Perception of the merging tones in Hong Kong Cantonese: preliminary data on monosyllables

Peggy Pik-Ki Mok, Peggy Wai-Yi Wong, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Traditionally, there are six lexical tones (T) in Cantonese, but some tone pairs appear to be merging in Hong Kong Cantonese. Some young speakers do not distinguish the two rising tones T2/T5, or the two level tones T3/T6, or the low falling and low level tones T4/T6. 16 potential mergers and 11 control subjects participated in a perception experiment with an AX discrimination task using monosyllables. Both accuracy rate and reaction time were measured. Results show that the potential mergers generally performed less well than the control group in having a lower accuracy rate and longer reaction time, but they could still distinguish the merging tone pairs with above 90\% accuracy. Both groups found the T2/T5 pair difficult to distinguish. The results indicate that the merging processing of the tones is still in progress in the language as a whole and in individual speakers. Possible reasons for these patterns are discussed.