Mandarin classifiers from a semantic point of view

Sun, Wei Ping (1989) Mandarin classifiers from a semantic point of view. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

If we discuss classifiers in very general terms, probably all languages have classifiers. Under close examination of classifiers, it is discovered that there are two basic kinds of classifiers: mensural classifiers and sortal classifiers (Lyons:1977). The term 'classifier language' is normally restricted to languages with sortal classifiers: such languages are frequently found in Southeast Asia. -- Mandarin is the official language of China, spoken regionally in the Northern part of China. The language is exceptionally rich in classifiers. Modern Mandarin dictionaries list about 150 standard classifiers. In addition there are many nouns which are borrowed to serve as temporary classifiers. The total number of classifiers is over 500 in spoken and written Mandarin, if we add in the temporary classifiers. The frequency of classifiers has been investigated (Xiong:1977), and it was found that there is one classifier for every 50 characters. In literary works, the frequency is even higher: about 30 characters for every classifier. However, most educated adults commonly confine themselves to a core set of a few dozen classifiers. -- In Mandarin the use of a numeral requires the use of a classifier. Incorrect use of classifiers renders a sentence 'ungrammatical'. The constituents of the numeral classifier construction must occur in the order: Numeral-CL-Noun. Mandarin classifiers include verbal classifiers and noun classifiers. This paper concentrates on noun classifiers. -- Specialists find that sortal classifiers are sometimes determined on perceptual grounds and the object is assigned to a class with which it shares some physical characteristic. Such characteristics are frequently different shapes: long, round and flat, which are further divided into thick/thin, big/small, and flexible/rigid. -- This thesis has tried to provide a full-scale analysis of Mandarin classifiers from a syntactical and a semantic point of view by a native speaker, and introduce an interesting, untouched aspect of classifiers, that has been treated in Chapter Five. The rhetorical function of classifiers has been neglected by scholars, and there is much to be said on this aspect in Mandarin classifiers. The use of classifiers is in part an art and not just a grammatical convention: people have varying degrees of skill in using them. We can invent as many classifiers as we need for rhetorical purposes and these temporary classifiers form an open-ended set. The rhetorical functions of Mandarin classifiers can also express different figures of speech, e.g., sketching, metaphor, simile, metonymy and irony. We can distinguish the classifier from other parts of speech by its sometimes remarkable rhetorical function.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5564
Item ID: 5564
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 61-63.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Linguistics
Date: 1989
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Chinese language--Classifiers; Classifiers (Linguistics)

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