Revisiting phonotactic repairs in Cantonese loanword phonology: it’s all about sC


Different factors have been claimed to affect the choice of repair on English words with ill-formed Cantonese phonotactics in Cantonese loanword phonology. The first half of this paper presents experimental evidence showing that variation is observed only when repairing different onset cluster types: there is vowel epenthesis for s + consonant (sC) clusters but deletion of the second consonant for other (OR) clusters. I propose that the Syllable Mapping Grammar (SMG), the syllable structure mapping component of the perception grammar, drives such variation: Cantonese speakers assign different phonological representations based on cluster well-formedness. When they perceive words with an sC cluster, their SMG assigns [s] as syllabic. A full OT grammar is also provided. I present evidence for the knowledge of cluster well-formedness from speakers of languages like Cantonese where complex onsets are absent. Potential sources of such knowledge and other alternatives to my proposal are also discussed.

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  1. 1.

    As pointed out by a reviewer, the generalization here focuses on English words with a simplex fricative coda. For words with a coda cluster in which one member is a fricative, please refer to Kenstowicz (2011).

  2. 2.

    Since there is no voicing contrast in Cantonese, English words ending with the voiced fricatives were also used in this experiment.

  3. 3.

    It is a simplified version of a family of constraints that bans syllabic consonants with different sonority profiles (e.g. *Peak/Stop ≫ *Peak/Fricative ≫ *Peak/Nasal…).


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I would like to thank Ellen Broselow, Christina Bethin, Michael Becker, and the anonymous JEAL reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. Part of this research was presented in the 4th Workshop on innovations in Cantonese Linguistics, the 27th Annual Conference of International Association of Chinese Linguistics, and Chicago Linguistics Society 55. I thank the audiences for their questions and comments. Thanks are also due to the participants of the experiments.

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Appendix 1: Stimuli for experiment 1

  RP English Epenthetic form Deleted form
blank blæŋk peŋle:ŋ pe:ŋ
bleep blip pi:li:p pi:p
blink blɪŋk pɪŋlɪŋ pɪŋ
block blɒk pɔklɔk pɔk
clap kʰlæp khelep khep
click kʰlɪk kheklek khek
clip kʰlɪp khi:li:p khiːp
clog kʰlɒg khɔklɔk khɔk
flip flɪp fi:li:p fi:p
flirt flɜːt fɜtlɜt fɜt
flood flʌd fʌtlʌt fʌt
flow fləʊ fowlow fow
glare ɡleə ke:le: ke:
gleam gli:m ki:li:m ki:m
glow gləʊ kowlow kow
glue glu: ku:lu: ku:
plan phlæn phe:le:n phe:n
play phlej phejlej phej
plot phlɒt phɔtlɔt phɔt
plug phlʌɡ phʌklʌ:k pʌ:k
slam slæm si:lem sem
slap slæp si:lep sep
sleep slip si:lip sip
slide slajd si:lajt sajt

Appendix 2: Stimuli for experiment 2

  RP English Epenthetic form Faithful form Deleted form
advice ədvaɪs etwajsi etwajs etwaj
base bejs pejsi pejs pej
belief bɪliːf piliːfu piliːf piliː
bonus bəʊnəs pownʌsi pownʌs pownʌ
captive kæptɪv keptifu keptif kepti
cave kejv kejfu kejf kej
course kɔːs kɔːsi kɔːs kɔː
invoice ɪnvɔjs inwɔ:jsi inwɔ:js inwɔ:j
motif məʊˈtiːf mowti:fu mowti:f mowti:
motive məʊtɪv mowtifu mowtif mowti
office ɒfɪs ɔfʌsi ɔfʌs ɔfʌ
olive ɒlɪv ɔli:fu ɔli:f ɔli:
pass pɑːs pɑːsi pɑːs pɑː
police pəliːs powliːsi powliːs powli:
reserve rɪzɜːv wi:sɜːfu wi:sɜːf wi:sɜː
serve sɜːv sɜːfu sɜːf sɜː
service sɜːvɪs sɜːfʌsi sɜːfʌs sɜːfʌ
wife wajf wajfu wajf waj

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Yeung, A.HL. Revisiting phonotactic repairs in Cantonese loanword phonology: it’s all about sC. J East Asian Linguist 29, 279–309 (2020).

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  • Cantonese
  • Phonology
  • Loanword adaptation
  • Perception
  • Production
  • Onset clusters
  • Phonotactic repairs