Variability in Chinese: The Case of a Morphosyntactic Particle


  • Xiaoshi Li Michigan State University



Variation, Chinese, Morphosyntactic Particle, Sociolinguistics, Optionality


DE (?) is the most widely used morphosyntactic particle in Chinese and its most salient features are multifunctionality and optionality. Most existing research is prescriptive and very few studies investigate how speakers actually use DE. This study describes Chinese speakers’ DE use and the effects of linguistic functions, gender, and formality. Results show that contrary to prescriptive claims, speakers occasionally omit DE from clause as modifier environments. Multivariate analysis of DE tokens shows both DE functions and gender are significant. Females tend to use DE more than males. Finally, comparison results of DE use in formal vs. informal situations and oral vs. writing indicate that DE tends to be omitted more in informal speech than in formal situations and writings.

Author Biography

Xiaoshi Li, Michigan State University

Xiaoshi Li is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and Languages at Michigan State University. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, and Chinese language and culture. She has a recent publication in Language Policy and upcoming articles in Language Learning, Journal of Chinese Language Teachers Association, and Intercultural Communication Studies.



How to Cite

Li, X. (2010). Variability in Chinese: The Case of a Morphosyntactic Particle. Sociolinguistic Studies, 4(1), 227–252.




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