The Landscape of Chinese Quantifiers --- with Special Reference to Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese

Project: Research

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Quantifiers are used to express quantity of things or amount of stuff in human language, and languages may differ with respect to strategies of quantification. In Chinese, D- and A-quantifications (Partee 1995) are expressed by different categories --- determiners, classifiers, numerals, indefinites, wh-indefinites, auxiliaries, adverbs or predicate modifiers, verbal suffixes/particles, and sentence-final particles. Much cross-linguistic work on quantification (e.g., Bach et. al. 1995, Matthewson 2008 and Keenan & Paperno 2012 among others) covers a wide range of languages from different linguistic families, but barely touches on Chinese.In this light, the project aims to derive a landscape of quantifiers in Chinese and provides an account to capture different types of quantifiers and predict patterns of quantification in different varieties of Chinese. This study makes special reference to Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. Cantonese is specifically selected for its two unique features that are either not very productive or unattested in Mandarin: (i) its particularly rich inventory of particles, and (ii) multiple forms of quantifiers in determiner and adverbial forms co-occurring in the same sentence, with no redundancy in meaning. Cantonese data help fill some gaps in the A-quantifications in Mandarin Chinese. To help narrow down the possible analyses for Chinese dialects, the project also uses Naxi, a minority language spoken in Yunnan, as a control for cases where issues cannot be resolved in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. As a Tibeto-Burman language, Naxi is chosen due to its different syntax. In NPs the word-order is N-NUM-CL in Naxi, in contrast with NUM-CL-N in Mandarin and Cantonese. The direction of quantification is thus equivocable in Chinese dialects for NUM precedes both CL and N, while it is clearer in Naxi, for N and CL occur on different sides of NUM. In clauses, the word order is SOV in Naxi, in contrast with SVO in Chinese. Moreover, the positions of the object and adverbs are more flexible in Naxi than in Chinese, a fact that might have some bearing on A-quantification over the object. The special syntax of Naxi would therefore help predict possible and impossible quantificational patterns in the Chinese language family.To derive the landscape, the project investigates the semantic aspect of existential, universal, distributive, counting and proportional quantifications in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. It focuses on the following issues of theoretical significance: (a) examine and compare existential quantification in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, and address the issue of the extent to which semantic representations bear on event and individual quantifications; (b) examine and compare distributivity and universal quantification in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, and in particular, the difference between distributivity and D-universals; (c) examine and compare counting and proportional quantifiers in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, and study the extent to which syntactic difference bears on the semantics of counters in natural language; (d) examine the semantics and syntax of multiple quantifications in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese; and (e) derive a landscape of Chinese quantifiers, based on results obtained from (a) to (d), and predict possible and impossible quantificational patterns in Chinese, based on contrasts made with data obtained from Naxi.With the landscape of quantifiers derived, this study contributes to the current linguistic endeavor by refining existing theories on quantification in Chinese and in natural language at large. The description of quantificational features in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese will also prove useful in any contrastive studies of the two.


Project number9041935
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1430/11/16