Chinese affixes- another case of non-coextensive overlap

In a previous post, I mentioned that there were subtle differences in overlap between Mandarin 了 and Cantonese 咗, namely that the former subsumed more functions than the latter. In this post, I would like to mention another such pair of morphemes: Mandarin verbal suffix 光 (V-guang) ~ Cantonese 晒 (V-saai). These suffixes impose a universal quantifier reading on the argument(s) of the verb e.g.

Mandarin:

人         死-光             了

ren       si-guang      le

people die-SUFFIX DECLARATIVE.PARTICLE

‘All the people died.’

Cantonese:

人         死-晒             啦

yan      sei-saai        lah

people die-SUFFIX DECLARATIVE.PARTICLE

‘All the people died.’

The difference in distribution is that while Mandarin 光 is only used with one-place predicates (passives, intransitives etc), Cantonese 晒 can be used with two/three-place predicates as well in which cases it imposes a universal quantifier reading on the object(s) of the verb e.g.

我      食-哂             啲                                       嘢      啦

ngoh sik-saai        di                                       yeh   lah

I         eat-SUFFIX DETERMINER.PLURAL thing DECLARATIVE.PARTICLE

‘I ate all the food.’

我      俾-哂               佢哋     啲                                      書

ngoh bei-saai         kuidei di                                       shue

I         give-SUFFIX them   DETERMINER.PLURAL book

Either: ‘I gave the books to all of them’ Or: ‘I gave all the books to them.’

A simple substitution of morphemes would produce ungrammatical sentences in Mandarin:

*我 吃-光            東西      了

wo chi-guang   dongxi le

I     eat-SUFFIX thing    DECLARATIVE.PARTICLE

‘I ate all the food.’

*我 給-光               他們     書

wo gei-guang      tamen shu

I     give-SUFFIX  them   book

Either: ‘I gave the books to all of them’ Or: ‘I gave all the books to them.’

Cantonese 晒 therefore has a wider distribution than Mandarin 光, which speaks against a simple morphemic substitution between Chinese dialects. There are therefore clear morphosyntactic similarities and differences between Mandarin and Cantonese, and one must beware of dialectal interference. If my Cantonese students are reading this blog, please don’t make this mistake.

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