Phonological Differences in Hong Kong English

Hausarbeit, 2013

10 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. The language situation in Hong Kong

3. Phonological differences in Hong Kong English
3.1 Voicing contrasts and glottal stops
3.2 Final consonant cluster simplification
3.3 Initial consonant cluster simplification
3.4 Dental fricatives
3.5 The /l/-vocalization
3.6 The /n/-/l/ merger
3.7 Diphthongs followed by consonants
3.8 You pronounced [tʃu]
3.9 The vowel inventory
3.10 Compound and sentence stress

4. Analysis of the Jackie Chan interviews in terms of phonological differences in
his Hong Kong English

5. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Hong Kong came under British control as a result of the Opium Wars with China from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860 and developed since then as a trading centre. Throughout the British colonial period from 1842 to 1997 a minority of British administrators and traders co-existed with a large majority of Chinese traders and laborers. Since most Chinese could speak Cantonese, there was no need for a lingua franca, but only for a language to use with influential foreigners (Melchers 163). Therefore the knowledge of English was spread almost entirely through the education system, which increasingly used English as a medium (ibid.). In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. Today, English is very widely used in the educational and legal system and for dealing with international business partners (ibid. 164). Moreover, English is becoming ‘localized’ and is used to some extend for everyday interaction among locals who all speak Cantonese (ibid.).

Nevertheless, the English spoken in Hong Kong differs in regard to grammar, lexis and phonological aspects from Standard English as Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American (GA). The following paper deals with the phonological differences in Hong Kong English in comparison to Standard English. First I will present a general view of the language situation in Hong Kong. Then in the third chapter some of the main phonological variations existing in Hong Kong English will be presented. In a further step, I will analyze if these variations can be found in two interviews with Hong Kong-born actor Jackie Chan who has lived and worked several years in the United States[1] and examine how they differ from Standard English, before summing up the results in the conclusion.

2. The language situation in Hong Kong

Setter describes the language situation in Hong Kong as ‘trilingual and biliterate’ at the same time (4). With ‘trilingual’ she refers to the three official spoken languages Cantonese, the first language in Hong Kong, English and Putonghua (spoken Mandarin Chinese) and ‘biliterate’ refers to the two written languages, which are used by the average Hong Kong citizen, Standard Chinese and English. According to the official Hong Kong government’s website, in 2013 89.5% of the population are Cantonese speakers, 4% speakers of other Chinese dialects, 3.5% English speakers, 1.4% Putonghua speakers and 1.6% have other languages as their mother-tongue.[2] Even though English is the mother-tongue of only 3.5% of the population, Chinese and English are both the official languages of Hong Kong. However, for historical reasons English is the predominant language of the government, the legal system, and the professional and business sectors. Hence all official signs, like traffic or government sings, are written in both English and traditional Chinese characters (ibid. 5). Moreover, Hong Kong like almost every metropolitan city in Asia has English-language newspapers, and radio stations broadcasting in English (Stanlaw 282). According to Setter, English is an important lingua franca for Hong Kong as a means of communication with the outside world in the fields of banking and finance, business and the tourism and hospitality industry (5). Multinational corporations are known to choose Hong Kong as their Asia-Pacific headquarters, where business is largely conducted in English (ibid.). Consequently English is perceived as a socially prestigious language, associated with increased income and a high level of education.

The average Hong Kong citizen is mostly bilingual, being able to communicate in Cantonese and simple English (ibid). Nevertheless since 1997 more and more Hong Kong citizens are becoming trilingual, due to the fact that Putonghua has been introduced into the curriculum in the education system and a large number of tourist visiting Hong Kong are from mainland China. Mandarin Chinese, on the other hand, is becoming more and more important in administration and for interaction with people from the rest of China (Melchers 164). Consequently most taxi drivers, salespersons and people working in the tourism sector are able to communicate in English, Putonghua and Cantonese. In schools the mother tongue Cantonese is used as a medium of instruction, except in English lessons, where English is used as the medium of instruction (Setter 5).

3. Phonological differences in Hong Kong English

According to Setter, the pronunciation of English in Hong Kong ranges from native-like British English Received Pronunciation (RP) and/or General American (GA) accent features to virtual unintelligibility outside of Hong Kong environment (12). Hong Kong English is clearly influenced by features of Cantonese phonology. For example, Hong Kong English speakers often avoid consonant clusters, which are usually not found in Cantonese. Hong Kong vowels are of interest in Cantonese, like English, is a vowel-rich language, but phoneme categories are not generally similar in English and Cantonese, and this can lead to differences in vowel realization in comparison with, for example, RP” (ibid.). In the following, ten features of Hong Kong English in terms of vowel and consonant realization, consonant cluster production and also features such as word and sentence stress are presented and explained.




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Phonological Differences in Hong Kong English
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Introduction to Intercultural Communication in Post-colonial Contexts
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
486 KB
phonological, differences, hong, kong, english
Arbeit zitieren
Daria Poklad (Autor:in), 2013, Phonological Differences in Hong Kong English, München, GRIN Verlag,


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