an upper even tone (tone value 53:) is followed by another upper even tone (tone value 53:) or a high entering tone (tone value 5:), the first syllable will become the tone value 55:. The status of this Cantonese sandhi rule, however, has been challenged in J.K.Tse (1978). He looked at the acquisition of tone development of his son for 30 months, and found no instances of the tone value 53. From these data, he concluded that there is no systematic evidence to support the Cantonese sandhi rule described above. In the speech data of the subjects of this study, all the upper even tones produced by the subjects belong to the tone value 55:. There is no incidence of 53: variant. Thus my results support those of J.K. Tse. Bian-yin (changed tone) is also examined. In Cantonese, it is commonly agreed that there are two products of Bian-yin, (1) a high rising tone, which is similar to the upper rising tone (35:), and (2) a high level tone, similar to the upper even tone (55:). The results indicate that most of the cases of Bian-yin belong to the first category and that they all appear in nouns. Phonological processes are generalisations about the child's substitutions. They are natural tendencies the child uses to simplify adult target sounds. The results of this study show that there are processes that are shared by all the subjects, and others that are not. For example, all the subjects have the process of tensing vowels. This suggests that it is a common process among the Cantonese-speaking children. In addition to looking at the Cantonese produced by the subjects, this study also examines the English loanwords in Wai's speech. Her loan-words fit the rules given by H.N. Cheung (1972). For example, the English /\/ becomes a /p/ in the loan-word, and a vowel /i/ is often added to the loan-word for the English word that ends with a /s/, forming a new syllable. Some loan-words in Wai's speech are [npm1pa2] 'number', and [tsu'si4] 'juice'. Although English words and phrases occupied only a very small part of the vocabulary in Wai's speech, I look at all the English words and phrases that she used. Based on S.M. Tse (1978), the results indicate that Wai's pronunciation errors in English consonants are very similar to those made by the Cantonese adults who are learning English as a second language. The study also compares the phonological systems of English and Cantonese and argues that the phonology of Cantonese is easier to acquire than that of English. Two reasons are put forth to support the argument. They are (1) the more complex system in the English consonants and (2) the assistance of the tonal system in the acquisition of Cantonese. Moreover, I compare the results of the proportions of matches between the Cantonese subjects in this study and the English subjects based on Ingram (1981). The results show that the Cantonese subjects performed better in matching the adult models. Finally, this study moves from the analysis of the child's phonology to the consideration of the influence of the different dialects of the parents' speech on the child. This is a topic that has seldom been emphasized by other investigators. The speech of Wai's parents differs in the use of the /l/ and /n/ initial syllables. The father's dialect distinguishes both /!/ and /n/ initials, while that of the mother has all the /n/s replaced by /1/s. I examined Wai's use of [1] and [n] in initial syllables that required /l/ and /n/ in the father's dialect to see how these differences in the input language affected her production. First of all, [1] and [n] free varied throughout all sessions for both /l/ and /n/ initials. During this time, Wai went through two periods of development. The first period is characterized by a preference for nasalization, lasting from 1;7(14) to 2;0(27). The second period is characterized by the preference for lateralization, and extended approximately from age 2; 1(24) and up. These data show that Wai considered [1] and [n] to be allophones of a single phoneme. At the end of the study, however, Wai was on the verge of adopting theramother's dialect.

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