Linguistics and English Language

Undergraduate student commended for linguistic research on boat-dwelling community

Man Yan Priscilla Lam has been awarded the Best Experimental Design Award at EUYSRA for her research project on the phonology of Tanka Cantonese

Congratulations to 2nd year MA Linguistics student Man Yan Priscilla Lam who has received the “Best Experimental Design Award” at the Edinburgh University Young Scientific Research Association (EUYSRA) annual conference 2019.

EUYSRA

Priscilla received the award for her project on the phonology of Tanka, a Yue (Cantonese) dialect, spoken by boat-dwellers in Hong Kong.

Tap Mun, Hong Kong, which is one of the sites where Priscilla conducted interviews with Tanka speakers in December 2018
Tap Mun, Hong Kong, which is one of the sites where Priscilla conducted interviews with Tanka speakers. Photo by Priscilla Lam.

Investigating the Phonology of Tanka Cantonese

Priscilla’s research focuses on Tanka, a Cantonese dialect spoken by boat-dwellers in Hong-Kong.

Existing studies and data concerning this particular Cantonese dialect are very limited. The number of Tanka speakers in Hong Kong is in decline, a crucial factor being the demise of the fishing industry in recent decades, which resulted in increased assimilation into the ‘main’ Hong Kong community. Priscilla’s project aims to help preserve the culture and linguistic knowledge of Tanka.

In view of the declining number of Tanka speakers in Hong Kong, I hope to contribute to the preservation of Tanka culture through linguistic research. The key aim of this research is to document Tanka phonology and make data recorded from Tanka speakers available, thereby encouraging and facilitating future research on this Cantonese dialect.

Man Yan Priscilla Lam2nd year Linguistics student at the School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences

Convergence to and divergence from Hong Kong Cantonese

The project focuses on a selection of Tanka phonological features described in a previous study.

庄初升. (2009). 岭南地区水上居民 (疍家)的方言 (The Dialects of Sea Dwellers (Tanka) in Lingnan Region). 文化遗产, 3,126-132. 

Preliminary analysis suggests that for most of the selected features, data from Priscilla’s study do not consistently conform to the literature. More interestingly, among the data that do not conform to the literature, they show signs of both convergence to and divergence from Hong Kong Cantonese.

The complexity of results suggests that Tanka is not merely converging with the main variety of Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong; instead, there is likely to be other complex phonological phenomena happening in Tanka, which are possibly due to language-external and/or language-internal factors.

Impactful undergraduate research

This project is supported by the Edinburgh University Young Scientific Research Association (EUYSRA), which provided funding for research participant recruitment.

Priscilla also had the opportunity to present this research at the 9th Annual Conference of the Undergraduate Linguistics Association of Britain (ULAB) in April 2019.

ULAB

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