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


On Three Aspect-Related Morphemes “U” “ø” “A” in Taiwanese Minnan

Vol. 28 No. 3   6/1998  




On Three Aspect-Related Morphemes “U” “ø” “A” in Taiwanese Minnan


Feng-fu Tsao









Key words

aspect, perfective aspect, mood, a natural iconic principle


      The past discussion of aspect and aspect markers in Mandarin and Taiwanese Minnan can be characterized as extremely confusing with so many different, and sometimes conflicting, uses of basic terms such as “aspect”, “perfective aspect” etc. To avoid this unnecessary confusion, this paper starts out by defining, as rigorously as we can, such fundamental concepts as “aspect” and “ perfective aspect”, clarifying the relationship between “aspect” and “tense”, “perfective” and “completive” in the process. With these terms now made clear, it goes on to analyze some grammatical markers related to the perfective aspect in taiwanese, namely, “U”, “ø”, and “A”.

    To be more exact, we base our analysis on the universal framework proposed by Smith (1991) by classifying the situation types in Mandarin and Taiwanese Minnan into four: state, activity, accomplishment, and achievement. By finding out its compatibility with each of the four types of situation, we are able to identify that “-LE” is a perfective marker in Mandarin as shown in (1), and its corresponding marker in Taiwanese Minnan as “ø”, this can be demonstrated by comparing (2a) and (2b) with (1).

(1 ) Ta zuotian xie-le san-feng xin.

       He yesterday write-LE three-CL letter.

(2)a. I cahng sia- ø san-tiunn phe.

        He yesterday write- ø three-CL letter.

        ‘He wrote three letters yesterday.’

     b. I cahng u-sia san-tiunn phe.

       He yesterday u-write three-CL letter

       ‘He did write three letters yesterday.’

    Sentence (1) in Mandarin can be roughly translated as (2a) or (2b) in Taiwanese Minnan, but, as reflected in the English translations, (2b) carries some emphasis which is lacking in (2a). This meaning difference c an therefore be safely attributed to ‘U’ ‘EXIST’ in (2b).

    Further examination of TM data reveals that ‘U’ and its negative counterpart ‘BO’ are basically model verbs as it is compatible with all four situation types. It can be interpreted as an aspect marker only when it int eracts with the achievement and accomplishment verbs type.

    ‘A’, on the other hand, is a modal particle. Its basic meaning is to indicate that the proposition expressed by the rest of the sentence involves a change of state. Since in the real world whether a state has changed or not is often subject to personal interpretation, ‘A’ should be more appropriately considered a modal particle.

    With the meanings of three aspect-related morphemes clarified, a further examination of their syntactic positions in the sentence reveals what Tai (1985) has termed ‘a natural iconic principle’, i.e. the more subjective an aspectual-modal morpheme is, the farther away from the main verb it is placed.



Author: Feng-fu Tsao
Genre: Article
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