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Classifiers in standard Thai : a study of semantic relations between headwords and classifiers Placzek, James Anthony


Standard Thai classifiers have never been studied exclusively and comprehensively. That is, they have been included in grammars of the entire language and are usually discussed by giving a few examples. Specific papers usally deal with some particular aspect of classifiers exclusively. The criteria of classification by a given classifier are a puzzle in many cases. Often there are obvious semantic criteria of classification, and obvious syntactic criteria as well. The relation between semantic and syntactic criteria of classification is unclear. Equally unclear is the relation between headword and classifier, a relation which is the basis of the criteria of classification. In this study, a near-complete list of Thai classifiers is drawn from the Thai-English Student's Dictionary by M.R. Haas (1965). A semantic definition of classifiers is provided and various categories are described. The first category is Repeaters. Members of this category are found to be one-place predicates. A second category is Partial Repeaters and these are found to have a relationship of hyponymy with the headword. Measures are another important category, divided into Standard Measures (exact non-entities) and Temporary Measures (inexact units used as measures according to the intention of the speaker). The remaining category is found to contain non-compoundable classifiers of two types: those with very general referents (size, shape, etc.) and those classifiers in various stages of decreasing semantic equivalence with the sense of the same form as full substantive noun. The former type is labelled "General Units", the latter "Extended classifiers". Extended Classifiers are seen to be of two types: those with a single sense (or apparently "meaningless") and those with several senses, only some of which qualify as Extended Classifiers. The apparently meaningless classifiers /lem/ and /an/ do not occur as substantive nouns at all. The complete collection of nouns classified by each of these two classifiers (according to Haas 1965) is made and each class is examined for common semantic features. On the basis of comparative information from neighbouring and related languages, various possible criteria of extension are established for /lem/, and a basic sense equivalent to "sickle" is indicated by the data. The case with /an/ is rather different since its extensions are much wider and a larger number of nouns is classified. Based on prominent compounds classified by /an/, a basic sense of "stick" is hypothesized for /an/ and the possible paths of semantic extension are suggested. Finally, a "meaningful" Extended Classifier (/tua/, "body") is examined. The sense attributed to this form by native speakers when it functions as a full substantive noun becomes a factor in choosing the sense "body-shape" as the basic sense with classifier function. In concluding remarks, suggestions are made about the applications of the method and results of this paper to lexi cography and semantic reconstruction in Thai and languages of the area. The necessity of further phonological, histori cal and ethnographic information is stressed.

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