The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MorPhun 5/19 - Boer Fu (MIT) and Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT) and Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Numeral Allomorphy in Mandarin Chinese and A Synthetic Side of the Language
Time: Wednesday, May 19th, 5pm – 6:30pm

Abstract: In Mandarin Chinese, the numerals 1 and 2 display interesting allomorphy patterns between two distinct forms. We discuss two puzzles involving single-digit and multi-digit cardinals, their forms when immediately followed by a classifier, as well as their ordinal forms. We argue that we need a morphological rule that refers to both linear order and structural / prosodic relations. Furthermore, the different morphological patterns of numbers below 100 vs. numbers above 100 suggest that Mandarin, despite lacking a synthetic vs. analytic distinction on the surface, in fact makes such a distinction in ways parallel to English. Like English, Mandarin numbers under 100 are synthetic (parallel to English fif+teen and fif+ty), while bases of hundreds and above are analytic (parallel to English five#hundred). We further observe a monotonic trend across languages, where lower number bases tend to be irregular (e.g. suppletive and readjusted), and higher number bases tend to be regular (e.g. analytic). This observation, if real, is interesting because it can be described as *ABA, but cannot be straightforwardly explained by the containment analysis, the traditional analysis of *ABA in the literature.