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Title: The morphology, syntax, and semantics of adverbs in Cantonese
Authors: Wong, May Lai-Yin
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Chinese Language
Cantonese - Grammar
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: Hong Kong University
Abstract: This thesis reports on a study of adverbs in Cantonese as it is spoken in contemporary Hong Kong. Previous studies of Cantonese adverbs have put particular emphasis on the grammatical meanings of a few individual adverbs, for instance, the adverb sin1 (Cheng, 1990; Cai, 1995; Luke 2002; among others). the general properties of the adverb class as a whole have received relatively scant attention. In this study, the characteristics of Cantonese adverbs, and especially the morphologically, semantically and syntactically relevant aspects of these adverbs are investigated in greater depth. The search for general patterns has been given priority above the description of the peculiarities of each individual adverb. Linguists have generally agreed that an adverb can serve as an adverbial in a sentence (see, for example, Quirk & Greenbaum, 1973). Zhu Dexi (1982), in particular, provides the most insightful criterion in distinguishing adverb from other word classes. He proposes that an adverb can and can only function as adverbial, and never function as any other sentence constituent like subject and predicate. In the present study, only those words that can function only as adverbials according to Zhu's analysis are identified as adverbs. Particular attention is given to distinguishing adverbs from adjectives, time words (nouns) and conjunctions, which are commonly used as adverbials as well. For the purpose of the present study, a collection, which should be fairly comprehensive, of 544 adverbs have been made. 242 of these have cognates in Mandarin whereas 302 are unique to Cantonese. An exploration of the form of these adverbs suggests that reduplication is the most salient characteristics especially in trisyllabic adverbs. Cantonese adverbs are further divided into seven subcategories based on semantic and grammatical criteria; manner adverbs, among these seven subclasses, tend to have the greatest number of members. It was observed that Cantonese adverbs modify verb phrase, adjective phrase and noun phrase as well as modify on the clausal level as adverbials. The fact that adverb subclasses differ in the syntactic categories they modify clearly justifies the classification used in this study. Cantonese adverbs are further shown to exhibit their own peculiarities in syntactic properties as distinguished from English and Mandarin Chinese ones. Further investigations in Cantonese adverbs should consider their productivity and distribution with respect to sentence types.
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