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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The English Equivalents of Cantonese Sentence-final Particles Add Dissertation
Author: John Wakefield Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Completed in: 2011
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonology; Semantics;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Yue
Director(s): Sze-Wing Tang
Dingxu Shi

Abstract: Cantonese has a lexical tone system that severely restricts its ability to
manipulate pitch. As a result, many of the speaker-oriented discourse
meanings that are expressed through intonation in languages such as English
are expressed in the form of sentence-final particles (SFPs) in Cantonese.
Although this is widely known and accepted by linguists, apparently no
study to date has made a systematic attempt to discover whether any of the
more than 30 Cantonese SFPs have English intonational equivalents, and if
so, what those equivalents are. To work towards filling this research gap,
this study examines the English intonational equivalents of four Cantonese
SFPs that divide into the following two pairs: particles of obviousness:
lo1 and aa1maa3; question particles: me1 and aa4.

The purpose of this research is to increase our understanding of the syntax
and semantics of both Cantonese SFPs and English discourse intonation. In
pursuit of this goal, the English equivalent of each of the four SFPs of
this study is identified by examining the pitch contours of
Cantonese-to-English audio translations, which were provided by
Cantonese/English native-bilingual participants. In addition to identifying
an English-equivalent form, a definition is developed for each SFP which is
hypothesized to apply equally to its English intonational counterpart. Each
definition is written using Wierzbicka's (1996) natural semantic
metalanguage (NSM). Applying the Chomskyan generative grammar framework,
the syntax of the SFPs and their English equivalents are examined in light
of past proposals for the syntactic position of various SFPs, adopting
Rizzi's (1997) split-CP hypothesis.

The findings support the literature's claim that the meanings expressed by
(at least some) Cantonese SFPs are expressed in English through the use of
intonation. The findings strongly indicate that these four SFPs are
comparable to identifiable forms of English pitch contours that express the
same (or nearly the same) meanings as their SFP counterparts. Following
proposals of Hirst's (1983a) regarding 'emphatic intonation', these pitch
contours are proposed to be floating tones that exist as lexical entries in
the minds of native-English speakers.

It is argued that this study sheds light on the nature of the phonological
and syntactic parameters that determine the different forms by which
languages express certain discourse-related meanings, i.e., either through
the use of SFPs, or through the use of floating tones, both of which head
phrases within the CP domain. The findings have far reaching implications
regarding the descriptions and classifications of intonation, as well as
regarding the classifications of the various forms of suprasegmentals.

The results of this research come from an investigation that went from the
direction of segmental SFPs to suprasegmental intonation. It therefore used
a non-abstract form to discover an abstract form, thereby exploiting a
unique window through which to examine the forms and meanings of English
discourse intonation, which is one of the least understood and most
difficult to study aspects of English. In using this 'new' instrument for
looking at English intonation, this research has arguably provided the
strongest and clearest evidence to date regarding the forms and meanings of
the particular forms of English intonation with which it deals.