Discourse-pragmatic functions of Cantonese grammatical particles: towards a comprehensive account of stancemarking in Cantonese

Project: Research project

Project Details


When people talk, they routinely need to express their stance towards a certain situation – how the speaker evaluates the situation, how evident the speaker’s conclusion of the situation is, etc. Thus, all languages should equip their users with strategies that convey different shades of the speaker’s moods and perspectives. Recent studies have revealed a wide range of strategies that speakers adopt to signal their emotion and point of view: modals (e.g. may, might), adverbials (e.g. probably, certainly), epistemic phrases (e.g. I think, I believe), as well as other lexically transparent expressions (e.g. I just hate/love that) to explicitly communicate their attitude and subjective mood. Besides, speakers also frequently indicate their evaluation, judgment, etc. (i.e. their “stance”) via different grammatical means. One common strategy being the use of grammatical particles, particularly in Chinese varieties, and many East-Asian languages.

Cantonese is especially noted for its rich inventory of grammatical markers to externalize speakers’ subjective thought and point of view. One fascinating area has been the study of sentence-final particles (SFPs). SFPs in Cantonese are extremely powerful, as a single change in SFP can result in a complete change in meaning. For instance, Keoi5 heoi3 me1(lit. he go me1) means “He’s going!? (I doubt)” but Keoi5 heoi3 gaa3 (lit. he go gaa3) means “He’s going! (I am certain).” Besides, verbal particles (VPs), a group of grammatical elements occupying the post-verbal position, are also crucial in expressing speakers’ stance. While cung1 faan1 go3 loeng4 (lit. take faan1 a shower) means “to take a shower (for enjoyment)”, cung1 ding6 go3 loeng4 (lit. take ding6 a shower) means “to take a shower (just in case)”. In addition to SFPs and VPs, discourse markers (DMs), a group of linguistic elements that mostly occupy a clause-initial position to connect stretches of discourse, are also vital in serving various interpersonal functions relating to politeness and solidarity marking (seeking confirmation, showing empathy, expressing doubt, etc.). While SFPs, VPs and DMs no doubt form an integral part in people’s cognition and serve as an extremely important strategy to express speakers’ stance, surprisingly little has been said on DMs. Motivated by this gap, this study first provides a comprehensive account of Cantonese DMs as a category of stance markers, and then explores the exact pragmatic, interpersonal functions that SFPs, VPs, and DMs serve as an individual, as well as how they collaborate to maintain the larger ecology of stance-marking in Cantonese.
Effective start/end date1/09/2331/08/25


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