In Canto how widespread is this "lazy sounds"/懶音 phenomenon & what's your opinion on it e.g. Letting it just happen or trying to "correct" it? I've heard things like "nobody ever says 我 as ngo or 五 as ng anymore" but idk
AHAAAAAA this is a REALLY REALLY good ask !!!!!! I’ve gotten into some heated discussions with Cantonese speakers about “懶音” but as a (baby) descriptive linguist I just sit back and enjoy the show tbh. Humans have been complaining about the deterioration of human language since the beginning of human history, this is nothing new or special LOL. The change is actually very exciting, because it is a fairly recent shift, with a huge wave of pronunciation differences happening sometime after World War 2. Of course, sound shifts, like any other language shift, happen in layers over time, so the majority of speakers who have merged certain sounds together are still within the younger generation. Also, maybe you’d find it interesting to note that an earlier change occurred sometime in the 1800′s to early 1900′s, where sibilants got depalatalized in words like 張, 昌, 傷, in contrast to its non-palatal counterparts 將, 搶, 相; a distinction that still exists in many Northern Mandarin varieties (the classic zh/z, sh/s, ch/c), but in modern HK Cantonese we would pronounce the sets 張/將, 昌/搶, 傷/相 as zoeng1, coeng1 and soeng1 respectively, with no clear distinction within each set. (although some non-HK varieties have maintained the distinctions - older GZ generations still keep some distinctions I believe, but the younger GZ generation would speak similarly to people in HK)
My speech actually has most of the sound changes, because when I was younger I tried to imitate a HK accent in an attempt to make myself sound more native, so the way my brain interpreted “more HK sounding” was to adapt as many of these sound changes as possible LOL (oddly enough, before I even knew “懶音” was a thing). For example, I do find myself:
- deleting ng initials a lot while also adding them where they weren’t originally (愛 oi > ngoi, 眼 ngaan > aan, 銀 ngan > an)
- I have the gwo > go, kwo > ko shift (過 gwo > go, 國 gwok > gok)
- sometimes i mix up final k/t (like in 特別 dak bit > dat?k? bit or 突然 dat jin > dak jin - funnily enough, i struggled for a second when i typed out 突然 just now in jyutping lollllll)
- and i also have the classic n > l merger (你 nei > lei，奶 naai > laai，男 naam > laam)
The one change that I don’t find myself doing too much is the final ng > n merger, although I’ve heard this particularly in stereotypical 港女 speech (靚 leng > len, 橙色 caang sik > caan sik/sek, 正 zeng > zen).
One “argument” against sound change in Cantonese that I’ve heard time and time again is that we are going against what the Qieyun or Guangyun rime dictionaries have written down, since we’re losing sound distinctions. and for some highly prescriptivist Cantonese linguists, this is extremely disastrous, because once the change has occurred and a large population of people have adapted to the change, it’s very very difficult to change back the way millions of people speak. But of course, I see absolutely no problem with that, because Sinitic varieties have been changing for THOUSANDS of years. The Qieyun and Guangyun were written in 600 AD AND 1000 AD RESPECTIVELY, why are we prescribing how people should be speaking based off of thousand year old records? That being said, the Qieyun/Guangyun dictionaries are EXTREMELY EXTREMELY important in learning about Chinese phonology and to Sinitic linguistics in general, but I think it’s problematic to assume that somehow we are magically going to maintain all sound distinctions with no losses. That’s why I roll my eyes when I see Youtube videos about 粵語正讀 like “pls spare me from ur overly prescriptivist ways i do nut need u to tell me how to do the spek”
On a relevant note, if Old Chinese had never lost its derivational affixes, the Chinese varieties MIGHT (key word: MIGHT) not even have developed tones, although ofc it would be 100% impossible for a language to remain completely frozen in time for thousands of years, especially if people were actively using it on a daily basis. As well, ever since the rime dictionaries were written down, we have been merging a lot of initial consonants, and we actually lost the entire voiced consonant set in some Sinitic varieties (we have no b, d, g initial consonants in Cantonese OR Mandarin, contrary to popular belief - shocking, I know - although there’s still b, d, and g in Taiwanese Hokkien and Shanghainese for example). Some people act as if the “懶音” of today are some kind of new event started by the Youth of Today™ but it’s been happening since the time of Confucius and even way before that. Humans generally use language creatively and efficiently: we may shorten things, simplify articulation, introduce new sounds, mix things up, etc etc., and that’s all a natural part of language development, which is why old Cantonese linguists who can’t get over these so called “懶音” drain the life out of me LOL ;;;
I assume you’re a Canto speaker as well, so next time someone tells you to stop speaking with lazy sounds, you can rant about natural language change hahahahhaa
This is more of an afterthought actually, but some non-HK varieties of Cantonese have already undergone initial ng- dropping and certain vowel changes, even faster than some of the changes in HK and GZ Cantonese !!! On the other hand, some other Guangdong varieties have maintained a lot of sounds (even sounds that we don’t pronounce in HK/GZ Cantonese anymore). Like in 中山 and 珠海 Cantonese, they still pronounce words like 魚，驗，研，語 with an ng- initial (which is actually closer to the reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciations), even though we’ve reduced it to a y- initial in HK/GZ Cantonese, although no one would even try to argue that /ŋ-/ > /j-/ is a detrimental sound change to Cantonese.
tl;dr - im hella salty about extreme cantonese prescriptivists and i’m excited to be part of a modern sound change !!! speak however you want bc it literally doesn’t matter !!! language is cool and dont be afraid to embrace change !!!Edit: I have been informed that TW Hokkien does not have a d-initial I AM A GOOF, I should’ve double checked that oop. Thanks @bessely for pointing that out though!! (Also YES I WAS GONNA MENTION THE HAKKA STUFF TOO but I don’t know enough about it to talk about it confidently hehe)