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Descriptions Of Hong Kong English Phonology

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By Author: Tracy carter
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The contribution of the WE position has been to provide descriptions of HKE phonology, which as far as possible 'needs to be investigated on its own terms' (Hung 2000:138). Recent studies include those by Hung (2000) and Deterding et al. (2008). Hung's study involved recordings of 15 university students reading word lists, while that of Deterding et al. used interviews to explore the ways words are pronounced in connected speech. The subjects in the latter study were teacher trainees and their overall proficiency level appears to be higher than the first-year arts and science undergraduates in Hung's study.

The main features of the Hong Kong accent found in both studies included a reduced vowel system, with a particular tendency to merge the vowel pairs [as, e] and; such reduced systems are a common feature of so-called New Varieties of English or NVEs, for example Singapore English. Diphthongs such as [ei] and [ai], on the other hand, tended not to be monopthongized as in other NVEs such as Singaporean or Indian English which have a simpler inventory of true diphthongs (Hung, 2000:127). In terms of consonant sounds, the voiceless dental fricative [0] was used by a majority of the subjects in both studies. Deterding et al.'s data show ED Hardy Hoodies that there was an exception to this in final position, where a majority substituted. The voiced dental fricative [d] was assumed to be non-existent in HKE by Hung, with words such as this being pronounced [dis]; Deterding et al.'s study does not cover them in detail, but does mention the common substitution of [d]. Dark [I] vocalisation was found to occur in both studies. The HKE phenomenon of [n, 1] conflation occurred quite widely in Hung's data, but was found to be 'rare' by Deterding et al. Finally, Deterding et al. also looked at consonant cluster patterns and found that initial clusters were subject to substitution, with deletion often observed in final clusters. A summary of the similarities and differences between the two studies is shown in Table 1.

While the similarities between the two descriptions allow some generalisations to be made about what constitutes segmental phonological features of an 'identifiable Hong Kong accent' (Hung, 2000:119), the differences point to what might be called the variability problem: individual speakers vary greatly in the extent to which they display these features in their normal speech, so it is ED Hardy Boots perhaps difficult to talk of a 'Hong Kong accent' without being clear about the proficiency level of the speakers. It seems likely that the subjects of the Deterding et al. study generally had a higher level of proficiency, as their phonological systems were somewhat more developed (there was less conflation of [n] and [1], for example). And while there will be features in common between speakers at various levels, there are very great differences between the Hong Kong accent of a high-proficiency speaker such as Chief Executive Donald Tsang and that of a low-proficiency speaker, such as the sole Hong Kong sample in the online Speech Accent Archive (Weinberger, 2008).

Researchers in the WE paradigm have acknowledged this variability, so that Hung (2000:122) visualises 'a continuum with an "idealized" HKE phonology at one end and a standard British or American phonology...at the other'. But the variability problem is not insurmountable, and the insights provided by ELF research may be useful in evaluating language data from a WE perspective.

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