Variation in the use of the particle ge in Hong Kong Cantonese
Variation in the use of the particle ge in Hong Kong Cantonese submitted by
for the degree of Master of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong
in January, 1997
The particle ge3 has received much attention in the literature about Hongkong Cantonese. Its wide range of functions include being a modification or possessive marker and a sentence particle. Yet, little work has been done on its usage following the classifier in a Cantonese noun phrase, as in :
la. O~ ~ oW: ~ *
neillaam4 ge3 saangl gw02
this CL GE fruit
'this basket of fruit'
lb. ~ @ 01 ~ ~ jatl g03 ge3 hok6 saangl one CL GE student
Given the existing accounts about such usage after mensural classifiers (as in example (la)) in the 1970s, this study takes as its major hypothesis that 'GEinsertion following sortal classifiers is innovativei. This is supported by the 1990s discussions on the particle. In order to examine the innovative nature of the structure, a comparison of the 1980s recordings with the 1990s ones was conducted. Though the collected data fail to show to what extent the usage is innovative, there is a 100% increase in the frequency of GE-insertion in the 1990s. This drastic increase suggests that instances of the structure with sortal classifiers prior to the
1980s might be even rarer.
This study also considers the ongm and status of GE-insertion. Four explanations were devised to explicate different aspects of the origin. First, mensural classifiers indicate an instance of reanalysis, as shown by example (la) where ~ laam4 can be interpreted as either a noun or a classifier. On the other hand, example (1 b) might be the possible outcome of lexical diffusion where the usage of GE with mensural classifiers has spread to sortal classifiers. Apart from
these two structural considerations, dialect contact between colloquial Cantonese and another variety of Cantonese resembling Mandarin might be a possible external force to GE-insertion, given the distinctive linguistic situation of Hong Kong. Hesitation in daily speech can also be another motivation for the particle to act as a pause filler,
resulting in GE-insertion.
Concerning the status of GE-insertion, one hundred informants were interviewed and invited to rate twenty-five sentences according to a set of acceptability options. Sixty hours of radio and television programmes, as well as lectures, were recorded to observe the frequency of the structure. The degree of acceptability and frequency are found to relate to a complex of structural and stylistic factors. From the structural point of view, GE-insertion tends to be compatible with disyllabic or polysyllabic head nouns, mensural classifiers and premodifiers with a D+Nm+CL sequence. Stylistically, the patterns of the frequencies of GEinsertion seem to imply some relationship between the structure and the seriousness of subject matter. GE-insertion is found to be slightly more frequent in contexts with serious topics and resulting formal modes of presentation. My attempt to find out the connection between the structure and three sociolinguistic variables reviews some suggestive patterns, though no conclusive results can be reached.
Through the above analysis of GE-insertion, this study illustrates an instance of syntactic variation in Cantonese, where syntax can interact with discourse pragmatics and language contact phenomena synchronically and diachronically.
School:The University of Hong Kong
School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:cantonese dialects china hong kong particles chinese language guangzhou
Date of Publication:01/01/1997