A Study of Classifiers and Related Noun Phrases in the Shantou Southern Min Dialect

Project: Research

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Sinitic languages, often regarded as synonymous with Chinese, are classifier languages, in which classifiers are obligatory in enumerating or specifying noun phrases. Although classifiers constitute a very important part of the structure and meaning of noun phrases in Chinese, their syntax and semantics have been the subject of considerable debate. This controversy relates to both basic issues, such as the division of classifiers into subcategories, and more complex issues, such as the positioning of single or reduplicative classifiers with their noun or noun phrase complements and interpretations of classifiers and related forms of noun phrases. Shantou Southern Min (the Shantou dialect) is a prestigious but grammatically understudied language spoken in the Chao-Shan area. Similar to other Sinitic languages, the Shantou dialect demonstrates great variations from Mandarin and from other Southern Min dialects, including the dialects in the Southern Fujian area and the Southern Zheijiang area. However, it shares some features with the Jieyang dialect, spoken in the Chaoshan area. The proposed project will focus on classifiers and related noun phrases in the Shantou dialect, with the objective of establishing more basic facts regarding classifiers and nominal structures in Chinese. In this light, the proposed project will focus on special features of the Shantou dialect that differ from other Southern Min dialects and are not found in Mandarin, which is the dialect with the most speakers by far and includes the Beijing dialect, which is the basis for Standard Chinese. The proposed study will focus on four issues. First, we will investigate the distribution of classifiers in the Shantou dialect and their relationship with mass/count distinction in nominal phrases. Second, we will focus on the use of mensural classifiers as full noun phrases and the use of individuating classifiers as nominals in the Shantou dialect. Third, we will examine the use of the generic noun [muẽʔ5] ‘thing’ in the Shantou dialect and its use as [CL + meuɁ5] and [(one) + Cl + muẽʔ5], to determine the syntax of the classifier and its noun complement in the Shantou dialect. Fourth, we will study classifier reduplication in the Shantou dialect, with a focus on three possible forms, namely [Cl(assifier) + Cl(assifier)], ['one' + Cl + Cl] and ['one' + Cl + 'one' + Cl]. This will help us to determine the parameters that determine the use of classifier reduplication in the Shantou dialect, with implications for other Sinitic languages. The results obtained should give a good overview of the patterns of classifiers and their noun complements and shed light on classifiers and related nominal structures in Chinese in general. The data used in this project will be collected from natural data via interviews and from targeted investigation via questionnaires. Linguistically, the analytical data obtained from the targeted investigation will serve to enrich the inventory of documented facts. The discovery of the grammatical principles that govern the use of classifiers and related forms of noun phrases will deepen our understanding of how human beings use language for counting, measurement and enumeration. Empirically, transcribing the natural data will help to construct a preliminary archive for the uses of classifiers and related noun phrases in the Shantou dialect and, if the data are adequate, the beginning of a Shantou spoken corpus. 


Project number9043247
Grant typeGRF
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/22 → …