The Min dialect of Chaozhou and comparative Chinese grammar

Stephen Matthews (Principal Investigator)
Virginia Yip (co-investigator)
Umberto Ansaldo, Xu Huiling (Senior Research Assistants)

The project aims to investigate the grammatical features of Chaozhou, a distinctive dialect of the southern Min group spoken in Hong Kong and southeast Asia as well as in eastern Guangdong. The language is relatively little studied despite its known points of divergence from other Sinitic languages. Adopting a typological comparative framework, prominent aspects of Chaozhou are investigated and compared with other Min dialects as well as with Mandarin and Cantonese. The aspects to be covered include question forms, aspect and modality, comparative and passive constructions, and the relationship of tone change to syntax. The project will produce a reference description of Chaozou grammatical patterns and studies of specific areas of grammar in a comparative perspective.

 A centre of Chaozhou culture in Hong Kong: the Chiu Chow Chamber of Commerce in Sheung Wan

Chaozhou is of considerable intrinsic relevance to Hong Kong (where it is known as Chiu Chow): as the ancestral language of some 9% of the population, it is numerically the most important Chinese dialect of Hong Kong apart from Cantonese. While being replaced increasingly by Cantonese in Hong Kong, it is still widely spoken in the Chaozhou region and elsewhere in southeast Asia (e.g. Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, where it is known as Teochew). Its is also associated with distinctive culinary, musical and cultural traditions. Linguists and learners of the language outside China are hampered by the lack of adequate reference materials and will find the planned descriptive grammar useful.

Beyond the study of Chaozhou and southern Min, the significance of the research lies in its contribution to the comparative study of Chinese dialects. Long restricted to phonology and lexicon, this field now extends to grammar, where divergences have been found which are typologically and theoretically revealing. Southern Min dialects are of great interest for the comparative grammar of Chinese dialects: interrogatives, comparatives and aspect, for example, are all known to differ substantially from both Mandarin and Cantonese. However, little is known about other areas of grammar. The research will help to inform the growing field of Chinese linguistics, which is currently dominated by Mandarin data.