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Grammaticalization and compounding in Thai and Chinese: A text-frequency approach

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This paper employs a usage-based, text-frequency approach, in addition to traditional structural and behavioral analysis, to demonstrate two facts in comparative Mainland Southeast Asian grammar. First, we show that while many functional morphemes in Mandarin Chinese and Standard Thai derive from similar lexical sources, and emerge in the context of functionally and syntactically analogous constructions, the outcome is not in fact identical. Morphemes functioning grammatically in Chinese tend to attain a more advanced degree of structural readjustment than their counterparts in Thai. In this sense, they become more, or more deeply, grammaticalized. Next, we demonstrate that while patterns of lexical compounding in Thai and Chinese also resemble one another in being apparently widespread and structurally analogous, compounding is in fact deeper in Chinese than in Thai, as measured by such factors as frequency of occurrence, analyzability to speakers, and semantic shift. It is argued that these facts are plausibly correlated.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-02-01

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