Lecture: Innovation or Retention? On the [ɵ] > [ɐ] sound change in Yue dialects
Dialect variation offers us huge insights in the history of a language. Through looking at the geographical distribution of dialect variants and comparing inter-dialect group variation, we have gathered evidence to propose a previously unattested piece of phonology history for Yue, namely *ɵ > [ɐ], which is found in the majority of Yue dialects.
Within Yue and Guinan Pinghua dialects spoken in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces in southern China, there is a synchronic correspondence between the vowel [ɵ] and [ɐ]. For the dialects which have the rhymes [-ɵn] and [-ɵt], they form a minimal pair with -ɐn and -ɐt (e.g. [tshɵt5] ‘out’ vs. [tshɐt5] ‘seven’), meaning these dialects have as extra phoneme /ɵ/.
Our study is based on the data available in the Yubao online database (Zhongguo Yuyan Ziyuan Baohu Yanjiu Zhongxin 2022), with 78 Yue and Guinan Pinghua. We specifically looked at words which are pronounced as [-ɵn] and [-ɵt] in the Guangzhou dialect; this class of words consists of 15 characters in the database.
By looking at the geographical distribution of the presence of the ɵ : ɐ contrast, we found that the majority of the Yue dialects do not show such contrast. An interesting areal pattern emerged here is that /-ɵn/ and /-ɵt/ can only be found near Guangzhou, Zhongshan, as well as Hong Kong and Macau, but they are surrounded by dialects which do not show the contrast. In this paper, working with the assumption that the areal pattern we see is the result of a sound change, we would like to explore the following research questions:
1) When did this change occur?
2) Where is the origin of this sound change?
3) Is the present-day Guangzhou-type pattern an innovation or a retention?
The difference between the Yong-Xun dialect group from Guangxi and the Guangfu dialect group is the key for our findings, as they split rather late (around 150-350 years ago), which can offer us some insights in the phonological history of Yue. With the assumption that Yong-Xun dialects also had *ɵ, we believe that the change occurred after the formation of the Yong-Xun dialects. That implies the change occur in Guangxi first and it diffused to Guangdong, as the dialect map suggests. Lastly, we conclude that the outstanding pattern found in Guangzhou-type dialects is caused by the retention of *ɵ. A possible explanation for the retention in Guangdong might due to attitudinal reasons, but it awaits for further research.
中國語言資源保護研究中心 Zhongguo Yuyan Ziyuan Baohu Yanjiu Zhongxin [Language Resource Protection Research Centre of China] (2022). 中國語言資源保護工程採錄展示平台 Zhongguo Yuyan Ziyuan Baohu Zailu Zhanshi Pingtai [The Platform of the Language Resource Protection Program of China, also known as the Yubao Database informally]. Link: https://zhongguoyuyan.cn/