Sam-po Law's Dissertation Abstract

Sam-po Law (1990)

The Syntax and Phonology of Cantonese Sentence-Final Particles

Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, Boston, MA.
Dissertation supervisor: Carol Neidle

Cantonese sentence-final particles are morphemes that occur at the end of a sentence. The particle system in Cantonese is unusually rich; thirty-five to forty particles and over a hundred possible particle clusters have been identified. These particles function to convey speech act information. This dissertation diverges from previous work on Chinese sentence-final particles in that it focuses on their syntactic and phonological properties. First, it examines the syntactic functions of many final particles, and the structural positions in which they occur. Second, it studies the tonal characteristics of final particles, and explores the possibility of reducing the particle inventory. Third, it proposes an account for some of the ordering and co-occurrence restrictions found in particle clusters in light of this syntactic and phonological analysis.

Part I of this thesis shows that there are sentence particles that are syntactic function words, and that they occupy specific syntactic positions. In particular, question particles occur in specifier position (SPEC) of CP; other particles occupy the complementizer position (COMP); and yet others occur in VP. As a direct consequence of these findings, the X-bar sentence structure of Chinese that has been assumed in recent theoretical works needs to be reconsidered. The positions of occurrence of sentence particles argue for the claim that, in Cantonese, SPEC is to the right of C' and COMP is to the right of IP. Part II demonstrates that the particle system can be simplified by proposing particles that have inherent tones, particles that are inherently toneless, and particles that consist only of tones. Interactions of these different types of particles derive the surface forms of many particles that have been treated as separate entities. This analysis thus systematically relates particles that are phonetically and semantically similar. Part III shows that the analysis in Parts I and II accounts for many of the otherwise puzzling ordering and co-occurrence restrictions that are found in particle clustering, thus providing further support for the syntactic and phonological analysis of final particles.

Dept. of Speech and Hearing Sciences
The University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong

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Last modified, October 14, 1998.