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Keith Tse


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Chinese verbal affixes

In a previous blog, I mentioned some similarities and differences between Cantonese and Mandarin verbal suffixes. Verbal suffixes are plentiful in Chinese, and it turns out that there are numerous verbal suffixes in Cantonese that do not exist in Mandarin (unlike Cantonese -晒 ~ Mandarin -光, as outlined in the blog referenced above) and have therefore to be expressed periphrastically in Mandarin e.g.

V-緊 (V-gan), which denotes ongoing activity (~ Mandarin 正在 zhengzai V ‘to be V-ing’)

V-梗/硬 (V-gang/ngaang), which means that the activity will definitely happen (~ Mandarin 一定yiding V ‘definitely V’)

V-翻 (V-faan), which means doing the activity again (~ Mandarin 再zai V ‘V again’)

V-得 (V-dak), which has a permissive reading on the activity (i.e. it is allowed or it is possible to take place) (~Mandarin 可以keyi V ‘can V’)

V-得 (V-dak), which denotes ‘only’ and modifies the argument of the verb (~ Mandarin 只zhi V ‘only V’)

V-埋 (V-maai), which denotes ‘also’ and modifies the argument of the verb (~ Mandarin 也 V ye V ‘also V/V also’)

There are many more such examples, which show the subtleties in Chinese comparative-dialectal grammar. Cantonese and Mandarin (and all other Chinese dialects) belong to the same morphosyntactic type in that they all employ verbal suffixes to modify the verb and its argument(s), but while there are many morpheme-to-morpheme parallels, there is also rather a lot of non-coextensionality which prohibits straightforward substitution of morphemes. As mentioned before, all Chinese dialects employ the same macroparameters (in the case of the examples in this blog, V-affix, which is a very general and broad description), and individual dialectal idiosyncracies can be accounted for by using microparameters that operate within and beneath such general macroparameters (e.g. all the Cantonese affixes that do not have counterparts in Mandarin or anywhere else in China). What joy in studying Chinese dialects!

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