Monday 12 September 2011
My recent trip to China furnished further evidence, if evidence were needed, of the failure of many NNSs of English to master the part of English intonation that concerns tonicity (focus marking, the location of the nucleus — blog, 15 October 2009).
One of the poster papers at the ICPhS made the tentative claim that the focus in Mandarin Chinese is well marked, with ‘post-focus compression’ of the pitch range identifying it clearly despite all the lexical tone in the utterance; but that in Cantonese Chinese it is not.
This chimes in with the limited experience I have of intonation in Chinese English. Whereas those whose first language is Mandarin seem on the whole to locate the English nucleus correctly, those who are speakers of Cantonese often do not.
In Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, as you might expect in a former British colony, there are many NNSs whose English is really excellent. But there are also many who struggle to a greater or lesser extent. Our tour guide on the afternoon excursion to the sights of Hong Kong island, whose English was very fluent but not very good, drew our attention to “the Jockey Club on your right-hand side | and a cemetery on your left-hand side”, so violating the rule about avoiding placing the nucleus on a repeated item. (He also pronounced number as ˈlɐmbɐ etc., which was very confusing at first.)
As we all know, it’s not just the southern Chinese who have this problem in English intonation. Our flight home was with Air France. The cabin attendant reciting the pre-takeoff drill reminded us that “the safety instructions are in the seat pocket in front of you”.
Does nobody teach French learners of English that they should not accent pronouns except for contrast? All NSs of English would say “…the seat pocket in front of you”.