A Sociolinguistic Study on LCP of Chinese in Four Regions and Its Implication on Lexicography


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date5 Jan 2024


In this study, the main concern is the phenomenon of literary and colloquial pronunciations (LCP, 文白異讀) in Modern Standard Chinese and Cantonese, and also common in other Chinese dialects and languages that make use of Chinese loanwords such as Japanese and Vietnamese. Literary and colloquial pronunciation (LCP) is a common phono-lexical phenomenon of Chinese characters with variant pronunciations in Modern Standard Chinese and Cantonese. Nowadays it constitutes one of the trickiest issues in Chinese pronunciation standardization.

This study aims to study the phenomenon of LCP of Chinese characters in Modern Standard Chinese and Cantonese with a concentration on its relation to social stratification and to take an integrated approach based on sociolinguistics. In addition, this study aims to verify William WANG’s (1969) Lexical Diffusion Theory, to exemplify the feasibility of postulation of Labov’s (1994) Variable Rules and to study how localization/decentralization and centralization as two competing forces interact in Modern Standard Chinese and Cantonese, thus bridging diachronic linguistics and synchronic linguistics in the study of changes and variations of pronunciation. It is hoped that this kind of socio-dialectological study will be used as a sustainable means to keep track of language change through time and space, so as to provide academically-sound guidance in language standardization, language teaching and learning, lexicography, human-machine voice interaction, input method etc.

Based on the discussion of the Neogrammarian school in linguistic theory and William WANG’s theory of sound change, this study believes that WANG’s (1969) Lexical Diffusion Theory better describes the process of sound dynamic change. This theory is used as a theoretical basis to explore the variation of LCP of Modern Standard Chinese in four regions in China and of Cantonese in Hong Kong.

Standard Chinese and other dialects, such as Hong Kong Cantonese, contain numerous instances of LCP, which are still difficult points in learning, mastering, and speaking. Speakers often confuse and misuse them easily, leading to variation in pronunciation and increased pronunciation errors, which can also result in the adoption of new rules for inherited traditional pronunciations, causing changes in the phono-lexical system and even leading to some comprehension confusion.

To explore the actual situation of the use of LCP of Modern Standard Chinese and Hong Kong Cantonese, this study collected and examined the real pronunciation of LCP used by language communities of different ages, identity backgrounds, and language attitudes through questionnaires. This study found that colloquial pronunciations are more commonly used in Modern Standard Chinese and Cantonese and have replaced the literary pronunciations due to socio-cultural, gender, age, and educational differences, becoming a trend in the use of LCP in modern Chinese and Cantonese.

The overlooked aspects in the practical use and standardization of LCP are discussed. Based on the findings of this study and in combination with existing theoretical research, the authoritative dictionaries from both sides of the Taiwan Strait are analyzed and compared. The current treatment of the Chinese characters with LCP and the existing problem are objectively described from a lexicographical perspective. Furthermore, feasible suggestions for practical improvement in language education and language learning tools concerning LCP are provided with seriatim detail in different aspects of language use. Finally, the proposed mechanism for standardizing the Chinese LCP is presented.