Classifier choices in discourse across the seven main Chinese dialects

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Discourse activates classifiers. No classifier, either general or sortal (e.g. CLF:elongated &#26781; <i>tiao</i>), appears with 44% of Mandarin nouns in descriptions of Chafe’s Pear Stories film (Shanghai Wu 44%, Cantonese 37%). Classifiers only appear for highlighting. General classifiers dominate (53% Mandarin nouns, Shanghai 45%, Cantonese 45%). Only general classifiers appear in 40% of Mandarin stories (Shanghai 0%, Cantonese 3%). Sortals are infrequent: 3% of Mandarin nouns (Shanghai 11%, Cantonese 18%). Speakers name the same nouns, but sortals vary. Synonymous sortals (“bicycle” &#26550; <i>jia </i>CLF:frame/&#37096; <i>bu</i> CLF:machine), form 26% of Mandarin sortals (Shanghai 9%, Cantonese 30%). No sortal listed in dialect dictionaries denotes a superordinate category (e.g. “animal”); 75% differ from Mandarin; 18% have no Mandarin cognate.


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