Cantonese vowel merger-in-progress.

Suk Yee Roxana Fung, Chris K.C. Lee

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingConference article published in proceeding or bookAcademic researchpeer-review


This study investigates an unreported ongoing sound
change in Hong Kong Cantonese. Cantonese is
arguably the only variety of Chinese that contains
long-short contrast in its vowel system, which is
essentially a contrast in vowel quality. However,
results from a production experiment with 60 genderbalanced
native Hong Kong Cantonese speakers of
three age groups suggests that this contrast is
disappearing. Extracted from a read passage, the
bark-normalized formant values of the three pairs of
vowels with length contrast ([a]-[ɐ], [ɛ]-[e], and [ɔ]-
[o]) were compared across the three age groups and
gender using linear mixed modelling. While the
length contrast is largely retained across age groups,
the acoustic difference is diminishing, especially
among the young group. This merger-in-progress is
actualized by increasing proximity in vowel height.
All the vowel pairs seem to adopt the unidirectional
merger-by-transfer, but they are realized differently:
for [a]-[ɐ] pair, the long vowel transfers to the short
one, but the other way around for the other two pairs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Australia 2019
EditorsSasha Calhoun, Paola Escudero, Marija Tabain , Paul Warren
Place of PublicationCanberra, Australis
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)ISBN 978-0-646-80069-1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Hong Kong Cantonese
  • Diachronic sound change
  • vocalic long-short contrast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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