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Title: On the Synchrony and Diachrony of Sentence-Final Particles: The Case of Wo in Cantonese
Authors: Leung, Wai-Mun
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Chinese Languages
Issue Date: 2006
Publisher: The University of Hong Kong
Abstract: Previous studies (e.g. Cheung 1972, Kwok 1984, Luke 1990, Fang 2003) on Cantonese Sentence-Final Particles (hereafter SFPs) have tended to focus on their syntax, semantics and pragmatics from a synchronic point of view. This thesis attempts to examine the frequently used SFP wo3 in Hong Kong Cantonese synchronically and diachronically. In the past two decades, most experts treated wo3 and another particle bo3 as variant forms, with the former being the result of sound change from the latter (Kwok 1984, Luke 1990, Li 1995, Fang 2003). However, according to our 1990s data, wo3 in the late 20th century can be described as functionally versatile, performing the following four functions: (1) Realization, (2) Reminder, (3) Quotative and (4) Contrast, while the main function of bo3 is only to show contrast. Thus, they are not interchangeable. The present study examines data from (1) historical Cantonese materials (before the 1910s), (2) old Cantonese movies (of the 1940s and 1970s) and (3) the Hong Kong University Cantonese Corpus (the 1990s), and has collected hundreds of the SFP wo3 tokens which appeared from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. It is found that wo3 and bo3 were distinctly separate in terms of their meanings and functions. The early wo3 was only used to express the meaning of quotative (Ball 1888), while bo3 was used to express the meanings of (1) Realization, (2) Reminding and (3) Contrast. In the 1940s, the main functions of wo3 were (1) Realization, (2) Reminder, (3) Quotative. The newly developed “realization” and “reminding” functions of wo3 originally belonged to bo3, and this is an early sign of the later merging of these two particles. In the 1970s, wo3 began to have the function of showing contrast, which was also originally a function of bo3. Therefore, the functions of wo3 have been expanding but bo3 seems to have been contracting. In the process of tracing the history of wo3 and bo3, I encounter another particle waa1 of the late 19th century. It had the “quotative” function and was probably replaced by wo3 in the early 20th century. As the functions of wo3 increase, the “quotative” function becomes shared by another particle, wo5. This explains the differences between the particles wo3 and wo5. In tracing the development of wo3 from the 19th century until the present time, I outline a possible picture of the two origins of this particle. One of the original sources is as an SFP which had come from the verb “say” (waa6 話). This is supported by data from Hakka as a dialect-in-contact. Another source of wo3 is bo3, the particle showing contrast.
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