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Cathy S.P. Wong


Department of English
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF THE PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED BY A


CANTONESE-SPEAKING ESL LEARNER IN ACQUIRING ENGLISH
CONSONANT CLUSTERS1
1. Introduction
A major difference between the English and Cantonese sound systems lies in the syllable
structure. While English allows a number of consonant clusters in both syllable-initial and
syllable-final positions, Cantonese permits neither. This has probably created a lot of
problems for Cantonese-speaking learners of English. This paper reports on the findings of
the difficulties encountered by a Cantonese-speaking ESL learner in producing consonant
clusters in spoken English.

2. Differences in syllable structure between English and Cantonese


Compared to the syllable structure of English, Cantonese is relatively simpler. In English,
there can be as many as three consonants in the syllable-initial position and as many as four
consonants in the syllable-final position. Syllables in Cantonese, on the other hand, can only
have one consonant in both positions. The following diagram shows the difference:

Table 1: Difference in syllable structure between English and Cantonese


Onset Nucleus Coda
Cantonese (C) V (C)
English (C)(C)(C) V (C)(C)(C)(C)

Not only is the number of consonants highly restricted in Cantonese, the coda consonants
are also exclusively limited to only six consonants: /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, and //. This is very
different from English, which allows almost all consonants (except /h/, /w/ and /j/) to appear
in the syllable-final position if there is only a single one.

3. Consonant cluster problems encountered by Cantonese-speaking ESL learners


A number of studies have documented the general problems encountered by
Cantonese-speaking ESL learners. Among the learners’ features reported in these studies, the
difficulty caused by consonant clusters is a common one.
Walmsley (1977) reported on the problems in spoken English encountered by seven
Cantonese-speaking immigrants in England. By using a text consisting of all segmental
possibilities of English, Walmsley (1977) was able to document the problematic areas in the
spoken English of this group of learners. One of these problems concerned consonant clusters.

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This paper is part of a research project entitled “How do Cantonese-speaking ESL Learners Cope
with Consonant Clusters?” funded by an Internal Competitive Research Grant of the Hong
Kong Polytechnic University. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to
Ms Mimi Ng, the RA of the project, for her hard work. Thanks are also extended to the
subjects of the project who have kindly agreed to participate.
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He found that the subjects in his study had difficulties with initial /pr-/. The English word
“pretty” was pronounced as [p t ] or [pl t ]. Final clusters were also problematic. The word
“stepped” was pronounced as [step] or [step d]. He did not, however, point out that although
/st-/ was also an initial cluster, his subjects did not seem to have any problem with it at all.
Similar to the findings of Walmsley (1977), Luke and Richards (1982), Bolton and Kwok
(1990), Hung (2000), and Stibbard (2004) have all identified consonant cluster as a
problematic feature in Cantonese speakers’ spoken English. These findings will be discussed
in the paragraphs below.
Simplification of consonant clusters was characterized as a typical feature of a
mid-proficiency speaker of English in Hong Kong (Luke and Richards, 1982). For example,
the word “frankly” /frækli/ was pronounced as [fli], where the /r/ in the initial /fr/ cluster
was deleted. The word “task” /tsk/ was pronounced as [ts] (/k/ was deleted in the /-sk/
cluster), and “most” as [mos] (/t/ was deleted in the /-st/ cluster). The above examples
quoted from Luke and Richards (1982) well illustrated one of the strategies that was
commonly employed by learners of English in coping with consonant clusters—simplification
by deletion.
Bolton and Kwok (1990) also found instances of simplification of consonant clusters in
the speech of the subject in their study. English words such as “aspects” /æspekts/ was
produced as [æspeks] (/t/ was removed from the /-kts/ cluster), “left” /left/ as [lef] (/t/ was
removed from the /-ft/ cluster).
In a comprehensive experimental study conducted on Hong Kong English, Hung (2000)
also pointed out the cluster problems encountered by the Cantonese-speaking ESL learners.
He found that the initial consonant cluster /tr-/ in words such as “tries” /tra z/ and “trim”
/tr m/ were produced with an initial [tw-] instead of [tr-] (Hung, 2000).
A more recent study (Stibbard, 2004) analyzed the spontaneous speech of seventeen ESL
learners of English in Hong Kong and the data showed that simplification of consonant
clusters was very common. For example, the word “bridge” /br d/ was realized in various
forms: [bit], [bit], [b t], and even [pit] (Stibbard, 2004). The deletion of /r/ in the initial
cluster /br-/ was common among this group of learners. Similarly, in the word-final position,
instances of simplification and modification were noteworthy. For example, the word “width”
/w d/ was produced as [widf] and [w ] (Stibbard, 2004). Stibbard (2004) maintained that a
single segmental error might be trivial but an accumulation of segmental errors in a lexical
item would make the learners’ spoken English incomprehensible to native speakers of English.
The “bridge” example given above clearly demonstrates this point. In attempting to
pronounce the word “bridge” /br d/, the learner simplified the initial consonant cluster /br-/
into [b]; shortened the vowel length of /i/, resulting in an [ ] instead the target /i/; and finally,
devoiced the final affricate /d/ which became [t]. The “end product” of such a series of
modifications changed “bridge” into “bitch”! It is evident that the inability to handle
consonant clusters definitely plays a part in this process.
The study conducted by Peng and Setter (2000) focused specifically on final consonant
clusters produced by two learners. They found that the subjects of their study tended to delete
/t/ in a consonant cluster occurring syllable-finally. For example, words like “accounts”
/kants/ was produced as [k!n] and “restful” /restfl/ as [resf"]; the /t/ was deleted in
both cases.
Eckman has conducted a number of studies comparing ESL learners from different L1
backgrounds, including Cantonese speakers. In Eckman’s (1987) study, it was found that the
two Cantonese subjects simplified final consonant clusters randomly. For instance, the word
“opt” /!pt/ was produced as [at] and [apt] by the same subject who deleted the non-final /p/ in
one attempt but not the other (Eckman, 1987). Similar instances are numerous. For example,
“accepts” /ksepts/ was pronounced as [aksepts] and [asets] by the same subject. The final
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cluster /-pts/ was well preserved in one attempt but was simplified to [-ts] in the other.
Another example was “ripped” /r pt/. It was produced as [r t] (with /p/ deleted in the /-pt/
cluster) and [r pt] (the /-pt/ cluster was maintained) by the same subject. Similarly, “sifts”
/s fts/ was pronounced as [s ft] and [s fs]; “taxed” /tækst/ as [tæks] and [tæst].
In another study conducted by Eckman and Iverson (1993), the Cantonese subjects
showed problems in the word-initial consonant clusters /pr/, /pl/, /br/, /bl/, /tw/, and /r/.
In short, previous studies have shown that Cantonese learners have a variety of problems
as far as English consonant clusters are concerned. However, most of these studies focus
mainly on the general features of Cantonese learners’ spoken English (Walmsley, 1977; Hung,
2000, for example), others studies examine very specific types of consonant clusters (Peng
and Setter, 2000; Eckman and Iverson, 1993, for example). A systematic study on the
acquisition of all English consonant clusters by Cantonese-speaking ESL learners is lacking.
The aim of the study presented in this paper is an attempt to provide a more comprehensive
view of the issues involved in the acquisition of English consonant clusters.

4. The present study


In view of the research objective identified above, a research study which aimed to
systematically examine the acquisition of English consonant clusters, with special reference to
both syllable-initial and syllable-final consonant clusters, by Cantonese-speaking ESL
learners was conducted.

4.1 Research questions


The specific questions that the study intended to find answers to were:
(a) What are the major problems encountered by Cantonese-speaking learners in the
acquisition of English consonant clusters?
(b) Which types of consonant clusters are the most and the least problematic?
(c) Which segments are the most and the least problematic?

4.2 Test items


In order to obtain a more comprehensive view of the acquisition of complex English
consonant clusters by Cantonese-speaking ESL learners, a set of English words were selected
with the intention to include all possible types of consonant clusters in English, occurring
both syllable-initially and syllable-finally.
Considering the combinatory possibilities of consonants in English consonant clusters
outlined above, 101 English words consisting of these clusters were selected. These words
were then put in some meaningful English sentences. As a result, a total of 34 test sentences
were constructed, with 123 test items found in 101 English words.2 The details are given in
Appendix <i>. A summary of the number of test items is given below in Table 2.

Table 2: Summary of test items


2-member 3-member 4-member TOTAL
Items with initial CC 41 6 N.A. 47
Items with final CC 50 21 5 76
Total items 91 27 5 123
Total words & sentences 101 words in 34 sentences

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The reason why the number of test items and test words is different is that some words consist of
both initial and final clusters. For example, the word “pleased” consists of an initial cluster of
/pl-/ and a final cluster of /-zd/. Therefore, the number of test words is smaller than that of the
test items.
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Table 3 below presents the design of the test items in terms of the cluster types.

Table 3: Types of consonant clusters manifested in the test words


Initial Consonant Clusters (4 types)
2-member Type Examples
CCs plosive + liquid / glide play, dwell, green…
fricative + liquid / glide flat, fried, through, shrill…
/s/ + C (plosive / fricative / nasal / liquid / spill, sphere, snow, slowly, swim…
glide)
3-member /s/ + voiceless plosive + liquid / glide split, spring, strip, scripts…
CCs
Final Consonant Clusters (13 types)
2-member Type Examples
CCs plosive + plosive looked, begged
plosive + fricative ship’s, box, towards…
fricative + plosive grasp, disc, loved
fricative + fricative fifth, cuffs, paths
nasal + plosive / fricative damp, mint, length, rings…
liquid + plosive / fricative help, melt, walls…
3-member plosive + CC fixed, acts, sixth…
CCs fricative + CC fifths, lifts
nasal + CC jumped, bands, months…
liquid + CC twelfth, faults, silks…
4-member plosive + CCC sixths, texts
CCs nasal + CCC prompts, instincts
liquid + CCC twelfths

4.3 Subjects
The data reported in this paper were taken from one of the 77 subjects of the research
study described above. The 77 subjects were all first year university students whose first
language was Cantonese. They were all born and educated in Hong Kong. Therefore, all of
them had received at least 13 years of instruction of English in school before they began their
university education. They were all English majors and their English proficiency level could
be characterized as intermediate to advanced. The subject described in this paper was a female
university student majoring in English whose English proficiency can be regarded as
advanced.

4.4 Procedure
The subject was invited to take part in the study on a voluntary basis. Although the
subject was aware that the research study was investigating pronunciation problems of Hong
Kong Cantonese-speaking ESL learners, she was not told that consonant clusters were the
focus of the study. After the subject had agreed to take part in the study, an appointment was
made with the Research Assistant to make an audio recording.
An audio recording was made of the subject reading aloud the 34 test sentences twice.
The recording was made in a sound-proof booth in the Speech Lab of the Department of
English at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University using a Sony MD recorder. The subject was
given a copy of the test sentences clearly printed on an A4 paper before the recording began.
The subject was given some time to familiarize herself with the test sentences. When the
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subject was ready, she entered the sound-proof booth and sat down in front of a desk on which
a microphone was set up at about the same level of her mouth. In order to make the subject
feel less tense, no-one except the subject herself stayed in the booth while the recording was
made.
After the speech sample had been collected, the 101 test words were extracted from the
speech sample and were then transcribed phonetically by the Research Assistant. An
instrumental analysis was conducted on all of these 101 test words using PRAAT to further
refine the transcription.

4.5 Analysis
The transcriptions of the test words were compared with the target pronunciation
focusing on the accuracy of the production of the consonant clusters. Since each test word
was produced twice, only the consonant clusters which were produced accurately in both
attempts were regarded as correct. If one of the two tokens was wrong, the test item would be
treated as an unsuccessful attempt.
The results were analyzed in terms of the types of consonant clusters and the segments
involved. Where modifications were found, the modifications were classified according to the
strategies employed, for example, addition, omission, or substitution, etc.

5. Results and findings


5.1 Overall performance
Out of the 123 test items, the subject only produced 41 of them accurately, yielding an
accuracy of only 33%. Table 4 below indicates the breakdown of the number of items which
were accurately-produced.

Table 4: Overall performance


Total 2-member CCs 3-member CCs 4-member CCs
All 41 (33%) NA NA NA
N=124
Initial clusters 28 (60%) 24 (59%) 4 (67%) NA
N=47 N=41 N=6
Final clusters 13 (17%) 13 (26%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
N=77 N=50 N=21 N=5

As seen from the “Total” given in Table 4 above, it is obvious that the subject performed
much better in initial clusters (60%) than final clusters (17%). Also reflected from the results
shown in Table 4 above is the fact that the subject could not handle final clusters consisting of
more than two consonants because none of the 3-member or 4-member final clusters were
produced accurately. On the contrary, 67% of the 3-member initial clusters were accurately
pronounced, a percentage even higher than the 2-member ones (59% accuracy). This portrays
a strange picture. On the one hand, as reflected clearly from the final clusters, the more
consonants a cluster contains, the more difficult it is for the subject. On the other hand, the
number of consonants in a cluster does not seem to have an impact on the production of initial
clusters.
If we examine the 3-member initial clusters of English words carefully, we find that they
all consist of an initial /s/ because as a 3-member cluster in syllable-initial position, the first
member must be an /s/, followed by a voiceless plosive, then finally, a liquid or glide, for
example, /str-/, /skr-/. It seems that clusters with an initial /s-/ pose little difficulty for
Cantonese learners. This explains why in the group of initial clusters, the 3-member clusters
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items showed a higher percentage of accuracy than the 2-member clusters. In the next section,
Section 5.2.1, as well as the discussion section, Section 6, this issue will be further explored.

5.2 Consonant cluster type and performance


5.2.1 Initial consonant clusters
As already mentioned above, among the initial clusters, the ones involving an initial /s/
appeared to be the easiest for the subject, regardless of the length of the cluster. This is
evidenced by the results of the 2-member clusters with an initial /s/. The 81% accuracy rate
topped all cluster types. This was followed by the 3-member cluster with initial /s/, which
stood at an accuracy rate of 67%. The other two types of initial clusters only scored an
accuracy of 30% and 29% respectively. The results in terms of the consonant cluster types and
the above observations are shown in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Performance by initial cluster type


Initial 2-member CCs (N=41)
/s/ + liquid / glide / nasal / plosive / fricative (e.g. smoke) 9 / 11 81%
plosive + liquid / glide (e.g. pray) 7 / 23 30%
fricative + liquid / glide (e.g. three) 2/7 29%
Initial 3-member CCs (N=6)
/s/ + plosive + liquid / glide (e.g. spring) 4/6 67%

9 out of the 11 items of the 2-member clusters were accurately produced, with an 81%
accuracy which topped all the different types of clusters in this study. Among the 11 items
(slowly, spill, still, stepped, skill, smoke, sphere, instincts, yesterday, swim, snow), the two
words “swim” and “snow” were produced accurately only once, and therefore were regarded
as inaccurate. Within the group of 3-member initial cluster (split, spring, strip, scripts,
screaming, squid), only the word “scripts” was consistently pronounced inaccurately. In short,
the clusters with an initial /s/ posed no major problem at all for the subject, regardless of what
consonant it was combined with, and regardless of the length of the clusters.
Another piece of interesting finding concerns the 3-member clusters. There is only a
single type because the sequence of the three members of the cluster is almost “fixed”: the
initial one must be an /s/, the second one must be a voiceless plosive, and the third one must
be either a liquid or a glide. Compared with the 2-member clusters which involve a plosive
and a liquid or glide (Row 3 in Table 5 above), the subject did much better in this 3-member
cluster type (Row 6 in Table 5 above) which also involves a plosive followed by a liquid or
glide. The addition of an initial /s/, instead of impeding performance, seems to have enhanced
it. This feature will be revisited in Section 6 below.

5.2.2 Final consonant clusters


While the presence of the initial /s/ in a consonant cluster in the syllable-initial position
was conducive to performance, the accuracy of final consonant clusters seemed to be
dependent on the second last consonant. Table 6 below shows the results of the final
consonant clusters in terms of cluster types.
Results in Table 6 below demonstrate that length does matter in syllable-final clusters.
None of the test items with a consonant cluster consisting of 3 or 4 members were accurately
produced.
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Table 6: Performance by final cluster type


Final 2-member CCs (N=51)
fricative + fricative (e.g. cuffs) 2/4 50%
fricative + plosive (e.g. most) 5 / 12 41%
nasal + plosive (e.g. damp) 3/7 43%
nasal + fricative (e.g. chance) 1/5 20%
plosive + plosive (e.g. looked) 1/4 25%
plosive + fricative (e.g. bags) 1 / 10 10%
/l/ + plosive / fricative (e.g. milk, shelf ) 0/8 0%
Final 3-member CCs (N=21) 0 /21 0%
Final 4-member CCs (N=5) 0/5 0%

Of the remaining 7 types of 2-member final clusters, the accurate production of a


syllable-final cluster seems to be related to the second last consonant. Table 6 above clearly
shows the pattern that if the second last segment of a 2-member final cluster is a fricative
(Rows 2 and 3 in Table 6 above), the percentage of accuracy is higher than that of a plosive
(Rows 6 and 7 in Table 6 above). In other words, a plosive in the second last position in a
2-member final consonant cluster (e.g. “AIDS”) is more difficult than other types of cluster
(e.g. “grasp”), except when the cluster involves a post-vocalic /l/ (e.g. “else”). None of the
2-member final consonant clusters with an /l/ were produced accurately. Therefore, it is
logical to assume that this type of final cluster is the most difficult for the subject.

5.3 Problematic segments in consonant clusters


5.3.1 Postvocalic /l/ in final clusters
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, final consonant clusters with a post-vocalic /l/
led to inaccurate production. Among the 50 test items of the 2-member final clusters, 8 words
had a consonant cluster involving an /l/. These words were: help, melt, milk, shelf, health, else,
cold, and walls. The post-vocalic /l/ in English is a velarized [#], or “dark /l/”. However, the
/l/’s in these test items were all realized as back vowels, either as an [o] or an []. The
problem in producing the postvocalic /l/ accurately has been reported by Hung (2000). He
found that, in general, Cantonese speakers tended to replace the postvocalic /l/ by [w].3 In
effect, the problem involving the /l/ in final clusters is in fact not a problem with consonant
clusters but is a segmental problem with the postvocalic /l/ itself.

5.3.2 Voiced consonants in final position


Another major group of sounds that were always produced incorrectly by the subject
were the voiced consonants occurring in the final position. 17 test items contained a final
voiced consonant and all of these consonants were devoiced. These words were: dreamed,
games, banged, rings, land, fans, cold, walls, serves, pleased, loved, begged, rubbed, tubs,
bags, AIDS, and towards. Similar to the case of the postvocalic /l/, the devoicing of final
voiced consonants has also been independently documented as a common feature among
Cantonese-speaking ESL learners. Edge (1991) found that Cantonese learners devoiced the
word-final voiced alveolar stop. Devoicing of syllable-initial /z/ and /v/ was also exhibited.
Thus, the problem of devoicing may not be a consequence of consonant cluster.

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In Hung’s (2000) study, he has clearly demonstrated the realization of [#] as [w] through a
spectrogram. In this study, the spectrographic analysis of all the [#]’s produced by this subject
yielded distinct formant features like those of vowels, which were quite different from Hung’s
data.
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5.3.3 Plosives in final position


It is among the final plosives that the negative effect of consonant clusters is clearly
shown. There were a number of instances where one of the consonants in a final cluster was
deleted and they invariably involved a plosive. These instances are: must, most, last, twist, gift,
towards, AIDS, that’s, eighth, land, and Schweppes. The alveolar plosive in these items was
deleted, except for the last item “Schweppes”, in which the plosive was not an alveolar one
and was not deleted but the /s/ was. This piece of finding gives further support to similar
findings reported in Peng and Setter (2000), which has been discussed in Section 3 above.

5.3.4 Liquids in initial 2-member clusters


Another feature which is clearly linked to consonant clusters is the liquids in initial
clusters. Among the 41 initial 2-member clusters, 24 test items contained a liquid (/l/ or /r/).
Compared with the liquid clusters, the non-liquid clusters were easier. 11 out of the 17
non-liquid items were accurately produced (79% accuracy) while only 11 out of the 24 test
items containing a liquid were pronounced correctly (54% accuracy).
Among the 24 test items of initial clusters with a liquid, almost half were non-target like
production. The test words include: improve, break, drink, through, three, dreamed, shrill,
grasp, cloth, glass, and please. The remaining 12 test items with a liquid were accurately
pronounced. They were: try, cream, pray, prompts, broke, fried, green, blow, play, pleased,
flat, clean, and slowly. Based on such results, it is inconclusive as to whether /l/ or /r/ is more
problematic for the subject. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the clusters with
liquids were challenging for this learner.

6. Discussion—the puzzling /s/ in initial clusters


In Section 5.2.1 above, it has been pointed out that the clusters involving an initial /s/ led
to higher accuracy: 81% for 2-member and 67% for 3-member clusters respectively. Such
results beg the question: What makes the initial /s/ unique and why does this uniqueness tend
to facilitate acquisition?
Barlow (2001) has discussed in length the special status of initial /s/ in clusters. She
points out that the /s/ in initial clusters is problematic for theoretical accounts of English and
other languages:

First, the /s/ + plosive clusters violate the SSP [sonority sequencing principle], in that they have a
falling sonority slope. Secondly, clusters /sl-/, /sn-/ and /st-/ violate a phonotactic constraint on
initial clusters in English which prohibits homorganic initial clusters. Thirdly, /s/ is the only sound
that may occur at the beginning of a three-element cluster such as /str-/ or /spl-/. All these facts
reveal the special status of /s/-cluster. (Barlow, 2001: 10)

The special status of /s/ has led some linguists to propose that “the /s/ + plosive clusters—are
really adjunct clusters, where the /s/ is syllabified outside of the onset of the syllable” (Barlow
2001). If this argument holds, it helps to explain why the /s/ initial clusters are easier for the
Cantonese-speakers. As described above, Cantonese does not allow any consonant clusters at
all so English clusters pose a lot of problems for Cantonese-speakers. Therefore, if the /s/ in
an initial cluster can be syllabified separately, the problem is solved because the cluster with
an initial /s/ is NOT a cluster any more. The data of this subject tend to support this argument
because if the mispronounced test items with initial /s/ are examined carefully, the
mispronunciation always lies in the actual realization of the other segments but not the /s/
segment, indicating that the initial /s/ seems to be handled well.
In the 2-member initial clusters, the two erroneous instances were “swim”
(mispronounced as [w m]) and “snow” (mispronounced as [snlo]). In these two cases, the
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problem concerns the articulation of some specific segments. In one case, the initial /s/
became //, probably as a result of the assimilation to the lip-rounding of the following /w/. In
the other case, the syllable-initial /n/ was produced as an [nl], an articulation problem which
may not be unique to consonant clusters but is a general feature of Cantonese-speaking
learners (Wong and Setter, 2000).
In the 3-member initial clusters, the two test items that were produced inaccurately were
“split” (mispronounced as [sp t]) and “scripts” (mispronounced as [sk% ps]). In both cases,
the problem does not seem to lie in how the initial /s/ was realized but rather, in how the two
post-/s/ initial consonants were syllabified. In these two examples, the third consonant was
“sacrificed”—one was deleted and one was “squashed” into the second consonant; but the /s/
was preserved.
The four examples discussed in the previous two paragraphs provide supporting
evidence to the “adjunct cluster” proposal. However, the one question which remains
unanswered is: What about the final /s/? In theory, if the initial /s/ can be treated as an adjunct
and be syllabified outside the onset of the syllable, so can the final /s/ be syllabified outside
the coda of the syllable. The data of this subject also lend support to such a proposal.
Among the 35 final clusters which ended in /s/, only four items were accurately
produced because most items had one or two consonants deleted or modified. However, only
in one item Schweppes was the /s/ omitted. In other words, 97% of the final /s/’s in these
clusters were retained, although most of them were devoiced. This is indirect evidence that
the /s/ in the edges of clusters (syllable-initial or syllable-final) may be syllabified separately
and so is “easier” for the Cantonese learner.

7. Conclusion
This paper has presented the findings regarding three research issues about the
acquisition of English consonant clusters: what the exact problems are, which types of
clusters are difficult, and which segments pose the greatest difficulties in clusters.
It is found that final clusters are more problematic than initial ones. In terms of which
types of cluster are difficult, the results seem to suggest that initial clusters involving a liquid
or a glide as the second member (e.g. /pl-/, /kw-/) are problematic while final clusters
involving a plosive as the second last member (e.g. /-&z/, /-ps/) will pose problems. A few
segments in clusters have been identified to have generated more problems than others.
However, it has been pointed out that some of these problems are in fact not a problem with
clusters but a problem of the segments themselves, for example, the post-vocalic //. Only four
segments, the /l/ and /r/ in initial clusters and the /t/ and /d/ in final clusters, seem to be
directly linked to clusters.
An interesting piece of finding is that clusters with an initial /s/ will be the least difficult
among all types of English clusters. This gives support to the suggestion that /s/ enjoys a
special status of being able to be syllabified outside of the onset of the syllable. A careful
examination of the final clusters which end in /s/ also lends support to this unique status of /s/.
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11

Appendix <i> Test words embedded in test sentences


47 items with initial clusters + 77 items with final clusters = 123 total test items (101 words)
1. I like to swim and play in the snow. sw- pl- sn-
2. They were divided into sixths, eighths and twelfths. -kss -ts tw- -lfs
3. He dreamed that he ranked fifth in the game. dr- -md -kt -f
4. When it passed through the river bank, the thwart broke. -st r- -k w- br-
5. You must listen to the shrill of the ship’s whistle. -st r- -ps
6. Please pray for his good health. pl- pr- -l
7. I need a strip and a damp cloth. str- -mp kl-
8. Deep fried squid and mashed potatoes, anything else? fr- skw- -t -ls
9. Take a quick look on the texts of animal instincts. kw- -ksts st- -kts
10. This was the sixth time that he forgot the prompts and scripts. -ks pr- -mpts skr- -pts
11. Help me to measure the widths of all the walls. -lp -ds -lz
12. He loved the time-lapsed photo that I gave him as a gift. -vd -pst -ft
13. She acts as a world’s most famous singer in the eighth scene. -kts -ldz -st -t
14. He fixed the tubs and the pumps for me yesterday. -kst -bz -mps st-
15. She has a firm grasp of the circle of fifths theory. &r- -sp -fs
16. He lifts up the shelf and then serves dinner. -fts -lf -vz
17. It has been very cold; I haven’t milked the cow for months. -ld -lkt -ns
18. He begged the tailor for some silks to make two bags. -&d -lks -&z
19. He is pleased that his son did not make any faults in the games. pl- -zd -lts -mz
20. She helped me to clean the cuffs and the rings. -lpt kl- -fs -z
21. I watched three films about AIDS last night. -tt r- -lmz -dz -st
22. He stepped back and jumped towards the land. -st -pt -mpt -dz -nd
23. The fans are still screaming for the bands. -nz st- skr- -ndz
24. We looked in the flat and the smoke came out. -kt fl- sm-
25. That’s the total length of the paths. -ts - -s
26. Try this disc to improve your reading skill. tr- -sk pr- sk-
27. You should drink a glass of milk everyday. dr- &l- -lk
28. Melt the cream and put some mint in it. -lt kr- -nt
29. He rubbed his hands sore after he banged on the green wall. -bd -ndz -d &r-
30. Now twist it slowly and split it into half. tw- -st sl- spl-
31. I did not have a chance to dwell on it. -ns dw-
32. Do not blow in air in the sphere, it will break! bl- sf- br-
33. Don’t spill the Schweppes that I bought in the spring. sp- w- -ps spr-
34. Tell me the width of the twelfth box. -d tw- -lf -ks