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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Chinese locative particle

In my brief examination of Chinese pronouns, I pointed out some general paradigmatic characteristics, one of which is the use of certain particles for denoting PLACE (in an abstract locative sense). The Cantonese/Mandarin paradigms are conveniently presented as below:

Cantonese           Mandarin

Here:     呢度                  這裏

There:   嗰度                  那裏

Where: 邊度                  哪裏

As is evident, the locative particle in Cantonese and Mandarin is -度 and -裏 respectively, and the initial character expresses various spatial relations (proximal (呢/這), distal (嗰/那), interrogative (邊/哪)). In Cantonese, however, there is a particular usage which is very striking and totally absent in Mandarin, and that is the use of the locative particle -度 after nouns, namely names of people and places e.g.

Cantonese:                               Mandarin:

學校-度                                      *學校-裏

school-LOC                              school-LOC

‘at school’                                ‘at school’

哥哥-度                                     *哥哥-裏

brother-LOC                           brother-LOC

‘at my brother’s’                    ‘at my brother’s’

公司-度                                    *公司-裏

office-LOC                              office-LOC

‘in the office’                         ‘in the office’

It is clearly then that the use of locative particle is quite productive in Cantonese as it (度) can be used after a range of nouns denoting place/location, whereas the distribution of the Mandarin equivalent (裏) is not so widespread as it seems to occur only after grammatical morphemes like demonstratives rather than full nouns. Amazing microvariation.

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