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Keith Tse


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Cantonese pronouns

I mentioned in my last two blogs that interrogatives were tremendously useful for learning a new language, and there is a whole series of pronouns (interrogative or not) whose dialectal correspondences reveal many interesting patterns for historical-comparative Chinese linguistics. In one of my earliest blogs, I compared the Cantonese and Mandarin pronominal paradigms and pointed out some superficial correspondences:

Singular Plural

1st   我            我哋

2nd 你            你哋

3rd 佢             佢哋

For those of you who are familiar with Mandarin, you’ll quickly notice some very obvious morphological parallels that are fully productive in the formation of personal pronouns, namely 哋(Cantonese)/們(Mandarin), which can be conveniently analysed as plural person markers. Similar correspondences can be seen in the paradigms of demonstratives (this, that) and locatives (here, there):

Singular Plural

Proximal demonstrative (e.g. this) 呢個         呢啲

Distal demonstrative (e.g. that)       嗰個         嗰啲

Proximal locative (e.g here)             呢度          –

Distal locative (e.g. there)                 嗰度          –

It should be transparent that the morpheme 呢 denotes spatial proximity (cf Mandarin 這) while 嗰 indicates spatial distance (cf Mandarin 那), whereas the classifier 個 denotes singular number and 啲 plural number (cf Mandarin 個 and 些 respectively). In the locative paradigm, 呢 and 嗰 retain the same demonstrative spatial functions while the locative meaning is marked by 度 (cf Mandarin 裏/裡, as discussed last time). Amazing architecture in our pronominal systems. No wonder all the best architects in the world are Chinese.

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London, United Kingdom