Title of Work

Contact-induced splits in Toronto Heritage Cantonese mid-vowels

Document Type


Publication/Presentation Date

January 2016





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This paper illustrates how contact can facilitate the development of phonemic and allophonic splits by presenting results from a study of vowel variation and change in Toronto Cantonese, a variety of Cantonese spoken in a heritage language contact setting. The data includes hour-long sociolinguistic interviews from speakers from two different generational backgrounds. The vowel space of each of 20 speakers was created based on F1 and F2 measurements of 105 tokens per speaker (15 tokens for each of 7 monophthongs). This paper focuses on the results for two of the mid vowels (/ɛ/ and /ɔ/) where there is evidence for the development of two phonetically conditioned splits based on velar context. A third split, discussed in Tse (In Press), may have triggered the development of these two splits among second-generation speakers. Phonological influence from Toronto English is one possible explanation for these splits. Overall, the results of this study may partially address why there are more documented cases of vowel mergers than vowel splits. Splits may be more likely to develop in certain contact settings that have been under-researched in the variationist sociolinguistics literature.