Merger and transfer: Tone variation and change of Dongguan Cantonese

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Dongguan Cantonese has eight lexical tones, duly reflecting its inheritance from Middle Chinese. Tone changes have been triggered by recent developments in the linguistic ecology of China. Thirty-two young speakers (mean age = 22.7 years), balanced for gender, participated in tone production and perception experiments. Further, 16 speakers, balanced for gender and age (half speakers' mean age = 20.8 years, and half speakers' mean age = 50.6 years), participated in a word reading task using Dongguan Cantonese Yin Ping syllables. Results show that: (i) there are perception-triggered mergers among the Yin Ping, Yin Shang, and Yang Shang tones and (ii) the Yin Ping tone is leveled and raised to become a high-flat tone, presumably due to transference from the more prestigious Putonghua or Standard Cantonese. This paper demonstrates that tone merger is influenced by the similarity of tone contour, and that words of new meaning with high frequency are more prone to tone transfer. The underlying causes of these tone shifts reflect both language internal and language external forces at work in Dongguan Cantonese. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-30
Early online dateMar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


Liang, Y. (2018). Merger and transfer: Tone variation and change of Dongguan Cantonese. Lingua, 208, 19-30. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2018.03.003


  • Tone merger
  • Tone transfer
  • Sound change


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