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Keith Tse


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Tone conditioned dialectal correspondences in Chinese (2)

A follow-up from a previous blog– there is another very important tone conditioned dialectal correspondence between Cantonese and Mandarin, namely the sentence-final particle 啦 -lah, which can be pronounced either as tone 1 (5-5) or tone 3 (3-3). If you recall, in a previous blog I used the sentence-final particle啦 which I labelled ‘exhortative’:

咁         你    就      嚟      啦

gam     nei  jau    lei      lah you then come EXHORTATIVE.PARTICLE

‘If so, you should come.’

This use of 啦 -lah is pronounced as tone 1 (5-5) and it expresses encouragement/polite commands (e.g. ‘you should come/please come’). This use of 啦 is equivalent to Mandarin 吧 -ba:

那麼     你     就    來       吧

name   ni    jiu    lai      ba you then come EXHORTATIVE.PARTICLE

‘If so, you should come.’

However, those of you who possess eagle eyes may have noticed that in another blog I argued that Cantonese 啦 -lah was equivalent to Mandarin 了 -le, which as a sentence-final particle expresses declarations:

我       要          走   啦

ngoh yiu         jau lah


我   要          走   了

wo yao       zou le


‘I have to go.’

It looks confusing, the fact that Cantonese 啦 -lah seems to express two different meanings (declarative vs exhorative). However, the latter use of 啦 -lah (declarative) is pronounced with tone 3 (3-3) and as such it is a declarative particle which simply reinforces the force of the affirmation i.e. ‘I have to go’. The polysemy of Cantonese 啦 -lah (exhorative/declarative) is therefore disambiguated by its tonal alternations, which, as in all tonal languages, play an important part in the lexical entries of lexical items.

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