R. L. Starr

Affective Sentence-Final Particles on Taiwanese Mandarin Television


Affective Sentence-Final Particles (ASPs) in Mandarin discourse reflect the stances of conversation participants. Linguists still don't know much about how ASPs are distributed in discourse, what stylistic functions they serve, and how their use has changed over time. Some ASPs are popularly associated with the performance of cuteness among young women, but this notion has yet to be extensively evaluated.

My first study draws from a corpus of Taiwanese television dramas to examine how the use of ASPs has changed over time. The language of scripted television has been shown to reflect wider usage, and to influence language change (Tagliamonte & Roberts 2005, Stuart-Smith 2006). Taiwanese dramas are particularly significant due to the popularity of Taiwanese media and its linguistic influence in other regions. This study also presents an opportunity to examine the impact of policy changes since the 1980’s that have relaxed rules on standard Mandarin.

Comparing two programs from the 1980s and two from the 2000s indicates that there is no general increase in overall ASP use over time, but particular ASPs are increasing while others are decreasing. Specifically, o (喔 / 哦) and ei/ye (耶 / 欸) are increasing, while ma (嘛) is decreasing. There is also a corresponding pattern in subtitle accuracy, in which the relative accuracy rates of transcribing o and ei are increasing over time. Both of these trends taken together indicate that o and ei are increasingly entering the mainstream in Taiwanese Mandarin.

This study also examined how different characters and actors use ASPs. Surprisingly, there is no gender difference either in overall ASP rate or in use of particular ASPs. Instead, ASPs are used to construct particular cross-gender character types such as immature, cute, and energetic. Comparing the same character types across different dramas reveals that similar types (heroes, sidekicks, etc.) use very similar rates of ASPs. In contrast, comparing the same actor playing different roles, it seems that while actors vary their overall rate of ASP use depending on what type of character they are portraying, they tend to use the same ratio of particular ASPs. This suggests that most of the ASPs observed on these dramas are ad-libbed by the actors, and are reflective of their real speech patterns.

More studies on ASPs coming up soon!


No papers yet for this project.