Document Type


Publication/Presentation Date

April 2020

Conference Location

The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH (hosted as a virtual conference)


We investigate the status of three ongoing tone mergers, comparing Heritage Cantonese in Toronto and Homeland Cantonese in Hong Kong, using conversational recordings from the Heritage Language Variation and Change (HLVC) Corpus (Nagy 2009). The mergers, which have been reported from experimental tasks in several Cantonese dialects (cf. Bauer et al. 2003, Mok et al. 2013, Zhang 2018) are: T2/T5 忍 jɐn35 / 引 jɐn23; T3/T6 印 jɐn33 / 孕 jɐn22; and T4/T6 仁 jɐn11 / 孕 jɐn22. In connected speech, many contextual variables influence the acoustic value of a tone in a given syllable (cf. Stanford 2016), so each token extracted from Labovian sociolinguistic interviews is coded for the segmental value of its onset, nucleus and coda, its position in the utterance, whether it is in a compound word, and the tones of the adjacent syllables. We have 7,495 tokens from 32 speakers (12 Generation 1, 12 Generation 2, 8 Homeland), but our most robust analysis moves forward with 2,400 tokens, excluding tokens that appear only in contexts where the other tone of the pair is not found. After normalization of syllable duration and speaker mean pitch, and conversion to semitones to account for differences in speaker pitch ranges (Zhu 1999, Edmondson et al. 2004), we find that two measures best represent the extent of each merger: (a) pitch at the 90% duration mark of each token and (b) the slope of the pitch track from 10% to 90% duration. Mixed Effects Models are fit to the data with, e.g., T2 vs. T5 as a binary dependent variable, the pitch measurements and the above-mentioned contextual factors as fixed effects, and word and speaker as random effects. If pitch emerges as significantly distinct for the two tones when contextual factors are thus controlled for, there is no merger. Comparing models fit to the data from each generation group, we determine whether the same social and/or linguistic factors condition the tone merger and measure how merged eachtone-pair is. Preliminary analysis shows the merger to be more advanced in the two heritage generations (which do not differ from each other) than the homeland group for T2/T5 and T4/T6. We are eager to discuss possible connections between gaps in the tone inventory (e.g., no T4 with /d/ onset, no T6 with /t/ onset) and mergers in progress. Are the previously reported mergers, based only on minimal pairs where both tones occur with the same onsets over- or under-stating the status of the merger? Do the gaps indicate mergers completed long ago?