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The formation of the inchoative aspect marker heisoenglai in Cantonese

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There are two aspect markers in Cantonese whose meaning and use are similar: heilai and heisoenglai. Their meaning and use are equivalent to qilai in Mandarin, indicating that an event or a state begins. When an object is involved, it splits the two aspect markers into two parts: hei-Object-lai and hei-Object-soenglai. Examining the Cantonese historical materials compiled in the 19th and the early 20th centuries, it is noted that heilai already existed in the 19th century materials while the first occurrence of heisoenglai is found in a text published in 1930s. This paper tries to explore the formation of the inchoative aspect marker heisoenglai from both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. The paper further suggests that heisoenglai is formed as a result of the grammaticalization of the directional form: Verb + hei + Object + soeng + lai, a form which arises by combining Verb + hei + Object and Verb + Object + soeng + lai.


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