Classifier to Copula in Chaozhou

Stephen Matthews matthews at HKUCC.HKU.HK
Thu Feb 7 08:41:08 UTC 2002

Peter Trudgill's query and subsequent discussion appear to have solved a
puzzle for me regarding the Chaozhou (Teochew) dialect of Chinese. As Leon
points out, the pronoun > copula development is a widespread one, but this
example may be of interest as it has some properties which may be less
typical (and in any case it's a rare opportunity for the Chaozhou dialect
to feature on LINGTYP).
The morpheme concerned is KAI, easily the most polyfunctional in the
language. It is basically the default classifier, like Mandarin GE, as in:

tsi42	kai55-22 ang33		
this	CL	husband
"this husband (of mine)"

but can be taken as pronominal where there is no head noun, as in:

tsi42	kai55-22 		
this	CL	
"this one"

What has been puzzling is the copular usage as in:

I33 kai55 hak5-2-seng33
3sg COP  student
He is a student

This configuration may be the 'bridging context' (Evans & Wilkins 2000) for
the shift, since [kai hak-seng] can in principle be analyzed as [CL N]
"(is) a student" or as [Copula NP] "is (a) student", and it matches the
proposed universal source structure 'John, he/this man' (Stassen 1997: 77).
The copular usage, quite unlike most forms of Chinese, can occur before a
locative phrase:

uang42-24 ke33-nang55 kai55	to35-21 huang33-pai55
1pl	  family	 COP	at	overseas
"my family were overseas"

This is of typological interest in so far as the non-verbal copula is
"hardly ever documented with verbal or locational predicates" (Stassen, p.91)

It can even appear together with the regular copula SI (Mandarin SHI, which
itself apparently derives from a demonstrative: Stassen, 83):

Ua42	kai55	si35-21 siu35-21 tsi42-24 kai55-22
1sg	COP	COP	suffer   this     CL
"I suffered in this way"

Presumably this reflects the partially grammaticalized status of the copula
(cf. Stassen, p. 76). In formal terms, it suggests that the copula KAI is
occupying a different position, rather than just substituting for the
regular copula within a pan-Chinese template (yes, such a thing is often
Anyway thanks to the copular theorists out there for solving this puzzle.

Stephen Matthews
Department of Linguistics
University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2859 2752
Fax: (852) 2559 7139

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