The Hong Kong English Syllable Structure

Lian Hee Wee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
229 Downloads (Pure)


Hong Kong English (HKE) is a contact variety between two languages that have very distinct syllable structure: Cantonese with a simple structure allowing only three segments and English where syllables can be quite large. Unraveling the structure of the HKE syllable is however quite difficult because evidence is scarce. We do not have a sufficiently large corpus of HKE poetry and rhyme, neither has HKE been known to have language games (ludling) that involve syllable manipulation. In particular, ludlings are the phonological equivalent of a cloud chamber where the syllables may be smashed and their components observed, and hence it is a good probe into HKE syllable structure. In this study, speakers are taught a form of ludling involving backwards manipulation by encoding polysyllabic Cantonese words in reverse order of the syllables, hence Hong Kong is encoded as Kong Hong. These speakers are then invited to encode English words (both mono- and polysyllabic). This study reports a number of interesting findings on the basis of the range of possible backwards manipulations: (i) HKE allows diphthongs as the nucleus of a syllable; (ii) the HKE coda prefers plosives or nasals; (iii) the HKE onset allows clusters but fricatives tend to be treated as syllabic; and (iv) HKE allows syllabic obstruent segments.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching Chinese English
Subtitle of host publicationthe State of the Art
EditorsZhichang Xu, Deyuan He, David Deterding
PublisherSpringer Cham
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783319531106
ISBN (Print)9783319531083, 9783319850641
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameMultilingual Education
ISSN (Print)2213-3208

User-Defined Keywords

  • Syllable
  • Structure
  • Backwards manipulation
  • Play language
  • Hong Kong


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