Hideaki Sugai jpshs at NUS.EDU.SG
Fri Nov 6 06:32:51 UTC 1998

> > Prof Dreyer wrote:
	> >
	> > 	"?cAmong those that lack either plural inflection or plural
words, I
	> > suspect many do not require classifiers."
	> >
> > This observation is not applicable to _most_ Asian languages, including
> > Japanese, Korean, all the Chinese dialects, Malay/Indonesian and Bangkok
> > Thai.  These languages have well developed classifier systems and lack
plural inflections/productive morphology that derives plural words from the
singular counterparts.  Among Asian languages Cambodian does not seem to
have a well > developed classifier system.
> > I am rather curious about the development of classifiers in Asian >
languages (and I wonder if this is also what Bingfu is interested in).  It
seems that > the developmental path and the use of > > classifiers are
significantly varied in these languages.  In Hokkien, > there is a
classifier which is homophonous to the possessive marker so one > may claim
that there is some kind of iconic > > relation between them (~ is a
nasalized vowel):
	> >
wa		e:		ap 		my box
my		possessive	box

> sa~ 		e: 		ap  		three boxes >
three	classifier	box		

> sa~ 		liap 		durian		three durian
three	classifier	durian
> >
> > But the same kind of  homophonous pair > cannot be found in other
dialects such as Mandarin and Cantonese.  Even > if there is such a form in
a language, the function is very different.
In modern > Japanese, this usage of the possessive marker as a classifier
can only
mean "> 1st, 2nd 3rd" instead of "1, 2 , 3", which sounds very classical and
not productive.
	> > Ichi	no		toride
	> > One 	possessive   	fort
	"> > The first fort"
	> >
> In spite of such diversities, classifier systems do exist and are a > very
typical and lively element in Asian languages.  One suspects that the
existence > of this system CANNOT be explained by any implicational
universals or > a continuum of numbering system with obligatory number
inflection at one end > and a non-classifier system at the other end.
Instead of stating "> if a language does not have plural inflection or
plural words, then the > language will most likely have classifiers",
perhaps classifiers are some > kind of areal feature that spread in Asian
languages.  This is easy to > say, but the following questions must first be
> > 1 Why do certain languages develop classifiers while others do not?
> > 2 Why don't languages go through the same developmental path?
> > 3 Why similar constructions in different languages may not necessarily >
function in the same way?

Hideaki SUGAI
Japanese Studies
National University of Singapore

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