The Dapeng dialect is a small local dialect spoken by 3,000 to 5,500 speakers in the Dapeng area, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China. It is a variety derived from a mixture of Hakka and Cantonese, two of the major varieties of Chinese in Southern China. The Dapeng dialect has hitherto received very little attention from Chinese dialectologists and is still under-documented and insufficiently studied.
This dissertation is built upon both historical records and first-hand fieldwork data collected in the Dapeng area. It takes the initial step towards an extensive collecting of dialect data and a preliminary analysis of the Dapeng dialect and its usage in the Dapeng community. This dissertation is driven by three particular research goals: 1) conducting a detailed description of the contemporary Dapeng dialect, 2) proposing an account of the formation of the dialect, and 3) assessing the vitality of the Dapeng dialect in its speech community.
To achieve the first goal, this dissertation follows the well-established convention of Chinese dialect description, the “dialect report.” While describing the Dapeng dialect, this dissertation also makes frequent reference to Standard Chinese, Middle Chinese, Cantonese, and/or Hakka. Results show resemblance between the Dapeng dialect and the source dialects—both Cantonese and Hakka—and the resemblance to the source dialects pertains to all three major linguistic structures: phonology, lexicon, and syntax. Compared with the Dapeng phonology, which presents a complex hybrid of the two input dialects, the Dapeng lexicon and syntax reflect slightly more similarity to Cantonese.
The second research goal is addressed based on the detailed description of the Dapeng dialect. This dissertation demonstrates that Trudgill’s (1986) model of “koineization” is best able to account for the formation of the contemporary Dapeng dialect as induced by the Hakka-Cantonese contact. In particular, levelling and simplification are the two main linguistic processes that gave rise to the present-day Dapeng dialect. This proposal is supported by both linguistic and socio-historical evidence, the latter involving demographic changes in the history of Dapeng, especially with respect to migration history.
In response to the third research goal, this dissertation examines the Dapeng community and assesses the vitality of the Dapeng dialect. After a careful review of the evaluative frameworks, the UNESCO Language Vitality and Endangerment scale is chosen as being the most applicable in the Chinese context. The evaluation is supported by evidence drawn from interviews, observations, and demographic data. The results of the assessment show that the overall vitality of the Dapeng dialect, although only spoken by a small population, is in fact surprisingly positive. The vigorous, healthy condition of the Dapeng dialect is in sharp contrast with many other small Chinese dialects, which are usually reported as being in danger of extinction.