Specific unknowns: A case study of epistemic indefinites in Cantonese

Tommy Tsz-Ming Lee


This paper concerns how languages bundle an existential claim and>an ignorance inference in a nominal expression. I present a case study on epistemic indefinites (EIs) in Cantonese and show that Cantonese EIs have a different morphological makeup (m + zi + WH ‘not + know + WH’), when compared to other more discussed EIs. I suggest that the ignorance component associated with mzi-WH is a conventional implicature and that m-zi obtains an adnominal usage via grammaticalization. It denotes a choice function that comes with an ignorance component that is inherited from the predicative meaning of m-zi.


indefinites; ignorance; specificity; choice function; grammaticalization

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v6i1.4952

Copyright (c) 2021 Tommy Tsz-Ming Lee

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