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The Spoken English of Hong Kong the Coccurring Segment Errors

The Spoken English of Hong Kong the Coccurring Segment Errors

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Published by BuddhaJesus
inguistics,ESL,L2 Aquisition,Cantonese ESL,phonology,contrastive phonology,pronunciation problems,pronunciation difficulties,mispronunciation,vowels,consonants,coda,onset,loanword,second language influence,L1 interference,phonetics
inguistics,ESL,L2 Aquisition,Cantonese ESL,phonology,contrastive phonology,pronunciation problems,pronunciation difficulties,mispronunciation,vowels,consonants,coda,onset,loanword,second language influence,L1 interference,phonetics

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06/19/2013

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The Spoken English of Hong Kong: A Studyof Co-occurring Segmental Errors
Richard Stibbard 
School of Arts, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK 
There is broad agreement as to many of the segmental features of the Hong Kongaccent of English: neutralisation of vowels which contrast in Standard Southern Brit-ish English or General American, non-release of final stops, simplification of con-sonant clusters and devoicing of coda consonants. However, while it is apparentthat there is no reason why these features should not co-occur within single words,such co-occurrences have not been identified in previous studies, perhaps becausetreatments of HK pronunciation have generally used lists of words and have thus eli-cited atypically careful pronunciation. The connected speech data used in the presentstudy indicates that findings from word lists may not apply to more naturalisticspeech. In this study, speakers produced many words with more than one segmentsounding like another English phoneme, sometimes affecting all the segments of aword. Although overt signs of misunderstanding hardly arose, this indicates merelythat the lack of such overt signals is no sign of acceptability. Arguments that HongKong English pronunciation should be viewed as ‘phonological’ in its own right arerejected as inappropriate, both on grounds that this interpretation is not supportedby the phonetics of the data, and more conclusively on sociolinguistic grounds.Keywords:
Hong Kong English, pronunciation, phonology, segmental errors,phonemic overlap, intelligibility
The Hong Kong accent of English has been described by a number of previouswriters, including Luke and Richards (1982), Bolton and Kwok (1990), Chanand Li (2000), Hung (2000) (reprinted as Hung, 2002), and Peng and Setter(2000). Many of the features which these writers describe are widely agreedupon, and most are clearly due to interference from Cantonese.
Vowels
Features of Hong Kong English which are widely reported include areduced pure vowel inventory compared with that of native speakers. Oftenthe length and quality contrast between the long and short, or tense and lax,vowel pairs which are distinctive in Standard Southern British English (SSBE)and many other native accents such as General American (GA) are not realisedreliably. Because Cantonese has no such distinctive pairs, these are typicallyneutralised such that, for example, the distinction between ‘beat’ (
=
 bi
i
t
=
) and‘bit’ (
=
 b
>
t
=
) is not reliably made. The same applies to the pairs
=
$
=
vs.
=
’i
=
and pairs
=
J
=
,
vs
=
u
i
=
and to the quality difference between
=
e
=
and
=
æ
=
asin ‘met’
vs
‘mat’.There is, however, an important difference of opinion as to exactlywhat Hong Kong speakers do produce in cases such as these. Hung (2002) believes that in these cases both are consistently pronounced alike, e.g. both ‘bit’ and ‘beat’ as [bit], and uses this claim to support his argument
0790-8318/04/02 127-16 $20.00/0
#
2004 R. StibbardLANGUAGE, CULTURE AND CURRICULUM Vol. 17, No. 2, 2004
127
 
that Hongkongers’ realisations should be accorded phonemic status.Hung’s claims of homogeneity among his subjects in the failure to producea formant
=
duration distinction between the long
=
short phoneme pairs of SSBE
=
GA are supported by standard deviations showing inter-speaker varia- bility, but in his subsequent discussion he discounts this and averages acrossspeakers. Chan and Li (2000), in contrast, report that their subjects’ realisationsof these phonemes varied between the two native speaker targets, soundinglike one or the other, but not necessarily the right one, or a sound intermediate between the two; the present study lends weight to Chan and Li’s (2000) viewof instability rather than stability.Less well agreed is how Hongkongers produce English diphthongs. Withthe exception of a curious claim that Hongkongers make a
phonemic
distinc-tion between
=
a
>
=
and
=
[>
=
in words with SSBE and GA
=
a
>
=
, Hung (2002:129) reports that contrasts are maintained as in SSBE. Chan and Li (2000),in contrast, report widespread monophthongisation, [
$
] for
=
’>
=
, [e] or [æ]for
=
e
4
=
, and [e] for
=
e
>
=
, but also the pronunciation of diphthongs as separ-ate vowels with an intervening glottal stop: [p
J
A
a] for ‘poor’. Bolton andKwok (1990) report
=
e
>
=
realised as [
>
]. Again this indicates instability inthe Hong Kong accent rather than a stable system. The different findingsmay also be due in part to the different methods of data collection and analy-sis used. Hung’s use of word lists read aloud may have led to unusuallycareful and accurate pronunciation and his practice of discounting inter-speaker variability may obscure individuals’ pronunciation problems. Lukeand Richards and Bolton and Kwok used connected speech data, whichmay have avoided this problem and given more representative results. Chanand Li‘s paper is based on informal observations in the classroom of con-nected speech but can be criticised for the lack of careful repeated listeningto audio data and the possibility that remembered observations may beinaccurate.
Consonants
As Cantonese has a smaller inventory of consonant contrasts than English,contrasts made by native speakers of English are often lost as sounds are sub-stituted from the Cantonese phoneme inventory: [f] for
=
V
=
, [d] for
=
,
=
, [w]or [f] for
=
v
=
, and [s] for
=
S
=
. Because word-initial [l] and [n] are often in freevariation in Cantonese, as in (‘you’) pronounced [ne
>
] or [le
>
], the two Englishsounds are often pronounced in free variation. Chan and Li report that realisa-tions of English
=
r
=
and
=
w
=
also enter into this free variation, with word-initial
=
r
=
pronounced as [l] by some speakers and as [w] by others. In word-finalposition, dark ‘l’ is often replaced by [u] and
=
n
=
is often not pronounced.Making the distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants in the codais another well-known difficulty, especially in word-final position, as the threeCantonese word-final stops,
=
p
=
,
=
t
=
, and
=
k
=
are [p
L
], [t
L
], and [k
L
], i.e. voice-less and unreleased. Often, these or a glottal stop are substituted for both theirEnglish voiced and voiceless counterparts. All other voiced consonants arealso problematic: devoicing is widely reported in the previous studies.Another problematic feature of English for Cantonese speakers is itscomplicated syllable structure compared with the simple Cantonese syllable
128
Language, Culture and Curriculum 
 
structure, (C)V(C). This typically results in substitution or deletion of conso-nants in clusters. Peng and Setter’s (2000) paper is an investigation of thedeletion and retention of consonants in clusters; the authors conclude that thishas a regular pattern according to the morphosyntactic structure. However,they also point out that if two different target words are made to sound thesame, this can lead to serious intelligibility problems, which they believeshould be a priority for correction in the classroom (2000: 106).Bolton and Kwok (1990) report that while Hongkongers’ vowels aregenerally closer to those of SSBE than to General American, some featuresof American English may be heard from some speakers, such as flapped ‘t’in words such as ‘city’ and the American vowels in ‘job’, and ‘dance’.
The Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate the co-occurrence within singlewords of errors involving gross phonemic overlap, as well as place of articu-lation shifts and insertion of intrusive consonants. Phonemic overlap has beenwidely reported in previous studies, but has previously only been identified asoccurring at the rate of one per word. The present data indicate that the prob-lem is made much more serious than previously thought by the fact that sucherrors can co-occur. The decision to concentrate on these errors and theirco-occurrences was made on the basis of frequency of occurrence in thesedata and because of their evident negative effect on the intelligibility andacceptability of the Hong Kong accent.The data used are a collection of audio recordings made in 1997 of thespeech of undergraduates studying on BA and BSc courses at Hong Kong Bap-tist University. Seventeen students volunteered to take part in the study, fourmale, 13 female. All had taken the HK Examinations Authority AdvancedSupplementary Level in Use of English, obtaining the following overallgrades: B (one student); C (three students); D (ten students); E (three students).The data collection method elicited speech partly in interaction, partlymonologue. The rationale behind this method was to record for analysismore naturalistic connected speech than was used in previous studies whileretaining some control over the words used and style of speech. The subjectstook part in three spoken activities: two information-exchange activities(interaction), and retelling a short story from memory (monologue). Theinformation-exchange activities were a map-reading task and a pegboarddescription task. In the map-reading task a pair of subjects had maps repre-senting the same place but with different amounts of information available.One of the subjects, the giver of information, had a route marked on it todescribe to the other, who had to draw the route on his
=
her map, askingquestions as necessary so as to clarify the route.In the pegboard description task, the roles were reversed, the information-giver from the map-reading task becoming the receiver of information. Thesubjects were supplied with a pegboard on which the information-giver hada number of coloured pegs around which were stretched coloured elastic bands forming geometric shapes. The task was to exchange information so thatthe receiver could reconstruct the shapes and colours as they were on the other
Co-occurring Segmental Errors in Hong Kong English 
129

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