Sentence-final particles and intonation: Two forms of the same thing

Author(s): John C. Wakefield


This paper argues that the linguistic forms of intonation that have scope over the whole sentence are morphemic, and should therefore be classified as suprasegmental sentence particles. In defense of this hypothesis, a range of studies are reviewed which argue that intonation expresses discourse meanings (or has grammatical functions), and that these meanings (or functions) are comparable to those expressed by segmental particles. Some of these are contrastive studies that compare segmental particles to intonation, and some are studies that look at intonational forms directly. The author’s own research, based on translations from native bilinguals, has shown that a number of Cantonese sentence-final particles translate consistently into English as specific forms of intonation. Ladd (2008, p. 5) said that if the functional similarity between particles and intonation can be validated, then this should outweigh what he described as “clear phonetic and syntactic differences” between particles and intonation, and that intonation should then be redefined to include segmental particles. It is argued that there is now enough evidence to validate the claim that particles and intonation have the same meanings/functions. The implication is that the only difference between segmental particles and intonation is their phonological properties.


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