The Syntax and Semantics of Cantonese Particles in the Left Periphery

John C. Wakefield*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Adopting the cartographic approach, this paper proposes syntactic positions for all left-periphery particles above the tense phrase (TP) in Cantonese. These include both sentence-final particles and sentence-initial particles that can be used in isolation as interjections. Based on previous syntactic proposals for the left periphery, a modification of Rizzi's (2001) split-complementizer phrase (Split-CP) structure is proposed. A Deictic Phrase (DeicP) is added above the finite phrase (FinP) for the Cantonese "tense"particles laa3 and lei4(ge3). Then, based on a number of proposals inspired by Speas and Tenny (2003), two functional phrases are added above the force phrase (ForceP) - a higher affect phrase (AffectP) for Cantonese sentence-initial particles and a lower discourse phrase (DiscourseP) for most of the sentence-final particles. The resulting structure is tentatively proposed to account for the word order of all left-periphery particles in Cantonese, bringing the description of their syntax closer in line with a number of proposals based on left-periphery particles in other languages. This proposal includes a three-way distinction of the functions and meanings of left-periphery particles: 1) particles that lie between ForceP and TP do not refer directly to the discourse context; 2) particles that head DiscourseP do refer directly to the discourse; and 3) particles that head AffectP refer to the discourse and express human emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-138
Number of pages30
JournalStudies in Chinese Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cantonese
  • discourse particles
  • left periphery
  • syntax


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