LINGUIST List 16.948

Tue Mar 29 2005

Diss: Socioling: Kuo: 'New Dialect Formation ...'

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        1.    Yun-Hsuan Kuo, New Dialect Formation: the Case of Taiwanese Mandarin

Message 1: New Dialect Formation: the Case of Taiwanese Mandarin

Date: 28-Mar-2005
From: Yun-Hsuan Kuo <>
Subject: New Dialect Formation: the Case of Taiwanese Mandarin

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Institution: University of Essex
Program: Department of Language and Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Yun-Hsuan Kuo

Dissertation Title: New Dialect Formation: the Case of Taiwanese Mandarin

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (CHN)

Dissertation Director:
David Britains

Dissertation Abstract:

Following the end of the Second World War, when the Nationalists
(Kuomintang, KMT) took over Taiwan from the Japanese, bringing many
migrants from the Mainland with them, Beijing Mandarin (commonly known as
'Guoyu') was promoted as the national language of the island. One of the
salient features of Beijing Mandarin is the use of retroflex initials.
However, the Mandarin dialect spoken today in Taiwan mostly lacks these
salient features. Common explanations for the lack of retroflex features
suggest that they merged, on Taiwanese soil, with Southern Min dental and
alveolar equivalents. The merger is often regarded as a result of sound
substitutions often found in contexts of language contact or of second
language acquisition failure deriving from first language (Southern Min)
interference. The lack of the retroflex initials in Southern Min is also
commonly said to have caused alveolars to replace the retroflex
initialsthrough deretroflexion.

I will demonstrate that such claims have, in fact, oversimplified the
situation and, indeed, that the so-called merger and deretroflexion may
have never taken place at all in Taiwan for a number of socio-historical
and linguistic reasons. An investigation of the socio-demographic
composition and dialect use of the original Mandarin population in Taiwan
leads us to question the traditional merger and deretroflexion hypotheses.
Rather than arguing, as most traditional explanations do, that retroflex
initials merged with non-retroflex ones in Taiwan after 1945, I suggest
here that processes of dialect contact - koinéisation - better explain the
eradication of the retroflex initials. I propose that the relatively small
number of retroflex-using dialects in the original Mandarin population of
Taiwan led to the retroflex initials being levelled away and that the great
number of alveolar-using dialects safeguarded the survival of the
alveolars, hence the lack of retroflex initials and the presence of alveolars.

I will first demonstrate how koinéisation processes have been at work in
shaping Taiwanese Mandarin by analysing the distribution of the variants of
four retroflex variables in spoken Taiwanese Mandarin in Keelung, a
northern city of Taiwan where Mandarin immigrants first landed.

Further evidence is then presented in support of my hypothesis that the
original Mandarin population indeed, may have played a much more important
role in the formation of Taiwanese Mandarin than previously suggested and
that Taiwanese Mandarin is highly likely to be a koineised variety
following dialect contact. I investigate four types of dialect variant: (i)
those absent both in Southern Min and in early Taiwanese Mandarin but
present in Taiwanese Mandarin today; (ii) those absent in Southern Min but
present both in early Taiwanese Mandarin and in Taiwanese Mandarin today;
(iii) those reported to be likely to disappear but have been present in
Taiwanese Mandarin today; and (iv) those present in Taiwanese Mandarin but
were reported to be either absent or present both in Southern Min and in
early Taiwanese Mandarin.

By scrutinising the use of four retroflex variables and four types of
variant, I will demonstrate that some previous paradoxes may be resolved by
acknowledging the crucial role of the demographic, geographic, and
linguistic make-up of the original Mandarin population in the formation of
Taiwanese Mandarin.

I conclude that the development of Taiwanese Mandarin is highly likely to
be the result of koinéisation processes, in particular the levelling
process, which is, to quote Trudgill (2004:149), 'a matter of simple

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