November 25, 2007

The Pronunciation Awareness Series

A Cantonese speaker may mispronounce a word in 3 different ways. He could mix it up with a similar word, which often looks like the original word. This is known as mispronunciation (誤讀). It could be a lazy sound (懶音), or in some cases, a weird sound proposed by the "Proper Cantonese Pronunciation Movement" (粵語正音運動).

For examples:

  1. Mispronunciation
    重蹈覆轍 - [cung4 dou6 fuk1 cit3] becomes [cung tou1 fuk1 cit3]. The reader confuses the sound of 蹈 with that of 滔.
  2. Lazy sound
    朋友 - [pang4 jau5] becomes [pan4 jau5]. The 'ng' is reduced to 'n'.
  3. Weird / Evil sound
    機構 - [gei1 kou3] becomes [gei1 gou3]. A small group of people has been proposing the latter sound over the former one, which has been used by our parents and grandparents for decades, if not centuries.
We have to be very careful to separate lazy sounds with sounds condemned by the "Proper Cantonese Pronunciation Movement", but are in fact correct. It is very unfortunate that they are often mixed together when people talk about proper Cantonese pronunciation. The Proper Cantonese Pronunciation movement is a controversial topic, but lazy sounds are something definitely incorrect, and we should get rid of them completely.

In this series, I will talk about the lazy sounds and 'weird' sounds proposed by the "Proper Cantonese Pronunciation Movement". The objective of the series is to raise awareness of these two issues to the native-speakers.


Jon Shinkfield said...

Thanks for the info - I look forward to learning more about this aspect of Cantonese! And thanks for putting effort into your site, there's definitely a lack of Canto material made by native speakers.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

So far as I can tell, the only difference between the 'weird/evil sounds' advocated by the Proper Cantonese Pronunciation organization and the 'lazy sounds' is that the weird/evil sounds relate to sound changes that happened a long time ago and the lazy sounds relate to sound changes that are happening now. All languages change over time, and it's usually the case the current changes are regarded negatively as lazy, ugly, etc. In 100 years, the n -> l change in words such as 你 will also likely fall into the former category. Perhaps the lesson to take home here is that one uses language appropriately to the context. In a job interview 你 might be pronounced nei5, but when playing basketball with your friends, it might come out as lei5.