Skip to main content Accessibility help

The acquisition of phonology by Cantonese-speaking children*

  • Lydia K. H. So (a1) and Barbara J. Dodd (a2)

Little is known about the acquisition of phonology by children learning Cantonese as their first language. This paper describes the phoneme repertoires and phonological error patterns used by 268 Cantonese-speaking children aged 2;0 to 6;0, as well as a longitudinal study of tone acquisition by four children aged 1;2 to 2;0. Children had mastered the contrastive use of tones and vowels by two years. While the order of acquisition of consonants was similar to that reported for English, the rate of acquisition was more rapid. The developmental error patterns used by more than 10% of children are also reported as common in other languages. However, specific rules associated with Cantonese phonology were also identified. Few phonological errors were made after age four. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that the ambient language influences the implementation of universal tendencies in phonological acquisition.

Corresponding author
Department of Speech and Hearing, University of Queensland, St Lucia 4072, Australia.
Hide All

We are grateful to the children for their co-operation, and M. Hui and C. Chan for their enthusiasm and speed. The CRCG, University of Hong Kong and the Australian NHMRC provided financial assistance.

Hide All
Aitchison, J. (1987). Words in the mind. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bortolini, U. & Leonard, L. (1991). The speech of phonologically-disordered children acquiring Italian. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 5, 112.
Chomsky, N. & Halle, M. (1968). The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper & Row.
Clumeck, H., Barton, D., Macken, M. & Huntington, D. (1981). The aspiration contrast in Cantonese word-initial stops. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 9, 210–24.
Crystal, D. (1986). Prosodic development. In Fletcher, P. & Garman, M. (eds), Language acquisition: studies in first language development. Cambridge: C.U.P.
Cube, F. S. M. (1950). Xhosa manual. Johannesburg: Juta.
Dodd, B. J. (1975). The acquisition of phonological skills in normal, severely subnormal and deaf children. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, London University.
Enderby, P. & Philipp, R. (1986). Speech and language handicap: towards knowing the size of the problem. British Journal of Disorders of Communication 21, 151–65.
Ferguson, C. & Farwell, C. (1975). Words and sounds in early language acquisition. Language 51, 3949.
Gimson, A. (1989). An introduction to the pronunciation of English (4th edn.) Sevenoaks: Arnold.
Hashimoto, A. (1972). Studies in the Yue dialect. Cambridge: C.U.P.
Ingram, D. (1981). Procedures for the phonological analysis of children's language. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Ingram, D. (1989). First language acquisition: method, description and explanation. Cambridge: C.U.P.
Ingram, D. (1991). An historical observation on ‘Why ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’?’ Journal of Child Language 18, 711–13.
Jakobson, R. (1941/1968). Child language, aphasia and phonological universals. The Hague: Mouton.
Leonard, L., Schwartz, R., Allen, G., Swanson, L. & Loeb, D. (1989). Unusual phonological behaviour and the avoidance of homonymy in children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 32, 583–90.
Locke, J. (1983). Phonological acquisition and change. New York: Academic Press.
Macken, M. & Ferguson, C. (1983). Cognitive aspects of phonological development: model, evidence and issues. In Nelson, K. E. & van Kleek, A. (eds), Children's language, Vol. 3. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Magnusson, E. (1983). The phonology of language disordered children: production, perception and awareness. Lund: CWK Gleerup.
Mowrer, D. & Burger, S. (1991). A comparative analysis of the phonological acquisition of consonants in the speech of two and a half and six year old Xhosa- and English-speaking children. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 5, 139–64.
Ohala, J. (1980). Phonetic universals in phonological systems and their explanation. In E. Fischer-Jorgensen & N. Thorson (eds), Proceedings of the XlXth International Congress of Phonetic Science, Copenhagen, vol III.
Olmsted, D. (1971). Out of the mouths of babes. The Hague: Mouton.
Prather, E., Hedrick, D. & Kern, C. (1975). Articulation development between two and four years. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 40, 179–91.
Pye, C., Ingram, D. & List, H. (1987). A comparison of initial and final consonant acquisition in English and Quiché. In Nelson, K. E. & A, van Kleek (eds), Children's language, Vol. 6. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Slobin, D. (1986). Crosslinguistic studies of language acquisition, Vols 1 & 2. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Smith, N. (1973). The acquisition of phonology. Cambridge: C.U.P.
So, L. K. H. & Dodd, B. J. (1994). Phonologically disordered Cantonese-speaking children. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 8, 235–55.
Templin, M. (1957). Certain language skills in children, their development and interrelationships. Institute of Child Welfare Monograph Series, N° 26. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Tse, A. C.-Y. (1991). The acquisition process of Cantonese phonology–a case study. Unpublished M.Phil, thesis, University of Hong Kong.
Tse, J. K.-P. (1978). Tone acquisition in Cantonese: a longitudinal case study. Journal of Child Language 5, 191204.
Tse, S.-M. (1982). The acquisition of Cantonese phonology. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of British Columbia.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed