Micro and macro causes of phonological variation and change: An investigation of the merging of syllable-initial /n-/ with /l-/ in Cantonse, English and Standard Mandarin by Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong

Chan, Yuet Hung Cecilia

City University of Hong Kong, China, Peoples Republic of

Paper

Micro and Macro causes of phonological variation and change:

An investigation of the merging of syllable-initial /n-/ with /l-/ in Cantonese, English and Standard Mandarin by Cantonese speakers

in Hong Kong

Abstract

This study investigated the causes of the phonological variation and change, focusing on the merging of syllable-initial /n-/ with /l-/ in Cantonese, English and Standard Mandarin by Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong. This study adopted Labovís (1972) and Taroneís (1983, 1988) research methodology. It included female and male children, teenagers and young adults from primary school, secondary school and university in Hong Kong respectively. Four oral tasks in each of the three language varieties were designed for collecting data. These tasks were: free conversation, informal interview, passage reading and word reading. Follow-up interviews were conducted with informants to find out their awareness of, and attitudes toward, the merging of /n-/ and /l-/ in Cantonese, English and Standard Mandarin. The results show that the occurrences of the merging of /n-/ with /l-/ vary in terms of language varieties, oral tasks, educational levels and language attitudes of the informants. The findings of this study suggest that the causes of phonological variation and change are at both micro and macro levels (Labov 1994, 2001, Coulmas 1997, Aitchison 2001, Silverman 2006). The micro factors include the writing system of the language in focus, sound articulation and stylistic variation. The macro factors are related to social and socio-psychological variables. This study calls for further investigation of language variation and change from both micro and macro perspectives.

References

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Coulmas, F. (1997) (ed.) The Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic Pattern. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Silverman, D. (2006). A Critical Introduction to Phonology. London, New York: Continuum.

Tarone, E. (1983). On the variability of interlanguage systems. Applied Linguistics,4, 143-163.

__ (1988). Variation in Interlanguage. London: Edward Arnold.

Session: Paper session
Variation 4 (Phonological)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 15