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English Loanwords in Hong Kong Cantonese: False Friend Cognates and English Vocabulary Acquisition

Jesse Yip1, John Wakefield2
1The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong. 2Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Research on loanword semantics seldom investigates systematic patterns of change because semantic change is not nearly as constrained and predictable as phonological change. Hong Kong is a bilingual city of English and Chinese/Cantonese, where people frequently use English loanwords in Hong Kong Cantonese (ELCs). Drawing upon the notion of cognates, this questionnaire-based study examines the extent to which Hong Kong Cantonese speakers are aware of the contrasts in meaning between ELCs and the English words from which they have been borrowed. Six ELCs that are false friend cognates with their English source words were selected to be included in the questionnaire. Respondents who completed the questionnaire included a group of native English speakers (N=19) and a group of native Cantonese speakers (N=107). Their responses that show their understanding of the English source words of the ELCs were compared and contrasted through both qualitative and quantitative methods. The results show that the ELCs, which commonly underwent the change of semantic extension and narrowing, affect the Cantonese speakers’ understanding of the English source words. Based on the findings, this study proposes a model to delineate the relationship between false friend cognates and English vocabulary acquisition and provides pedagogical implications for vocabulary learning and teaching.


Cantonese, cognate, loanwords, second language learning, vocabulary acquisition

International Joint Conference of APLX, ETRA40, and TESPA 2023