On Structural Particles in Sinitic Languages: Typology and Diachrony
In the Chinese linguistic tradition, the term ‘structural particle(s)’ (jiégòu zhùcí 结构助词) is used to refer to functional elements that mainly act as markers of adnominal modification, nominalisation, adverbial modification and in the so-called verb complement constructions. In Standard Mandarin, the three commonly used structural particles are all realised as /tə/, but they are written with different characters (的, 地 and 得), which somehow reflect their distinct origins. However, the same functions are mapped onto different markers in other Sinitic languages, and each of the functions listed above may be associated to more than one construction. In this paper, we provide an overview of the range of variation in the domain of structural particles in Sinitic, based on the analysis of a convenience sample of 77 Chinese dialects. We highlight some areal and genealogical trends in the distribution of these forms, and we discuss some hypotheses on their origins and on their evolution: specifically, we focus on the markers of adnominal and adverbial modification. We argue that markers of adnominal and adverbial modification may sometimes arise from different sources and undergo formal merger, due to structural analogy and/or to phonetic similarity.