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Keith Tse


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Cantonese lexical doubling

When I discussed Chinese 都 ‘all’ and 也 ‘also, even’, I mentioned that Cantonese expressed the latter meaning by using some kind of lexical doubling i.e. two synonyms (亦/都) which may be used either independently (亦, 都) or together in forming a double-worded phrase (亦都) e.g.

佢哋     亦/都    嚟咗

kuidei yik/do lei-joh

They   also      come-COMPLETIVE

‘They also came.’

The same strategy is used in expressing another meaning, namely the inferential particle ‘then’. In Mandarin (and standard Chinese in general), 就 is an adverb which expresses logical inferences of the form: if A, then (就) B e.g.

如果   你     來,  我   就     走

ruguo ni    lai      wo jiu    zou

if         you come I     then go

‘If you come, I’ll go.’ (notice how English expresses such inferences by using the future tense)

In Cantonese, there are two morphemes which express the same inferential meaning, namely 咪 and 就, both of which can be used either independently (咪, 就) or together in forming a double-worded phrase (咪就) e.g.

如果        你   嚟,   我      咪/就      走

yugwoh nei lai      ngoh mai/jau jau

if            you come I        then       go

‘If you come, I’ll go.’

Lexical doubling is a common strategy in Cantonese. Fascinating.

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