Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 347-362

First online:

On loanword truncation in Cantonese

  • Kang-kwong LukeAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, The University of Hong Kong Email author 
  • , Chaak-ming LauAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, The University of Hong Kong

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In spite of a powerful preference for bisyllabicity identified in previous research on loanword truncation in Cantonese, more new forms are increasingly found which have been truncated down to a monosyllable. An examination of a 1,400-word corpus of Cantonese loanwords collected over a span of 50 years reveals a significant increase in the number of loan verbs and adjectives in more recent times, as opposed to the almost exclusive adoption of nouns previously. Verbs, as opposed to nouns, are found to be much more prone to undergoing “monosyllabic truncation.” This is found to stem from an asymmetry between nouns and verbs in the native language. A preference for monosyllabicity, particularly in the case of verbs and adjectives, is confirmed via a study of a Cantonese translation of the Swadesh word list. A further investigation of a corpus of everyday conversations uncovers lexical statistics that may have been mirrored in the truncation process. Finally, the greater readiness for the importation of verbs in more recent times is explained in terms of Haugen’s “stages of bilingualism.”


Loanword phonology Truncation Cantonese Word length Noun–verb asymmetry