Cantonese-English language contact: The top 10 most frequent monosyllabic English verbs/adjectives/nouns borrowed into Hong Kong Cantonese in 1990’s

Chor Shing David LI, Cathy S. P. WONG, Wai Mun LEUNG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

Lexical borrowing, in speech or writing, is very common when languages are in contact. Research shows that HK bilinguals often insert English words into their Cantonese. When first introduced, English words tend to follow their English pronunciation, resulting in ‘mixed code’. Over time, they become integrated into Cantonese as loanwords. Monolingual Cantonese speakers may or may not realize their English origin (e.g. lok1 kaa2 ‘locker’). Luke and Lau (2008) demonstrate that the ‘bisyllabic requirement’ in lexical borrowing as shown in previous research applies to Cantonese nouns, but not so much verbs/adjectives, which have a strong tendency to be monosyllabic. English verbs consisting of two or more syllables tend to be truncated to one syllable, e.g., in1 ‘to interview’; kap1 ‘to copy’. Their finding is also supported by our written Chinese corpus data collected from informal sections of local newspapers (chatty columns, infotainment news stories, cartoons, adverts), where monosyllabic English words (verbs/adjectives, but also nouns) are commonly inserted like Cantonese morphosyllables, sometimes resulting in bilingual puns in the case of bilingual homophones (e.g. ‘著數有得FUN’, ‘FUN offer to SHARE’). This presentation reports on the top 10 most frequent monosyllabic English verbs/adjectives/nouns appearing in a corpus of about 300, 000 Chinese characters in HK during the 1990’s. Informal written Chinese contains Cantoneisms characteristic of the vernacular of educated HK Chinese speakers, which typically exhibits a lot of code-mixing where English words of various lengths are inserted into the matrix language. This observation points to a ‘Monosyllabic Salience Hypothesis’: Monosyllabic salience in Cantonese, clearly attested in its verbs/adjectives, facilitates the borrowing of monosyllabic English verbs and adjectives, including polysyllabic words (any word class) truncated to monosyllabic verbs/adjectives. We will end with an outline of a cross-linguistic project designed to ascertain the validity of the Monosyllabic Salience Hypothesis. Copyright © 2013 ISB9 Organizing Committee.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Citation

Li, D. C. S., Wong, C. S. P., & Leung, W. M. (2013, June). Cantonese-English language contact: The top 10 most frequent monosyllabic English verbs/adjectives/nouns borrowed into Hong Kong Cantonese in 1990’s. Paper presented at the 9th International Symposium on Bilingualism (ISB9), Singapore.

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