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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


The Changing Forces and Their Interaction in the Meaning of Some Taiwanese Function Words

Vol. 29 No. 4   12/1999  


The Changing Forces and Their Interaction in the Meaning of Some Taiwanese Function Words


Robert L. Cheng









Key words

Taiwanese, semantic change of function words, interaction of forces


     The paper discusses the changing forces and their interaction in the meaning of some Taiwanese function words. Synonyms are categorized in terms of chronological order of language layers, memory units (lexical, morphological and syntactic), stylistic effects in order to observe the trend and forces of change. Among the forces to co-exist, to compete, and to readjust in functions, the trend of change, is to move toward semantic refinement, clear manifestation, effectiveness in memory and stylistic versatility.

    Paul Kay (1977) has observed that speech style of a language changes as the society evolves from a primitive society to modern. Even in the modern society, speech style varies according to life contexts and the social back-grounds of the speakers. Taiwanese has abundant synonyms which can be arranged into the chronological order, and thus provide clues to the direction and motivation of language change. Chronological ordering is determined through dividing the synonyms into common, unique and mixed, and three types of memory unit, lexical, mor phological and syntactic and through examining their reading layers (colloquial is earlier that literary) and comparison with Classical Chinese and Mandarin. (those with no match being the earliest, those matching with a classical Chinese word the second, and those matching one in Mandarin the latest.)

    Function words are divided into three types:(2.1) those that have become more semantically refined as a result of borrowing.(2.2) those that have not been affected by outside influence. (2.3) those that have acquired or retained special meaning only in a given idiomatic pattern.

    The paper focuses on grammatical phenomena that are strikingly different from English. Totality and multiplicity quantifiers move forehead (or upward) to precede their distributive adverb ma ‘also’ or long ‘all’. Distributive bo-lun Q ‘no matter WH-’ and the unexpected conditional lian ‘even’ NP or clauses, also has to move precede their adverb ‘ma. Long, to, ia’ denoting to change in the conclusion. By contrast, English ‘all’, ‘whatever’, or ‘even’ expressions are not required to move. On the other hand, WH-movement is required in English, but not so in Taiwanese (nor in Mandarin and Japanese).

    Marking the premise portion of a conditional is a characteristics of English and Japanese grammar, whereas Taiwanese may redundantly mark both the premises and the conclusion. Taiwanese has imported many con-junctions for premises resulting in a large amount of synonyms and refinement of meanings. Obligatory marking the conclusion portion with a conjunctional adverb is a characteristic of Taiwanese grammar. This type of adverbs have had few borrowings from external sources and have hardly changed their meaning. In investigating the meaning of function words, the paper offers the following points concerning idiomatic constructions.

(1) Han languages have more cases of relying on constru ctions for meaning than English, since function words are often deleted or undergone change of meaning.

(2) It is best to treat the meaning of an idiomatic constructions by listing it in a module where its meaning is marked.


(3) Languages tend to share similar features of regular syntax, but not so in idiomatic constructions. Even between Mandarin and Taiwanese there are quite a few differences.



Author: Robert L. Cheng
Genre: Article
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