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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Chinese 都/也

I realise that I have written quite a few blogs about Chinese dialects already, especially on the dialectal correspondences between Cantonese and Mandarin. I would love to bring in more dialects into my scope of inquiry, but unfortunately I do not speak much of any of them. My third dialect is Shanghainese, my knowledge of which is shamefully only restricted to a few words/expressions. Looks like I am restricted to Cantonese and Mandarin for the time being, though this is already a huge arena for rich and meaningful comparisons, not least because they originate from the northern and southern tips of China and hence represent the polar extremes of Chinese dialectal geography. In my numerous comparisons, I notice that I have shown quite a few bidirectional one-to-many mappings, namely Cantonese (one)-Mandarin (many) and Cantonese (many)-Mandarin (one) e.g.

Cantonese (one)-Mandarin (many): Cantonese (啱)-Mandarin(剛/巧/對) 

Cantonese (many)-Mandarin(one): Cantonese (咗/啦)-Mandarin(了)

The dialectal mapping of forms between Cantonese and Mandarin (and perhaps all Chinese dialects) is therefore many-to-many, which underlines just how complex Chinese dialects are. In this blog, I propose to look at another case of Cantonese (one)-Mandarin (many) mapping, namely 都/也. In Mandarin, there is a subtle distinction between 都/也, despite the fact that both occupy the same syntactic position (pre-verbal and immediately post-nominal) and should hence be subsumed within the same syntactic category. However, while 都 imposes a universal quantifier reading on the immediately preceding noun, 也 really means ‘also, even’, which is somewhat different e.g.

他們     都    來了

tamen dou lai-le

they     all   come-COMPLETIVE

‘They all came.’

他們     也    來了

tamen ye    lai-le

they     also come-COMPLETIVE

‘They also came.’

In Cantonese, these two functions are conflated and are both expressed by 都:

佢哋     都         嚟咗

kuidei do         lei-joh

They   all/also come-COMPLETIVE

‘They all came/They also came.’

Cantonese 都 is therefore ambiguous, though context usually disambiguates. Chinese 都/也 has therefore created another Cantonese (one)-Mandarin (many) mapping. Fascinating.

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