Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 347–362 | Cite as

On loanword truncation in Cantonese



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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Albright Adam (2002) Islands of reliability for regular morphology: Evidence from Italian. Language 78(5): 684–709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauer Robert S. (1985) The expanding syllabary of Hong Kong Cantonese. Cahiers Langues de l’Asie Orientale 14: 99–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bauer Robert S., Benedict Paul K (1997) Modern Cantonese phonology. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Bauer, Robert S., Kwan-hin Cheung, Pak-man Cheung, and Louise Ng. 2004. Acoustic correlates of focus-stress in Hong Kong Cantonese. In Papers from the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 2001, Tempe, 29–49. Arizona State University Program for Southeast Asian Studies Monograph Series Press.Google Scholar
  5. Chan Mimi, Helen Kwok. (1982) A study of lexical borrowing from English in Hong Kong Chinese. Hong Kong University Press, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  6. Chao Yuen Ren (1947) Cantonese Primer. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  7. Chao Yuen Ren (1968) A grammar of spoken Chinese. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  8. Cheung Hung-nin Samuel (1972) Xianggang Yueyu Yufa De Yanjiu [A study of the grammar of Hong Kong Cantonese]. Chinese University Hong Kong, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheung Kwan-hin (1986) The phonology of present-day Cantonese. University College London, DissertationGoogle Scholar
  10. Cheung Yat Shing (1986) Xianggang Guangzhouhua Yingyu Yinyi Jieci de Shengdiao Guize [On the tone system of loanwords from English in Hong Kong Cantonese]. Zhongguo Yuwen 1: 42–50Google Scholar
  11. Duanmu San (2000) The phonology of Standard Chinese. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  12. Duanmu San (2007) The phonology of Standard Chinese (2nd edition). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Ernestus Mirjam, Baayen Harald (2003) Predicting the unpredictable: Interpreting neutralized segments in Dutch. Language 79: 5–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Haugen Einar (1950) The analysis of linguistic borrowings. Language 26: 210–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayes Bruce, Zsuzsa Cziráky Londe (2006) Stochastic phonological knowledge: The case of Hungarian vowel harmony. Phonology 23: 59–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hsieh, Feng-fan, Michael Kenstowicz. (2008). Phonetic knowledge in tonal adaptation: Mandarin and English loanwords in Lhasa Tibetan. Journal of East Asian Linguistics. doi:10.1007/s10831-008- 9027-7.
  17. Inkelas, Sharon, Orhan Orgun, and Cheryl Zoll. 1997. The implications of lexical exceptions for the nature of grammar. In Derivations and constraints in phonology, ed. Iggy Roca, 393–418. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Ito, Junko. 1990. Prosodic minimality in Japanese. CLS 26-II: Papers from the Parasession on the Syllable in Phonetics and Phonology, 213–239.Google Scholar
  19. Ito, Junko and Armin Mester. 1993. Japanese phonology: Constraint domains and structure preservation. In The handbook of phonological theory, ed. John Goldsmith, 817–838. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Kiu K.L. (1977) Tonal rules for English loan words in Cantonese. Journal of the IPA 7(1): 17–22Google Scholar
  21. Lai Esther Yuk Wah (2002) Prosody and prosodic transfer in foreign language acquisition: Cantonese and Japanese. Muenchen, Lincom EuropaGoogle Scholar
  22. Lam, Chu Shan Erica. 2006. Monosyllabism in Cantonese: A study of Cantonese verbs. Ms., Final year essay, Department of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  23. Lee, Wai-sum, Fangxin Chen, K.K. Luke, Liqin Shen. (2002). A phonetic study of the prosodic properties of bisyllabic, trisyllabic, and polysyllabic compounds in Hong Kong Cantonese. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Speech Prosody, April 2002 in Aix en Provence, France.Google Scholar
  24. Li Charles N., Thompson Sandra A. (1981) Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  25. Li David. C.S. (1999) The functions and status of English in Hong Kong: A post-1997 update. English World-Wide 20(1): 67–110Google Scholar
  26. Lü Shuxiang (1963) Xiandai Hanyu and shuang yinjie wenti chu tan [A preliminary study of the problem of mono- and disyllabic expressions in modern Chinese]. Zhongguo Yuwen 1963(1): 11–23Google Scholar
  27. Luke Kang Kwong (2005) Cong shuangyu he shuangyan kan Xianggang shehui yuyan bianqian [Sociolinguistic Changes in Hong Kong: Bilingualism and Diglossia]. Journal of Chinese Sociolinguistics 1: 82–89Google Scholar
  28. Luke, Kang Kwong. 2007. Hong Kong Cantonese Corpus. Accessed 15th April 2007.
  29. Luke Kwong Kang, Richards J.C. (1982) English in Hong Kong: Functions and status. English World-Wide 3(1): 47–64Google Scholar
  30. Luke, Kang Kwong, Fangxin Chen, Wai-sum Lee, and Liqin Shen. 2001. A phonetic study of the prosodic properties of bisyllabic compounds in Hong Kong Cantonese. In Proceedings of the Conference on Phonetic Sciences, October 2001, Beijing.Google Scholar
  31. Myers-Scotton Carol (1992) Comparing codeswitching and borrowing. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 13: 19–39Google Scholar
  32. Norman Jerry (1988) Chinese. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Poplack Shana, Sankoff David (1984) Borrowing: The synchrony of integration. Linguistics 22: 99–135Google Scholar
  34. Poplack Shana, Sankoff David, Christopher Miller (1988) The social and linguistic processes of lexical borrowing and assimilation. Linguistics 26: 47–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rice Karen (1997) Japanese NC clusters and the redundancy of postnasal voicing. Linguistic Inquiry 28: 541–551Google Scholar
  36. Silverman Daniel (1992) Multiple scansions in loanword phonology: Evidence from Cantonese. Phonology 9: 289–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith Jennifer (2006) Loan Phonology is not all perception: Evidence from Japanese loan doublets. Japanese/Korean Linguistics 14: 63–74Google Scholar
  38. Swadesh Morris (1955) Towards greater accuracy in lexicostatistic dating. International Journal of American Linguistics 21: 21–137Google Scholar
  39. Yip Moira (1993) Cantonese loanword phonology and optimality theory. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 2: 261–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yip Moira (2002) Perceptual influences in Cantonese loanword phonology. Journal of the Phonetic Society of Japan 6: 4–21Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsThe University of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong

Personalised recommendations