A floating tone discourse morpheme: The English equivalent of Cantonese lo1

John C. Wakefield*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Cantonese linguists have said that Cantonese sentence-final particles (SFPs) express the same kinds of meanings that are expressed by intonation in languages such as English, yet apparently no study has ever systematically attempted to discover whether any SFPs have English intonational equivalents. This study identifies the English intonational counterpart to the SFP lo1 by looking at the pitch contours of Cantonese-to-English audio translations, which were provided by four Cantonese/English native bilingual participants. Based on the data, it is concluded that the English equivalent of lo1 is a high-falling pitch contour. A definition using the natural semantic metalanguage is formulated to define lo1, and native English-speaker judgments indicate that this same definition also defines the meaning of lo1's English equivalent. Examples are given to demonstrate that this definition succeeds at defining either lo1 or its English equivalent in any context within which they are used. It is proposed that this lo1-equivalent pitch contour is a floating tone morpheme in the English lexicon. Linguists have long debated whether or not any forms of intonation have context-independent meanings. This study offers empirical evidence in support of the argument that they do.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1762
Number of pages24
Issue number14
Early online date22 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cantonese
  • Discourse intonation
  • Discourse particle
  • Evidential marker
  • Floating tone
  • Natural semantic metalanguage


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