University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cambridge Linguistics Forum > [Online talk] - Monosyllabic Salience in Cantonese: Facilitation of transference of monosyllabic English words (MEWs) into Hong Kong Cantonese-English mixed code

[Online talk] - Monosyllabic Salience in Cantonese: Facilitation of transference of monosyllabic English words (MEWs) into Hong Kong Cantonese-English mixed code

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Li et al. (2016) found a large number of monosyllabic English words (MEWs) in Hong Kong Cantonese-English mixed code, a tendency which is more marked for verbs and adjectives than nouns, the latter being subjected to a bisyllabic constraint (Luke and Lau 2008, cf. Li 2017). Monosyllabicity as a typological characteristic helps account for the transference of MEWs into Cantonese. In a corpus of informal writing collected from Hong Kong Chinese newspaper columns (mid-1990s), roughly one in 4–5 unintegrated insertions is monosyllabic. In a separate corpus of online data (facebook), roughly one in two MEW words is monosyllabic. Monosyllabic Salience is supported by five lexico-syntactic features: (a) truncation of polysyllabic English words (PEWs) to monosyllables; (b) shorter average word length compared with Mandarin; (c) truncation of the first syllable of a PEW embedded in an A-not-A question; (d) exploitation of bilingual homophony for punning; and (e) coinage of Romanized ‘mono’ Cantonese words like chok and hea. The findings support Michael Clyne’s (2003) theory of facilitation (cf. ‘triggering’), which explains why transference of linguistic (phonological, lexical, syntactic, semantic, etc.) features tends to be facilitated if such features are shared in the pool of linguistic resources within the speaker’s plurilingual repertoire.

Keywords: Code-switching, translanguaging, borrowing, facilitation of transference, monosyllabicity

References cited Clyne, M. (2003). Dynamics of language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Li, David C.S. (2017). Multilingual Hong Kong: Languages, literacies and identities. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Li, David C.S., Wong, Cathy S.P., Leung, W.M. & Wong, Sam. T.S. (2016). Facilitation of transference: The case of monosyllabic salience in Hong Kong Cantonese. Linguistics 54(1): 1-58. http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/ling.2016.54.issue-1/ling-2015-0037/ling-2015-0037.xml

Luke, Kang-Kwong & Chaak-Ming Lau. (2008). On loanword truncation in Cantonese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 17(4). 347-362.

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