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Title: Undoing a prosodic sound change in progress : tone merger reversal in Hong Kong Cantonese via phonetic imitation
Authors: Luo, Jin
Advisors: YAO, Yao 
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Abstract: Phonetic imitation means people sound more similar to the speech they hear (Babel, 2009), and whether phonetic imitation could operate on the reversed side of sound change is important in understanding linguistic behavior in individual and community levels (Babel, McAuliffe, & Haber, 2013). This thesis uses Hong Kong Cantonese tone mergers (Mok, Zuo, & Wong, 2013) to approach this question from the less studied lexical tones. The study investigates whether young HKC speakers can unmerge T3/T6 (mid-level and low-level tones) in a phonetic imitation task, and how the behavior is conditioned by social factors, including gender, age, and language attitude.
32 young Hong Kong Cantonese native speakers (16F, 16M) joined the study. They completed a four-block speech production task, using Cantonese monosyllables in T3 or T6: reading visual stimuli (B1) -- shadowing audio stimuli with clearly distinguished T3 and T6 (B2) -- shadowing (B3) -- reading (B4). Followed were an Implicit Association Test (IAT) (Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji, 2003) and an explicit attitude survey (Pantos & Perkins, 2012) on attitudes toward “lazy accent”.
Results showed significant T3-T6 tonal distance increase in all three blocks during and after audio exposure, which meant subjects imitated and reversed the tone merger. Males were more merged than females initially, and they imitated more and earlier than females. Language attitudes and perceived age correlated with imitation in some blocks, but were not significant in a mixed effects model. Individual differences were discovered in both production and perception through the imitation and IAT tasks.
This research is among the first studies on phonetic imitation of tones, and sociolinguistics of Cantonese tone mergers. It contributes to the variation of phonetic imitation, and the flexibility and individual differences in production and perception of sound change. Generally, the study has multifold implications in phonetics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics.
Rights: All rights reserved.
Programme: Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Subject Code: CBS4701
Subject Title: Project in Language Studies
Appears in Collections:Outstanding Work by Students

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