THE DEFINITE INTERPRETATION OF [CL+N] EXPRESSIONS IN SINITIC LANGUAGES: SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC PERSPECTIVES
LI Yanzhi/ Zhejiang Normal University, Zhejiang University, WU Yicheng/ Zhejiang University
It has been claimed in the linguistic literature that numeral classifiers in some Sinitic languages are functionally equivalent to the definite article in the English language, based on the observation that bare classifiers or [Cl+N] expressions can be interpreted as definite under some circumstances. Based on our fieldwork on several Southern dialects in Mainland China, such as Wu, Xiang, Min and Yue dialect, and the evolutionary process of Chinese numeral classifiers, it has been found that (i) the alleged “definiteness” is actually not the inherent property of numeral classifiers themselves, but is expressed via the pragmatic contexts; (ii) [Cl+N] expressions or bare classifiers have nothing to do with “definiteness” out of context, and if placed in a certain context, can be stochastically understood as either definite or indefinite. (iii) it is certainly wrong to ascribe “definiteness” to a certain linguistic element such as “classifier”, “nominal” or even “numeral” when a bare classifier, a bare nominal, a [Cl+N] or a [Numeral +Cl+N] expression is construed as definite in a communicative context, since they constitute an essentially pragmatic phenomenon.
Key words: classifier, definite article, definiteness, pragmatic phenomenon, evolutionary process