It was not until the lift of the martial law in 1987 that Min gradually regained its public (2)status

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2.1 The Background of Syllable-final Nasals in Taiwan Mandarin

With almost nine million speakers, Mandarin is the most widely-spoken

language in the world, and is officially spoken in China, Singapore, and Taiwan

(Norman 1988). With such a big population of culturally diverse speakers and a wide

geographic distribution, dialectal variations naturally occur. Such differences would

not have caused much trouble when the society is fairly sedentary. However, when

historical instances brought people of different dialects to a geographically restricted

area that facilitates frequent contact, accommodation would necessarily have to occur

in order to ease communication. As a consequence, languages change drastically.

Such has been the linguistic situation in Taiwan.

Before the World War II, Taiwan was under the ruling of Japan, and Southern

Min was the main language spoken in Taiwan in addition to Japanese. In 1949, the

Kuomintang (KMT) government established their regime in Taiwan, and as a

consequence, Mandarin was brought into this island. Because the KMT government

highly enforced the “Mandarin-only” policy through legal measures, the use of Min in

public places and mass media was strongly discouraged if not completely abolished. It

was not until the lift of the martial law in 1987 that Min gradually regained its public


status. Nowadays, Min is also officially taught in schools in addition to Mandarin. At

present, Mandarin still remains as the official language in Taiwan, and Min acts as a

powerful substrate in the society. Many people are native bilinguals of both languages,

although those from the southern part of the country tend to be more fluent in Min

while those in the northern part are more fluent in Mandarin.

This frequent contact and continuous strife with Min has driven Mandarin in

Taiwan to diverge from its Mainland origin in a number of ways. For example, Kubler

(1985) and Tse (1998) found that retroflexes were disappearing in Taiwan Mandarin.

/tʂ/, /tʂh/, /ʂ/, and /ʐ/ tended to be produced as /ts/, /tsh/, /s/, and /z/ instead. He also

found that there was a tendency to neutralize syllable-final nasals, /n/ and /ŋ/. The latter

was changed into the former when the preceding vowel is /i/ or /ə/. Using

experimental methods, Tse (1992) also confirmed this finding. He claimed that

Taiwan Mandarin was undergoing a merger process of /ŋ/ to /n/ in both production

and perception, suggesting that /ŋ/ was a more conservative form used more

frequently by the older generation while /n/ was an innovation favored by younger

people. However, Chen (1991) and Hsu and Tse (2007) disagreed with the claim of an

unanimous merge. Instead, they proposed that the merging direction was to a large

extent vowel-dependent. When the preceding vowel is /ə/, /ŋ/ is more likely to be

merged with /n/. However, when the vowel is /i/, /n/ is merged with /ŋ/ instead.


Possible ways to reconcile the above contradictory results might lie in

dialectal and/or methodological differences. Kubler (1985) focused mainly on

non-standard Taiwan speakers of Mandarin based on occasional observations, while

Tse (1992) chose a linguistically-unspecified group of college students in Taipei as

subjects for his experiment. On the other hand, both Chen (1991) and Hsu and Tse

(2007) used an elicitation method to investigate native speakers of Taipei Mandarin.

In other words, it is possible that both sets of rules are robust in Taiwan Mandarin, as

Ing (1985) has suggested, and the above discrepancy is mainly a reflection of this

phenomenon through observations on different subgroups in the population.

The problem of contradictory results was solved by Hung and Fon’s (2007)

study, which conducted an experiment with adult subjects from two region groups in

Taiwan. In their study, Hung and Fon found that both northern and southern adults

merged /ŋ/ with /n/ when the preceding vowel is /ə/; when the preceding vowel is /i/,

northern adults merged /n/ with /ŋ/, and southern adults merged /ŋ/ with /n/. This

finding suggested that both sets of rules existed in Taiwan, and the direction of merge

relied on the factors of preceding vowel and region.

Moreover, the results suggested that the application rates of merge rules varied

under different settings. Hung and Fon (2007) designed three conditions for their

experiment, in which the subjects read the stimuli three times, once in Zhuyin, once in


Chinese characters, and once in sentences. They found that subjects were the most

likely to merge final nasals under the most artificial setting, that is, the Zhuyin

Condition. When subjects were under the least artificial Sentence Condition, nasal

merge was the least applied. This new discovery explained why earlier studies

disagree on how much the rules were applied, in that the application rates of the

nasal-merge rules were dependent on different speech situations.

2.2 The Acquisition of Variable Rules

In addition to solving the disagreement among previous studies, the main part

of the current study is to find out children’s possible developmental trend of acquiring

these final-nasal rules. The rules under discussion are free variation in speech. In

other words, the applications of these rules are optional. Many studies on children’s

phonological acquisition have been on obligatory rules; studies on acquisition of

optional rules are rare. One of them was a study about the phonological variation of

the grammatical morpheme –ing in English (Fischer 1958). In his study, Fischer

found that the 3- and 4-year-old girls used more [i˜]’s than the boys of the same age.

He also found that the 10-year-old boys used more [i˜]’s in a formal interview and

more [in]’s in a less formal situation. However, the age of the children was not a

factor in Fischer’s study. There is no way to know what impact of children of


different ages had on the variation of the suffix –ing.

A much more recent study was by Roberts (1994), who examined pre-school

children’s production on the variation of –ing. Roberts found that most 3-year-olds in

her experiment had mastered the process of variation of –ing, and their learning

process of this rule was dialect-specific.

There are certain factors encouraging or discouraging the application of the

nasal merge in Taiwan Mandarin. Since no studies on the acquisition of nasal merge

have ever been acted upon before, the current study would be of significance

concerning children’s development on such commonly seen yet non-mandatory rules.




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