Cantonese pronouns

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Pronouns in Cantonese are less numerous than their Indo-European languages counterparts. Cantonese uses pronouns that apply the same meaning to function as both subjective (English: I, he, we) and objective (me, him, us) just like many other Sinitic languages.[1]

Personal pronouns[edit]

Cantonese personal pronouns [2]
Person Singular Plural*
General Classic General Classic
First person
  • - ngo5
   'I/me'
  • - ngo5 (acc.)
  • - ng4 (nom.)
  • 我哋 - ngo5 dei6
   'we/us'
  • 我等 - ngo5 dang2
  • 吾等 - ng4 dang2
Second person
  • - nei5
   'you'
  • - ji5
  • - jyu5
  • 你哋 - nei5 dei6
   'you (all)'
  • 爾等 - ji5 dang2
  • 汝等 - jyu5 dang2
Third person
  • - keoi5
   'he/she/it'
  • - kei4 (gen.)
  • 佢哋 - keoi5 dei6
   'they/them'
  • 其等 - kei4 dang2
* Personal pronouns are the only items in Cantonese with distinct plural forms. The character to indicate plurality is formed by adding the suffix 哋 (dei6), and classic 等 (dang2).

There exist many more pronouns in Classical Chinese and in literary works, including (jyu5) or (ji5) for "you", and (ng4) for "I" (see Chinese honorifics) and However, they are not used in colloquial speech.

Third person singular (keoi5) [3] Although (keoi5) is primarily used to refer to animate nouns (people or animals)in higher registers, it can also refer to inanimate objects and abstract entities in some restricted contexts. When (keoi5) is being referred to an inanimate item it is primarily found in the object position, rather than the subject position. In colloquial speech, its use is frequently extended to refer to nothing at all.[4]

  Example for inanimate objects:   我    想     睇     晒     佢      先     還
                                  ngo5 soeng2 tai2   saai3 keoi5   sin1   waan4 
                                  I    want   read   all   it      first  return
                                 'I want to finish reading it before I return it.'
                                                         (keoi5 = the book)[5]

[6] Plural suffix (-dei6) One of the few grammatical suffixes in the language, the suffix (-dei6) cannot be used to form plural forms of nouns.

   Example: (sin1saang1-dei6) can't be used to mean teachers

Other than the personal pronouns as shown above, its two other uses are:

1. In the form (jan4-dei6) which is used for indefinite pronouns (people, one, etc.)

   Example: 人哋睇住你   jan4dei6 tai2-zyu6 lei5   People are watching you

In this usage, the word (jan4) 'person' can also take (dei6) to mean 'people'. Despite the suffix (-dei6), (jan4-dei6) may have a singular or plural reference depending on the content.

This form can also be used to refer indirectly to oneself:

   Example: A: Léih dímgáai mh chēut sēngga?   Why don’t you say anything?
            B: Yàhndeih mhóuyisi a             Maybe I’m embarrassed

2. In contracted forms with names

   Example: Paul keoi5dei6 → Paul-dei6         Paul and his family/friends
            A-Chan keoi5dei6→ A-Chan-dei6      Chan and his family/company, etc.

The possessive pronoun[edit]

To indicate possession (ge3) is appended to the pronoun.

For serious use, (ling6) to replace , as in 令尊 (ling6 zyun1) "Your father" as 你老頭 (nei5 lou5 dau4). In literary style, (kei4) is sometimes used for "his" or "her"; e.g., 其父 (kei4 fu6) means "his father" or "her father".

The Omitted Pronoun[edit]

In literature, daily phrases (especially ones about family or concepts very close to the owner, or when the subject or object of the sentence is already known, then it may be omitted, e.g. 我老母 (ngo5 lou5 mou5) or replace possession indicator with classifier, e.g. 我架車 (ngo5 gaa3 ce1).

Subject and object pronouns may be omitted in Cantonese under either of these two conditions:

1. The omitted subject or object has been the topic of a previous sentence, question or dialogue.

2. The reference is clear from the context. This applies especially to the first and second person subjects, and to third person entities which are present at the time of speaking.[7]

The reflexive pronoun[edit]

The singular personal pronouns (for humans) may be made reflexive by appending 自己 (zi6 gei2), "self". The reflexive form (zi6 gei2) is used for all persons: myself, yourself, herself, ourselves, etc.[8] It may be distinguished into two different functions:

1. The true reflexive pronoun

[9] 2.An emphatic function, where it reinforces a pronoun or noun phrase.

   Example:  我    自己   唔  會    咁   做
            Ngo5 zi6gei2 m4 wui5 gam2 zou6 
            (lit. I myself not would so behave) 
            I myself would not behave like that

[10] As a reflexive, (zi gei) is subject-oriented. Another common function is to indicate 'by oneself' or 'alone'.

   Example:  我    自己    買     餸    煮   飯
            Ngo5 zi6gei2 maai5 sung3 zyu2 faan6
           (lit. I myself buy groceries cook rice) 
            I’ll buy the groceries and cook by myself

Pronouns in imperial times and self-deprecatory[edit]

In imperial times, the pronoun for "I" was commonly omitted when speaking politely or to someone with higher social status.[citation needed] "I" was usually replaced with special pronouns to address specific situations.[citation needed] Examples include 寡人 gwaa jan during early Chinese history and zam after the Qin dynasty when the Emperor is speaking to his subjects. When the subjects speak to the Emperor, they address themselves as (shen), or "your official". It is extremely impolite and taboo to address the Emperor as "you" or to address oneself as "I".

In modern times, the practice of self-deprecatory terms is still used. In formal letters, the term (gwai; lit. important) is used for "you" and "your"; e.g., 貴公司 refers to "your company". 本人 (bun jan; lit. this person) is used to refer to oneself.

The demonstrative pronouns[edit]

Cantonese demonstrative pronouns
Singular Plural
General Classic General Classic
Proximal
  • 呢個 - ni go
  • 爾個 - ji go
  • 呢啲 - ni di
  • 爾尐 - ji di
  • 爾之 - ji zi
Distal
  • 嗰個 - go go
  • 箇個 - go go
  • 嗰啲 - go di
  • 箇尐 - go di
  • 箇之 - go zi

Single proximal demonstrative refers to as "this," single distal as "that," plural proximal as "these," and plural distal as "those."

呢 (ni) and 嗰 (go) indicates if the demonstratives are proximal or distal, respectively; whereas 個 (go) and 啲 (di) indicates if the demonstratives are single or plural, respectively.

爾 (ji) and 箇 (go) are the classical forms of 呢 and 嗰, respectively. 尐 (di) and 之 (zi) are the classical forms of 啲.

The interrogative pronouns[edit]

Cantonese interrogative pronouns
What Which Who Where When How Why
General
  • 乜嘢 - mat je
  • 咩呀 - me aa
  • 邊個 - bin go
  • 邊個 - bin go
  • 邊位 - bin wai
  • 乜誰 - mat seoi
  • 乜人 - mat jan
  • 邊喥 or 邊度 - bin dou
  • 邊處- bin syu
  • 幾時 - gei si
  • 幾點- gei dim
  • 點樣 - dim joeng
  • 點解 - dim gaai
  • 為乜 - wai mat
Classical
  • 物也 - mat jaa
  • 焉個 - bin go
  • 焉個 - bin go
  • 焉位 - bin wai
  • 物誰 - mat seoi
  • 物人 - mat jan
  • 焉道 - bin dou
  • 焉處 - bin cyu
  • 幾時 - gei si
  • 怎樣 - zam joeng
  • 怎解 - zam gaai
  • 為物 - wai mat

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Li, Shek Kam Tse, Hui (2011). Early child Cantonese : facts and implications. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. p. 24. ISBN 9783110240047. 
  2. ^ Li, Shek Kam Tse, Hui (2011). Early child Cantonese : facts and implications. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. p. 175. ISBN 9783110240047. 
  3. ^ Matthews, Stephen; Yip, Virginia (2011). Cantonese a comprehensive grammar (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. p. 95. ISBN 9780415471312. 
  4. ^ Yip, Virginia; Matthews, Stephen (2001). Intermediate cantonese: a grammar and workbook (1. publ. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. p. 165. ISBN 0415193877. 
  5. ^ Matthews, Stephen; Yip, Virginia (2011). Cantonese a comprehensive grammar (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. p. 95. ISBN 9780415471312. 
  6. ^ Yip, Virginia; Matthews, Stephen (1999). Basic Cantonese a Grammar and Workbook. London: Routledge. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-203-01020-5. 
  7. ^ Matthews, Stephen; Yip, Virginia (2011). Cantonese a comprehensive grammar (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. p. 97. ISBN 9780415471312. 
  8. ^ Yip, Virginia; Matthews, Stephen (1999). Basic Cantonese a Grammar and Workbook. London: Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0-203-01020-5. 
  9. ^ Yip, Virginia; Matthews, Stephen (1999). Basic Cantonese a Grammar and Workbook. London: Routledge. p. 21. ISBN 0-203-01020-5. 
  10. ^ Yip, Virginia; Matthews, Stephen (1999). Basic Cantonese a Grammar and Workbook. London: Routledge. p. 21. ISBN 0-203-01020-5.