Linguistics
22nd Mar 2010Posted in: Linguistics, Research 0
On Right Dislocation in Cantonese and Italian

Introduction

Right Dislocation is a displacement phenomenon which occurs in many languages, and is rather common in some languages, such as Cantonese. A RD sentence consists of two parts, an α- string and a β-string. The β-string is a part of the α-string, or shares the same referent with a constituent (usually a pronoun) in the α-string. In Cantonese, the α-string is almost obligatorily ended with a Sentence Final Particle. Therefore, a general pattern of RD can be stated as:

(1) α (SFP) β

Traditionally, RD is regarded by functionalists as a mere afterthought repairing to ambiguous uttered sentences. A speaker may utter a sentence as in (2), and soon realizes that the hearer may not understand who they is referring to, thus immediately adds a supplement the cops.

(2) Theyi spoke to the janitor about that robbery yesterday, the copsi.

However, as Cheung (1998) has pointed out, if RD is only an afterthought, which is employed to further qualify or complete the meaning of an uttered sentence, and the α-string and the β-string are only related by discourse, then there should be no theoretical constraints on the β-string. This is however in contrary to the fact. In English, for example, constituents in subordinate clauses cannot be right-dislocated, as shown in (3).

(3) *That theyi spoke to the janitor about that robbery yesterday is terrible, the copsi.

What this suggests is that RD is indeed a syntactic operation, and can therefore be analyzed syntactically.

Earlier syntactic researches, however, mostly focused on RD in European languages such as English and Italian. Analysis on RD in Cantonese emerged only much more recently. The most comprehensive study of Cantonese RD so far was done by Cheung (1998). In his paper, he contrasted Cantonese RD against RD in European languages, and pointed out the many differences between them. He further categorized RD in Cantonese into three different types, according to their syntactic structures, namely:

  1. Pronominal RD (PNRD) and its variant Repeated Copy RD (RCRD);
  2. Gap RD (GPRD);
  3. Mixed RD (MXRD). (I will elaborate this in §2.2.)

Cheung noted that GPRD is by far the most common type of RD in Cantonese, which accounted by 91.6% of all RD occurrences in his statistics (1998: 10). In view of this, the majority of his analysis focused on GPRD. Subsequent researches on Cantonese RD also paid no particular attention to the other types. One possible reason for this is that while GPRD is usually perceived rather unique to Cantonese, PNRD generally resembles RD in European languages.

In this paper, I will first give evidences to show that GPRD should be identified as a separate phenomenon, rather as RD. I will then show that despite surface similarity with European RD, upon closer inspection, PNRD in Cantonese is in fact different in many ways, and therefore deserves special attention. I will especially compare Cantonese RD with Italian RD, because both of them are pro-drop languages, they therefore share some resemblances which are not found in non-pro-drop languages like English. In addition, since Italian RD is relatively better studied, some of the analysis on Italian can be applied to or at least contrasted with Cantonese.

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