A comparison of "old-style" and "new-style" of the general Hakka accent as spoken by the "indigenous inhabitants" of Hong Kong

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A comparison of "old-style" and "new-style" of the general Hakka accent as spoken by the "indigenous inhabitants" of Hong Kong

 

Author: Lau, Chun-fat
Title: A comparison of "old-style" and "new-style" of the general Hakka accent as spoken by the "indigenous inhabitants" of Hong Kong
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2000
Subject: Hakka dialects -- China -- Hong Kong
Hakka (Chinese people) -- China -- Hong Kong
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Pages: viii, 343 leaves ; 30 cm
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b1535333
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/1453
Abstract: This thesis is a field work collection of the existing variety of Hakka dialect spoken by the indigenous population of Hong Kong and a comparison of the Old- and New-Style. The comparison enables us to see how the Cantonese dialect has affected its phonology, vocabulary and grammar. Hakka was widely spoken in the rural area of Hong Kong before the city developed into a metropolis after the seventies. Hakka settlers from Northeastern Guangdong about three centuries ago founded their home in more than 400 villages, and their tongue was relatively undisturbed as Hakka was used as the medium of instruction to learn Chinese in most parts of the New Territories as late as 1940. As the political milieu changed a lot in the last 50 years, Hong Kong emerged as a metropolis with Cantonese dominating the school, the media and later also the Government. Hakka is now restricted to remote settlements, old people and only in the family or village domain. Therefore, this is the last minute to catch a picture of the vanishing Hakka dialect in Hong Kong. My first concern is to find out how the old speakers today speak Hakka in Hong Kong, which I name as "Old Style" Hakka. There are a few old speakers who were educated in Hakka and still use it as a daily language. Two of them are now over 90 and they are chosen as my informants. Apart from reading aloud a list of 3810 Chinese characters, I also talked with some old speakers in order to obtain a list of lexicon and the pronunciation in informal speech. The regional and individual variation among the speakers are also noted. The old speakers' speech provides a basis for comparison with that of the younger speakers. I collected 1575 specific Hong Kong Hakka expressions from the "Old-Style" speakers. It is found that about 81% of them are different from Cantonese and about 13% are different from Meixianhua (MXH), the quasi standard Hakka. Interviews were also conducted with "younger speakers" between 20 and 70 of age, who are characterized by lacking an education in Hakka. After close contacts with these "younger speakers", I found that their Hakka fluency depends on frequency of their use of Hakka, rather than their age. A short questionnaire was set to find out their linguistic background and usage: their competence in Hakka is shown by their pronunciation of about 50 typical characters and 30 expressions, which easily divides the speakers into two layers. Those who are educated in Cantonese but still use Hakka for the most part of their family life and / or working language are marked as "Middle-Style" speakers, as opposed to from those "New-Style" speakers who only use Hakka infrequently, in such occasions as family reunion. On average, "Middle-Style" speakers are older than "New-Style" speakers, but the grouping is complicated by the degree of development of their surrounding and their chances of contact with "Old-Style" speakers. Interesting difference are found between these two varieties; both are the result of the influence of Cantonese. The pronunciations of the character by three typical speakers of the Old, Middle and New styles respectively were compared to show their difference in the initials, rimes and tones in terms of their correspondence with phonological catalogues in Middle Chinese. The pronunciations in MXH, Cantonese and Putonghua were also listed for comparison. The data show that the Hakka variety in Hong Kong resembles that of Meixian, but there are some important differences such as absence of the apical vowel, the "schwa, the medial [u] and reduced use of medial [i] in the rimes. As a result, the phonology is altered significantly enough to cause communication problems, which are in turn compounded by the differences in the lexicon. Although Hong Kong Hakka contains expressions that are more Cantonese-like, it also uses some expressions unknown to Cantonese and MXH speakers alike. However, the younger speakers have lost their competence in their ancestral tongue to different extents, and their phonology and vocabulary are getting more and more influenced by Cantonese. "New-Style" speakers seem to keep only the expressions or pronunciations that they often hear or use them and simply replace the other items with Cantonese loans, or pronounce them with a strong Cantonese flavor. Therefore, the "New-Style" Hakka differs significantly from the "Old-Style", with the "Middle-Style" lying in between. The results are present in tables to illustrate the degree of penetration of Cantonese into Hakka. My analysis shows that Hakka as spoken in Hong Kong is strongly affected by Cantonese, and almost every Hakka speaker is subject to with different degree of Cantonese influence. This is an interesting picture of a vanishing dialect, so far unreported, not at least with such a breadth and depth. It serves as a record of how a weaker language confronting a stronger language in a particular speech community dies out in a matter of two generations. Moreover, this study also explains the discrepancies between the past reports on the Hakka spoken in Hong Kong, in terms of the informants having different linguistic background.

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