Keeping It Classy: Sinitic Classifiers and Their History in Literature
Tri-College (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges). Department of Linguistics
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The purpose of this study is to chart the history of nominal classifiers in Sinitic (Chinese) languages. The particular focus is the forms in which classifiers appear throughout the written record, and to aid this analysis data was gathered from a corpus of literary works spanning from the very earliest complete works of literature written in the 5th century BC to full-length vernacular novels written in the 18th century AD. The study finds that classifier phrases gradually began to overtake other methods of counting beginning around the 5th century AD, but oddly count phrases that do not utilize classifiers persisted in the literature at least as far as 1740 AD, which should not have been possible at least in the spoken language. Two solutions are presented to account for this co-occurrence of what should be complementarily distributed structures. The first being a prosodic solution, as detailed by Feng (2012), and the second being one that focuses instead on extra-linguistic aesthetic concerns that may have artificially preserved syntactic structures that were seen as more "literary" even though they were no longer found in the spoken language. Ultimately, the study is inconclusive as to which, if either, account is better suited to explain the discrepancies observed in the data, but the importance of considering extra-linguistic factors in particular is emphasized.