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Keith Tse


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Chinese 都/也 (2)

In a previous blog, I analysed the dialectal correspondences between 都/也 in Cantonese and Mandarin and concluded that while Mandarin made a distinction between 都 ‘all’ and 也 ‘also, even’, Cantonese conflated the two functions as simply 都 ‘all’/’also, even’. This creates ambiguity in Cantonese, since ‘all’ and ‘also/even’ are quite different meanings e.g.

佢哋     都          嚟咗

kuidei do          lei-joh

They    all/also come-COMPLETIVE

‘They all came/They also came.’

However, context disambiguation aside, there are ways to circumvent these ambiguities in Cantonese, one of which is lexical doubling. There is another word in Cantonese which also means ‘also, even’, namely 亦. This word can either be used on its own (亦) or together with 都 (亦都) to mean ‘also, even’ e.g.

佢哋     亦/都    嚟咗

kuidei yik/do lei-joh

They   also      come-COMPLETIVE

‘They also came.’

Cantonese therefore has a way of disambiguating polysemous morphemes (都 ‘all/’also, even’) by using synonyms (亦/都 ‘also, even’), which further complicates the dialectal correspondences between Chinese dialects, since polysemy is by definition one(form)-to-many(meanings), while synonyms are many(forms)-to-one(meaning), both of which exist not only across dialects but also within dialects.

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