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Can heritage speakers innovate allophonic splits due to contact?

Tse, Holman (2019) Can heritage speakers innovate allophonic splits due to contact? In: Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting, January 5, 2019, New York, NY.

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Most studies of heritage language phonology show maintenance of phonemic contrasts (Benmamoun et al 2013), but few have observed the innovation of allophonic splits using sociolinguistic methodology. The focus of this presentation is on the Toronto Heritage Cantonese innovation of a pre-nasal split in /ɛ/, a feature that has not been described in other varieties of Cantonese. Is this innovation a contact-induced change?

The data comes from a subset of sociolinguistic interviews (spontaneous speech samples) recorded as part of the Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto Project (Nagy 2011). The analysis involves a total of 32 speakers: 12 GEN1 (born in Hong Kong, immigrated to Canada as adults, Cantonese-dominant), 12 GEN2 (raised in Canada, English-dominant, variable proficiency in Cantonese), and eight Homeland (or “HK”, lifelong Hong Kong residents, Cantonese-dominant) speakers. For each speaker, the F2 measurements of all usable tokens of /ɛ/ (N=2519) are included. These measurements were normalized using the Lobanov Method (Thomas & Kendall 2007) and are based on a vowel space with 11 categories (Zee 1999).

The analysis follows Nagy's (2011) protocol for building arguments in support of contact-induced change. This involves making several comparisons. Results from these comparisons are summarized below:

1) Inter-generational comparison (GEN1 vs. GEN2): Is there evidence for change? Two separate mixed effects models for GEN1 and GEN2 data were run, both with "word" and "speaker" as random effects. The GEN1 model did not have any significant effects. The GEN2 model showed phonetic context (pre-nasal vs. open syllable) significant (N=836, p < 0.001) as a main effect, with higher F2 before nasals. This shows that pre-nasal /ɛ/ fronting is a GEN2 innovation. Further analysis of GEN2 data showed that those who lead in fronting pre-nasal /ɛ/ are those who code-mix the most when speaking Cantonese. No other speaker factors tested (including Age, Sex, and Ethnic Orientation Score) were significant. This relationship between code-mixing and innovation provides evidence for contact-induced change.

2) Cross-linguistic comparison (Toronto Cantonese vs. Toronto English): Does the innovative variant match a similar feature in the source language? The fronted pre-nasal /ɛ/ in Toronto Cantonese appears to be phonetically similar to the raised pre-nasal allophone of /æ/ in Toronto English (Boberg 2008), which is also found in other dialects of North American English. Furthermore, pre-nasal /æ/ in Toronto English is phonologically [+tense] as is Cantonese /ɛ/ (Yue-Hashimoto 1972). This phonetic and phonological match supports an argument for contact-induced change.

3) Diatopic comparison (Toronto vs. HK): Is the same change found in the Homeland variety? No evidence for change in /ɛ/ was found for HK speakers. The lack of the same change in HK strengthens a contact-induced change explanation for the Toronto data.

The innovation of pre-nasal /ɛ/ fronting in Toronto Heritage Cantonese, thus, appears to be influenced by Toronto English. This finding raises doubts about heritage speaker phonological representations being identical to those of non-heritage baseline speakers as Polinsky & Kagan (2007) suggest. This study also illustrates a rarely observed contact-induced allophonic split influenced by the societally dominant language.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Tse, Holmanhbt3@pitt.eduhbt30000-0002-2398-5776
Date: 5 January 2019
Event Title: Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting
Event Dates: January 5, 2019
Event Type: Conference
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Linguistics
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: sociophonetics, sound change, Chinese - Yue, bilingualism, variationist sociolinguistics
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2019 13:45
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2019 13:45


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