Linguistic Discovery
Dartmouth College

Volume 5 Issue 1 (2007)        DOI:10.1349/PS1.1537-0852.A.313

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Lexicon and Description of Sui Adjective Intensifiers

James N. Stanford

Michigan State University

Sui, an indigenous minority language of southwest China, has an elaborate system of adjective intensification. Adjectives are intensified with word-specific, bound morphemes that usually either rhyme with the base or alliterate with the base. Stanford (2007) notes morpho-phonological patterns that suggest reduplication, rhyme, alliteration, The Emergence of the Unmarked (McCarthy & Prince 1994, Yip 2001), identity avoidance, and “Copy But Don’t Repeat” (Kennard 2004). However, the adjective intensifiers defy a simple, fully predictable explanation in such terms; the intensifier lexicon may be best described as “patterned variety,” a case of lexicalized poetry or a poeticized lexicon. Word formation is guided by general patterns, but each specific intensifier may vary within those overall guidelines. Many adjectives have multiple intensifiers that bear subtle semantic and pragmatic distinctions. The current paper serves as a complement to Stanford (2007) by providing a detailed lexicon of the Sui adjective intensifiers for future reference and further analysis. This lexicon is based on the author’s fieldwork and represents the first detailed account of Sui adjective intensifiers for the wider linguistic community.

1. Introduction[1]

The Sui people are an indigenous ethnic minority of southwest Chin, numbering 346,000 in a 1990 census (He et al. 1992:1) and reported to be 406,902 in 2000 (Xuecun Wei, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). The great majority (93%) live in southern Guizhou Province (Burusphat et al. 2003). The language, a member of the Tai-Kadai family, is isolating, tonal, and largely monosyllabic.

1.1 Sui Phonology

Sui consonants are given below following Li (1948), Shuiyu Diaocha Baogao[2] (1956), Zhang (1980), Luo (1992), Zeng & Yao (1996), Edmondson et al. (2004), as well as the author’s observations of the specific village under investigation, Ljaj Ku Tsong (Zhonghe Township, Sandu Autonomous Sui County).

Table 1. Consonants[3]


























































Table 2 outlines the Sui tone inventory of Ljaj Ku Tsong Village. The inventory is based on the author’s observations and comparison with Shuiyu Diaocha Baogao (1956), Zhang (1980), Luo (1992), Zeng & Yao (1996). The table follows Chao’s (1930) 1-5 scale for contour tones (1=low, 5=high). Tone numbers are based on the traditional system used for areal languages (e.g. Li 1948, Zhang 1980, Edmondson & Solnit 1988). The even/odd distinction in tone numbers represents an interpretation of a historical tone split; even-numbered tones indicate syllables that are supposed to have had historically voiced onsets, while odd-numbered tones indicate syllables with historically voiceless onsets (Li 1948, Edmondson & Solnit 1988). Tones 7 and 8 represent “checked” syllables (defined in this transcription system as syllables ending in –p, -t, or –k). Finally, checked syllables are distinguished as S (short vowel) and L (long vowel).[4]

Table 2. Sui tones in Ljaj Ku Tsong village

Tone 1

Tone 2

Tone 3

Tone 4

Tone 5

Tone 6

Tone 7S

Tone 7L

Tone 8S

Tone 8L











1.2 Sui Adjective Intensifiers

Sui has an elaborate system of adjective intensification that involves rhyme and alliteration. First, note that a generic, non-word-specific intensifier can be used to intensify adjectives, as exemplified in (1).




vɑ:ŋ1 ɕɔ3

‘very tall’




ʔnəm1 ɕɔ3

‘very dark/black’




ʁoŋ5 ɕɔ3

‘very young’

However, intensifiers also commonly take the form of a word-specific, bound intensifier. Such intensifiers may be divided into two major classes that Stanford (2007) calls the Rhyming Class and the Alliterative Class. Examples of the Rhyming Class are given in (2).





ʁɑ:t7 ʨɑ:t8

‘very agile’





ʔmɛj5 tɛj1

‘very selfish’ (often referring to a child)





fɑ:ŋ3 ljɑ:ŋ2

‘very wide’





tom1 ʔnom1

‘very dull’





mbu3 ʨhu5

‘very bulging’





ʔnəm1 fəm2

‘very dark/black’





lɑp7 tɑp8

‘very garrulous’





pjɛ:k7 ljɛ:k7

‘very dirty’




‘crude, rash’

m̥ow1 low1

‘very crude/rash’





mbjɑ3 ʨɑ4

‘very blurry’

Examples of the Alliterative Class are given in (3).





ʁɑ:t7 ʁow1

‘very agile’





ʔmɛj5 ʔmʊ:t7

‘very selfish’ (general usage)





ɕu1 ɕiŋ5

‘very green’





ʨh5 ʨhɑt7

‘very spicy’





3 zu1

‘very light/casual’ (attitude)





3 zeŋ3

‘very light’ (weight)





qəm1 qe5

‘very bitter’





ɕɑ1 ɕɛn1

‘very sharp’





ʁəm1 ʁoj1

‘very muddled’

In most cases, the intensifiers are word-specific, bound morphemes which are not attested elsewhere in the language. Homonymy with other lexical items outside the adjective intensifier lexicon occasionally occurs, but Sui speakers consider such rare homonyms to be coincidental and unrelated.

In addition to the two major classes of rhyming and alliterative intensifiers, some intensifiers do not show any phonological resemblance with their bases. For example, xom3 ‘sour’ → xom3 pjɑ:t7 ‘very sour’. Stanford (2007) suggests the possibility that such items represent historical compounds where the second syllable has lost its original status as a stand-alone word.

Comparing (2a-b) and (3a-b) above, note that a given base adjective may have more than one intensifier. Subtle semantic and pragmatic differences are often observed in such instances. Another example is given in (4).




ʨoŋ3 ʨɛn1

‘very thin/skinny’ (most common/general)


ʨoŋ3 ʨop7

‘very thin/skinny’ (derogatory, higher intensity than ʨoŋ3 ʨɛn1)


ʨoŋ3 fj4

‘very thin/skinny’ (higher intensity than ʨoŋ3 ʨɛn1)

Finally, within the Rhyming Class, there is a subset of complex rhyming expressions involving three or more rhyming syllables. For example:





tjəŋ njəŋ

‘very full’


tjəŋ njəŋ sjəŋ

‘extremely full’

2. Analysis

A summary of Stanford’s (2007) analysis is given in §2.

2.1 The rhyming class

In the Rhyming Class of intensifiers (e.g. (2)), Stanford (2007) finds clear evidence of The Emergence of the Unmarked (McCarthy & Prince 1994), the process whereby unmarked forms “emerge” in environments such as reduplication where base-reduplicant identity is ranked lower than markedness constraints (in the Optimality Theoretic terms of Prince & Smolensky (1993).) Stanford follows Yip’s (2001) analysis of reduplication in Chaoyang and other Chinese languages, finding that coronal onsets (i.e., unmarked onsets) are generally favored in the Sui intensifiers. Examples are given in (6).





vɑ:ŋ1 tɕɑ:ŋ2

‘very tall’





fɑ:ŋ3 l jɑ:ŋ2

‘very wide’




mbu3 hu5

‘very protruding’





ʔmɛj5 tɛj1

‘very stingy’





xom3 tom4

‘very sour’





qɔn4 ʔnjɔn3

‘very short’





mət7 tɕət8

‘very tight’





pən1 ʔnən1

‘very stupid’

Stanford reports that the intensifier has a coronal onset in 95% (56/59) of the cases where the base onset is non-coronal (as in (6)). For both coronal and non-coronal onset bases, the intensifier has a coronal onset in 88% (88/100) of the cases.

However, Stanford notes that identity avoidance also plays a role in the choice of intensifier onset. A base with a coronal onset, e.g. ləŋ, does not normally reduplicate as *ləŋ ləŋ. Instead, it reduplicates as ləŋ təŋ; i.e., the intensifier remains coronal (following TETU), but the manner of articulation has changed. This suggests the presence of identity avoidance working in conjunction with TETU. Specifically, Stanford follows Yip’s (1995a) use of *REPEAT (Identical syllables cannot be adjacent) and Kennard’s (2004) “Copy But Don’t Repeat.” In this way, a combination of TETU and identity avoidance is used to explain ləŋ ləŋ təŋ and ləŋ ləŋ *ləŋ.

As for tone, Stanford observes that rhyming intensifiers often copy the tone of their bases, although there are some cases where a non-falling-tone base has a falling-tone intensifier.

2.2 The alliterative class

Intensifiers in the Alliterative Class (e.g. (3)) do not show evidence of the TETU effects found in the Rhyming Intensifiers. The rhymes of alliterative intensifiers show a great deal of variety. Further, there is no apparent preference for unmarked forms as would be expected of TETU. Identity avoidance is clearly present since the intensifier rhymes differ from their base rhymes, yet the specific choice of rhyme appears to be quite flexible.

2.3 Patterned variety

Stanford concludes that Sui intensifiers represent a system of patterned variety that could be described as lexicalized poetry or as a poeticized lexicon. First, note in (7-8) that the presence of multiple intensifier options precludes the possibility of strict word formation rules for a given base.






phɑ1 phoj1

‘very gray’ (e.g. ash spots on clothing)




phɑ1 phəŋ1

‘very gray/pale’ (especially referring to skin)




phɑ1 phɛw3

‘very gray’




phɑ1 phok7

‘very gray’ (often referring to a distant, misty scene)






xom3 tom4

‘very sour’




xom3 ʔnom5

‘very sour’

The intensifiers (exemplified in (7-8)) follow general guidelines (rhyme, alliteration, TETU, “Copy But Don’t Repeat”), yet the specific features of a given intensifier may vary within those general guidelines. For example, in rhyming intensifiers, TETU encourages a coronal onset, yet the specific choice of coronal varies.

Alliterative intensifiers further illustrate this patterned variety on the tonal level. Stanford observes that the tone of an alliterative intensifier and the tone of its base usually come from the same side of the tone split discussed above. In other words, both are usually either even-numbered tones or odd-numbered tones. Thus, the tones of alliterative intensifiers exhibit patterned variety: the specific choice of intensifier tone can vary, but it usually must stay within the same side of the tone split, even or odd.

Stanford’s analysis may be confirmed through future cross-linguistic comparisons. Phenomena that appear to be at least generally similar to Sui adjective intensifiers have been reported in nearby Tai-Kadai languages such as Bouyei (Yu et al. 1994), but no data are available for comparison. Vietnamese may also have similar adjective intensification (Thompson 1965, James Kirby personal communication). Thus, a cross-examination of the Sui data with other languages may yield further insights in the future.

3. The lexicon

The data entries provided here represent phonetic observation of the pronunciation of a native male Sui speaker in Ljaj Ku Tsong village, July 2004. The author collected 400 intensifiers from that speaker with the goal of providing the first detailed set of data representing a Sui speaker’s intensifier system. Prior work includes Wei (1999), who provides an initial description of about 20 Sui intensifiers. Two general Sui dictionaries (Burusphat, Wei, & Edmondson 2003 and Zeng & Yao 1996) also include intensifiers in their entries. However, such collections sometimes have a mix of dialect variants or historical variants, especially since intensifiers can vary in subtle ways from village to village. Therefore, the author set out to establish a single, detailed intensifier lexicon representing the synchronic lexicon of a single speaker.

Future phonological analysis of Sui may provide insight into transcription decisions for features such as the length of /ɑ:/ and the status of onset glides. The data set is divided into two main categories, the Alliterative Class and the Rhyming Class, and then further subdivided by morpho-phonological features. The small class of intensifiers with no base-reduplicant phonological resemblance is listed separately (the No-Pattern Class).

For all adjective intensifying expressions, the leftmost syllable is assumed to represent a monosyllabic adjective unless otherwise indicated. When an expression has more than two syllables, an underline is used to indicate which pair of syllables belong to the given category being analyzed in that section.

As noted above, a single base adjective often has more than one possible choice of intensifier. In such cases, each intensifier is listed in its appropriate category below. When available, further information is provided to show semantic/pragmatic contrasts between such different intensifier options for a single base adjective.

“Variant” refers to a minor alternation in pronunciation of a given entry that the consultant views as equivalent to his primary pronunciation.

3.1 The Alliterative Class

The intensifiers in the alliterative class are organized in the following groups (where “checked” refers to syllables with –p, -t, -k in syllable final position):

1. Checked base syllable, unchecked reduplicant syllable

2. Checked base, checked reduplicant

3. Unchecked base, checked reduplicant

4. Unchecked base, unchecked reduplicant:

4.1 Nasal-final base, nasal-final reduplicant

4.2 Nasal-final base, vowel/glide-final reduplicant

4.3 Vowel/glide-final base, nasal-final reduplicant

4.4 Vowel/glide-final base, vowel/glide-final reduplicant

In addition to the adjective intensifiers, a few alliterative nouns and other word classes are included for future analysis, e.g., ʔɲɛt7 ʔɲɔ3 ‘swing’ (n.). Such words could share similar alliterative origins as the adjective intensifiers since Sui is otherwise largely monosyllabic.

3.1.1 Checked base, unchecked reduplicant

ʁɑ:t7 ʁow1

‘very nimble, agile’ (general use)

mbɔ:k7 mbow1

‘very protruding, having many protrusions’ (general use)

ʔɲɛp7 ʔɲeŋ3

‘very narrow’ (higher level of intensity than ʔɲɛp7 ʔɲɛ:t7)

ʔɲɛt7 ʔɲɔ3

‘a swing’ (n.)

ʔbok7 ʔbow1

‘very coarse’ (for small objects or tabletops)

ʔdɑŋ1 thɑk7 thɛj1

‘very bright’ (ʔdɑŋ1 ‘bright’)

ɲ̥ɑk7 ɲ̥ɛn1

‘very coarse, rough’

ɲ̥ɛ:t7 ɲ̥ɛj1

‘sealed very tightly’ (higher intensity than ɲ̥ɛ:t7ɲ̥ow1)

ɲ̥ɛ:t7 ɲ̥ow1

‘sealed very tightly’ (general use)

ɲ̥ɛt7 ɲ̥ɛj1

‘sealed very tightly’

ɲ̥it7 ɲ̥ɔ3

‘very cold’ (weather)

ʔjɛt7 ʔjɔ3

‘very long ago’

lɑp7 leŋ5

‘very chatty, talkative’ (derogatory)

ljɛk8 ljuj2

‘very strong’ (general use)

ljɛp7 lju3

‘very remote, very faraway place’ (ljɛp7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ljɛt7 ljɑw3

‘hypocritical, false display of affection’ (ljɑw3 is not otherwise attested in this region, but it appears in other dialects as ljɑw3 ‘proud’)

ljɛt7 ljom1

‘very proud’

ljok7 ljɛn1

‘very sweaty’

m̥ɑt7 m̥ɛw1

‘very dirty (derogatory, e.g., an animal or person’s face)

mɔk7 mom2

‘very fierce, brave’ (can refer to actions, unlike mɔk7 tɕɔk8 )

mɔk7 mow2

‘very fierce, brave, greedy’ (may be related to mow2 in qha1 mow2 ‘greedy’)

pɑ:k8 2

‘very white’ (often used to refer to skin)

pɑ:k8 pəŋ4

‘very white’ (general use)

qhop 7 qhɛj5

‘very rugged’ (of mountain) (qhop7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

qhɑt7 qhow1

‘very bitter’

sʊt7 som1

‘very hot’

sət7 sɛw3

‘very pretty, cute’ (esp. little animals or children)

tjʊt8 tjɑw4

‘very wrinkled’ (e.g., clothes) (higher intensity than tjʊt8 tjɛt8)

tɕɑk7 tɕom3

‘very stiff, inflexible’ (general use)

thɑk7 thɑw1

‘very clear and bright’ (less common than thɑk7 tɛj1) (thɑk7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

thɑk7 thɛj1

‘very clear and bright’ (general use) (thɑk7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

3.1.2 Checked base, checked reduplicant

ʔɲɛp7 ʔɲɛ:t7

‘very narrow’ (general use)

ʔɲɛp7 ʔɲʊ:t7

‘very narrow’ (can be derogatory, higher level of intensity than ʔɲɛp7 ʔɲɛ:t7)

ndjop7 ndjɑ:p7

‘very crafty, sly’

tɕɑk7 tɕop7

‘very still, inflexible’ (higher intensity than tɕɑk7 tɕom3)

tjʊt8 tjɛt8

‘very wrinkled’ (e.g., clothes) (general use)

tsʊ:t7 tsət7

‘very wrinkled or curly’ (esp. hair)

3.1.3. Unchecked base, checked reduplicant

ɣɔ2 ɣɑ:t8

‘very empty’ (esp. empty-handed)

ndəm5 ndɛ:t7

‘very short’ (height) (general use)

ndəm5 ndʊ:t7

‘very short ‘(height)

ndj5 ndʊ:t7

‘very dark’ (higher level of intensity than ndj5 ndom1)

ʔɔ3 ljɔ:k7

‘very clean/clear, wiped clean’

ʔɲɑm1 ʔɲɑt7

‘very fierce’

ʔbɑŋ1 ʔbɛ:p7

‘very thin’

ʔdɑ3 ʔdɔ:t7

‘very hard’

ʔdjɛj5 ʔdjɛ:k7

‘very shallow’ (general use)

ʔi:t7 ʔɲɑ:t7

‘very cold’

ʔnəŋ5 ʔnɔ:t7

‘very salty’

ʔnəm1 ʔnʊt7

‘very black/dark’(higher level of intensity than ʔnəm1 ʔnej1)

ʔmɛj5 ʔmʊ:t7

‘very stingy’ (general use)

ʔnɑ1 ʔnɔ:k7

‘very thick’ (general use)

ʔom5 ʔɔ:t7

‘very humid, muggy weather’ (higher intensity than ʔom5 ʔoj1)

ɕəŋ2 ɕɔ:t8

‘very straight or naïve/unintelligent’ (general use)

ɲ̥ow5 ɲ̥ɛt7

‘very ugly’ (general use)

ɲɑw6 ɲɛt8

‘very slender, thin’ (of a person) (ɲɑw6 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ɲoŋ2 ɲɛt8

‘very muddled, confused’

ɲɑn4 ɲɔk8

‘very bored’

ŋ̥ɑw3 ŋ̥ɔ:k7

‘very cold’

khi3 khop7

‘opened a little crack’ (e.g., a window) (consultant is unsure if this is an adjective+intensifier pair or simply a two-syllable word; khi3 means to open just a crack; khop7 is not otherwise attested)

1 kɑ:t7

‘very sparse’

koŋ3 kət7

‘very dry’ (esp. for skin)

koŋ3 kop7

‘very dry’ (esp. for physical objects which once held water/moisture)

ljok7 ljɑ:t7

‘very sweaty’

ljow4 ljɔ:k7

‘completely finished’

phɑ1 phok7

‘very gray’ (often referring to misty mountains)

phɑj3 phɑ:k7

‘very crooked’ (phɑj3 ‘crooked’ appears to be a variant of ʔbɑj3 ‘crooked’)

phow3 phɔp7

‘very swollen’

pɑj6 pɑk8

‘very crooked’

pi2 pʊt8

‘very fat’ (only referring to people; has an intimate, ‘cute’ sense)

pjɑŋ6 pjɑp8

‘very shriveled, withered’; (note: there is a two-syllable word, pjɑp7 pjɛ1 with similar meaning)

pj2 pjɑt8

‘very flat’

pu1 pop7

‘very swollen, bulging’

qəm1 qɑ:t7

‘very bitter’ (often refers to vegetables)

qəm1 qʊ:t7

‘very bitter’ (general use)

qəm5 qɑ:t7

‘very purple/dark’ (often refers to dark skin; higher intensity than qəm5 qɛj1)

qəm5 qʊ:t7

‘very purple/dark’ (general use)

qɛn5 qɔk7

‘very colorful’ (higher intensity than qɛn5 qɛw1)

qɑj2 qək8

‘very crooked’ (tends to be derogatory; higher intensity than qɑj2 tjɑj1)

qom2 qək8

‘having many protrusions, not level’ (higher intensity than qom2 qɛj2)

1 sop7

‘very itchy/prickly’ (e.g., thorns) (higher intensity than sɑ1 som1)

sjow3 sjɛ:t7

‘very few’ (general use)

tɕɑw1 tɕɑk7

‘very curved’ (e.g., curly hair) (indicates greater curvature than tɕɑw1 ŋjɛw3)

tɕɛ5 tɕop7

‘very old’ (of people) (general use)

tɕoŋ3 tɕop7

‘very skinny’ (higher intensity than tɕoŋ3 tɕɛn1; also tɕoŋ3 tɕop7 tends to be derogatory; tɕoŋ3 tɕɛn1 and tɕoŋ3 fj4 are not so derogatory)


‘very spicy’ (general use)

tɑj5 tɔk7

‘multicolored’ (higher intensity, brighter colors than tɑj5 tew1)

tjəm6 tjət8

‘very anxious, agitated’ (status as an adjectival expression is unclear: tjəm6 is a verb ‘to stomp one’s feet’)

tjɛn2 tjɔk8

‘very full’ (of food)

tju5 tjɑ:t7

‘very tough, firm’

tshjɑŋ1 tshjɛt7

‘very attractive, good-looking’ (general use)

3 xɔ:t7

‘very poor’

xɑ:n4 xit8

‘very slender, tall (of a person) or a long road’

xʊt7 xɑt7

‘very skilled’

zɑw1 zɑk7

‘very numb, insensitive’

3.1.4 Unchecked base, unchecked reduplicant Nasal-final base, nasal-final reduplicant

ndəm5 ndeŋ3

‘very short’ (height) (higher intensity than ndəm5 ndɛ:t7)

ndjɛn3 ndjɔn3

‘very short’ (length) (higher intensity than ndjɛn3 ndjow5)

ndj5 ndom1

‘very dark’

ʔnjəm5 ʔnjom3

‘very dark’

ŋ̥əm3 ŋ̥eŋ3

‘very dizzy’

ŋ̥əm3 ŋ̥ən5

‘very confused’

kh3 khən1

‘very brown’ (general use)

koŋ3 keŋ3

‘very dry’ (esp. for pools of water or cooking pots which once held water)

lwɔn6 lɑn6

‘very disorderly, messy’

ljɑn5 ljɛn1

‘very spicy’

ljɛm5 ljɑ:ŋ1

‘very talkative’

phɑ:ŋ3 phom3

‘very moldy’ (higher intensity than phɑ:ŋ3 phow1)

tɕoŋ3 tɕɛn1

‘very skinny’ (general use)


‘very steep’ (general use)


‘very spicy’ (less common than tɕh5hɑ:t7; higher intensity)

th3 thom1

‘puffed, bulging, not wrinkled’ (general use)

təm5 tɔm3

‘very dark’ (weather)

vɑŋ1 vjɛn5

‘very tall’ (vɑŋ1 vjɛn5 does not include a sense of ‘strong’, unlike vɑ:ŋ1 tɕɑ:ŋ2) Nasal-final base, vowel/glide-final reduplicant

ɣɑ:ŋ5 ɣɑ:w1

‘very clean/clear/cool’

ʁəm1 ʁoj1

‘very muddled, confused’ (mental)

ʁoŋ5 ʁɛw1

‘very young’ (general use)

ʁoŋ5 ʁɛw3

‘very young’ (higher intensity than ʁoŋ5 ʁɛw1)

mbjɑm6 mbjɛ1

‘very damp/humid’ (tends to refer to food, skin, or clothes; more limited usage than mbjɑm6 tɕɑm6)

mbj1 mbjɛj1

‘very expensive’

ndɑ:ŋ1 ndwej1

‘very fragrant’

ndjɛn3 ndjow5

‘very short’ (length) (general use)

ʔɣom5 ʔɣi3

‘very swollen’

ʔɲɛn3 ʔɲwej3

‘very tender’ (of objects or human heart)

ʔboŋ5 ʔboj1

‘very soggy, muddy’

ʔdjɛn1 ʔdjoj1

‘very smooth, shiny’

ʔdjɛn1 ʔdjɔ5

‘very itchy’ (ʔdjɔ5 also appears as a verb ‘pull’)

ʔdjɛn3 ʔdjoj3

‘very tender’ (a variant: ʔnjɛn3 ʔnjoj3)

ʔjəm1 ʔjɔ3

‘very deep’ (general use)

ʔjəm1 ʔjɔj1

‘very deep’ (often refers to dangerous situations, e.g., deep, opaque water)

ʔnəm1 ʔnej1

‘very black/dark’ (common, e.g., dark black clothes)

ʔnəm1 n̥ɛw1

‘very black’ (esp. a portion of an object that is blackened)

ɕɛn6 ɕwej2

‘very tiring’

ŋ̥əm3 ŋ̥i3

‘very dizzy’ (described as being a reduced form of ŋ̥əm3 ŋ̥eŋ3)

ŋ̥ɑ:n5 ŋ̥ow1

‘very cold’ (esp. for water)

ŋən4 ŋɔ3

‘very stupid, stupefied’ (ŋən4 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

fɑ:n1 foj1

‘very gentle flavor or very relaxed, easy’; fɑ:n1 = ‘slow’)

fɑ:n1 foj3

‘very gentle flavor’ (note that fɑ:n1 foj3 doesn’t have the secondary meaning ‘relaxed, easy’ found in fɑ:n1 foj1)

fin6 fju2

‘very steep’

fom1 fi3

‘very still and quiet’ (fom1 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

jɛn2 joj2

‘very orderly’

khən1 khoj1

‘very diligent’(khən1 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

kɑ:n5 kej1

‘very white’ (complexion)

kiŋ3 kju1

‘very pretty’

kom5 ki3

‘very weak/sickly’

liŋ3 ljow1

‘very clear/dry’ (weather)

ljɛŋ1 ljɛj1

‘all the same, all one kind’ (grammatically required to have another corresponding syllable ljɛŋ1 at the beginning of the phrase: ljɛŋ1 ow4 ljɛŋ1 ljɛj1 ‘only rice, nothing else’ (ow4 = ‘rice’)

ljɛn6 ljoj2

‘very sweet’

loŋ5 lɑw1

‘very loose’ (esp. referring to a loosely fitting object which distinguishes this intensifier from loŋ5 lɛw3)

loŋ5 lɛw3

‘very loose, spacious’ (e.g. very few people present during market day)

m̥ɑn3 m̥uj3

‘pure yellow’

m̥ɑn3 m̥ow1

‘deep yellow’ (most common)

ʔom5 ʔoj1

‘very humid, muggy weather’ (general use)

ɕəŋ2 ɕɔj2

‘very stupid’ (only referring to intelligence, not straightness of objects, cf. ɕəŋ2 ɕɔ:t8)

ɲ̥əŋ5 ɲ̥ɔ3

‘very worried’

nuɛn6 nɛj2

‘very tender’

phɑ:ŋ3 phi3

‘very moldy’ (higher intensity than phɑ:ŋ3 phow1)

phɑ:ŋ3 phow1

‘very moldy’ (esp. for objects, e.g. clothes)

phjɔn5 phjow1

‘very barren, clear’

pən1 poj1

‘very stupid’ (general use)

qɑ:ŋ5 ljɑ:ŋ5 ljɑ4

‘very simple, crude’ (e.g. a simple house) (the syllables are not otherwise attested)

qhən1 qhoj1

‘very delicious’

qəm1 qe5

‘very bitter’ (higher intensity than qəm1 qʊ:t7)

qəm5 qəŋ3

‘very purple/dark’

qəm5 qɛj1

‘very purple/dark’ (often refers to dark skin)

qɔn4 qow2

‘very short’ (higher intensity than qɔn4 ʔnjɔn3)

qɛn1 qɛw1

‘very agile/nimble’ (higher intensity than qɛn1 qoj1)

qɛn1 qoj1

‘very agile/nimble’ (general use)

qɛn5 qɛw1

‘very colorful’ (general use)

qom2 qɛj2

‘having many protrusions, not level’ (general use)

som5 si5

‘very wet and very dirty’ (neither syllable is otherwise attested in any similar context; this expression most commonly serves as an intensifier of another word such as phjɑ:t7 ‘filled with blood’)


‘very steep’ (higher intensity than tɕɛn3h1)

wɔn3 tɕɛw3

‘wound a lot (wire, string) or a very winding, curving (road)’

tɕɛn6 tɕɛj2

‘very cheap’

th3 thɑw1

‘puffed, bulging, not wrinkled’

tom1 tɛj1

‘very blunt, dull’ (does not refer to intelligence)

tom1 toj1

‘very blunt, dull’ (does not refer to intelligence; higher intensity than tom1 tɛj1)

tshjɑ:ŋ1 tshjɑw3

‘very attractive, good-looking’

tsəŋ1 tsɛ5

‘very constricted, bloated’

tsən2 tswej2

‘very sharp’

xɔŋ1 xɑw1

‘very hollow’

xəm1 xu3

‘very early’

xən5 xɑ:ŋ1

‘very strong/healthy’

zən1 zwoj1

‘very heavy’ (lower intensity than zən1 ɲɑk7) Vowel/glide-final base, nasal-final reduplicant

ɣɔ6 ɣɑ:ŋ4

‘very leaky’ (general use)

mbu3 mbəŋ1

‘very protruding’ (often refers to small objects, food)

ndɑw5 ndjɑ:ŋ1

‘to move around with rolling, rocking motion’ (adjective/verb status unclear)

ʔɣɑj3 ʔɣəŋ2

‘very long’ (general use)

ʔbjɑ5 ʔbjɛn3

‘very smooth’ (e.g., skin)

ʔdjɛj5 ʔdjɛŋ3

‘very shallow’ (higher intensity than ʔdjɛj5 ʔdjɛ:k7)

ɕɑ1 ɕɛn1

‘very sharp’

ɕu1 ɕiŋ5

‘very green’

ɕu3 ɕɑ:ŋ1

‘very lively’ (uncommon)

ɲ̥ow5 ɲ̥ɛŋ3

‘very ugly’ (humorous; less common than ɲ̥ow5 ɲ̥ɛt7)

ɲ̥u1 ɲ̥iŋ3

‘very smelly’ (esp. of a child)

5 kiŋ1

‘not respectable, not decent, not honest’ (most commonly occurs with məŋ4 ‘happy’ in məŋ4 5 kiŋ1 ‘extremely happy’; kɔ5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

3 ləŋ1

‘very bald’ (hair or a barren mountain)

m̥ɛj5 m̥eŋ3

‘very new’

njɔ5 nj1

‘very unrespectable’ (general use) (nj1 also appears in nj1 sj1)

njɔ5 nj3

‘very unrespectable’ (tends to refer to taboo behavior, higher intensity than njɔ5 nj1)

phɑ1 phəŋ1

‘very gray/pale’ (esp. for a pudgy person with pale skin)

phjɛj5 phjɛŋ3

‘very near’

pu1 pəŋ1

‘very swollen’

qɑw5 qəŋ1

‘very old’ (physical objects)

qu5 lu5 ləŋ3

‘very round’ (tends to refer to smaller objects thanqu5 lu5 su5 does) (qu5 lu5 = ‘round’)

1 som1

‘very itchy/prickly’ (general use)

sjow3 sjɑ:ŋ1

‘very few’ (higher intensity than sjow3 sjɛ:t7)

sju5 sjɑŋ1

‘very dry’

tɕɑw1 tɕeŋ3

‘very curved’ (higher intensity than tɕɑw1 tɕɑk7)

tɑj5 tɔŋ3

‘multicolored’ (higher intensity than tɑj5 tɛw1 but not as high as tɑj5 tɔk7)

tɕɛ5 tɕom3

‘very old’ (of people) (higher intensity than tɕɛ5 tɕop7)

tik7 5 mɔn1

‘very full’; higher intensity than tik7 ndɛp8 (tik7 = ‘full’)

3 vəŋ1

‘very stupid’ (more derogatory than vɑ3 voj3; slightly less intensity than vɑ3 njɑ5)

3 zeŋ3

‘very light’ (general use) Vowel/glide-final base, vowel/glide-final reduplicant

ɣɔ6 ɣi3

‘very leaky anddirty’

ɣɑi6 ɣɛw2

‘very coarse, rough’

mbjɑ3 mbjow1

‘very blurry’ (higher intensity than mbjɑ3 tɕɑ4)

mbu3 mboj1

‘very protruding’ (higher intensity than mbu3 tɕu5)

mbu3 mbow1

‘very protruding’ (higher intensity than mbu3 tɕu5)

mbu3 hoj1

‘very protruding’(tends to refer to large thick objects)

ndɑw5 ndjow1

‘to move around with rolling, rocking motion (adjective/verb status unclear)

ʔɲɑw1 ʔɲɔ3

‘to swing’ (v.); ʔɲɔ3 also appears in ʔɲɛt7 ʔɲɔ3 ‘swing’ (n.)

ʔbjɑ5 ʔbjɛj1

‘very bored’

ʔbjɑ5 ʔbjuj3

‘very smooth’

ʔdɑj1 ʔdɛw5

‘very good’

ʔdi1 ʔdju5

‘very far’

ʔmɑ3 ʔmɛw3

‘very soft’ (usually implies rotten)

ʔmɑ3 ʔmi3

‘very soft’ (uncommon)

ʔmɑ3 ʔmwej3

‘very soft’ (most common)

ʔnɑ1 ʔnoj1

‘very thick’ (implies both big and thick; higher degree of emphasis than ʔnɑ1 ʔnɔ:k7)

ʔne5 ʔnoj1

‘very tired’

ɕɑ1 ɕu5

‘very sharp’ (general use) (ɕu5 also appears in the lexicon as ‘really’ (adv.), but the consultant views ɕɑ1 ɕu5 as having “a true intensifier here”, not simply the adverb ‘really’)

ɲɑj4 ɲ̥ɛw1

‘very dirty/blackened’

fe1 fi3

‘very late’ (general use)

fe3 foj1

‘very tired’

khɑ5 khej1

‘vigorously blazing (a fire) or very greasy (food)’

2 nɔj2

‘stupid, silly’ (nɔ2 also appears in tom1 22 ‘very stupid; nɔ2 has been observed as an independent adjective)

phɑ1 phɛw3

‘very gray’ (esp. gray ash/powder spots on clothing) (variant: phɑ1 phɛw1)

phɑ1 phoj1

‘very gray’ (esp. gray ash/powder spots on clothing)

phjɑ:t7 sɔm5 si5

‘bleeding a lot’ (adjective/verb status unclear) (variant: sɔ5 si5)

pi5 li5 ljoj1

‘very messy’ (cf. pi5li5 si5 which includes the sense ‘narrow’) (variants: phi5 li5 ljɛj1 and phi5 li5 ljɛj1)

qɑw5 qe5

‘very old’ (physical objects) (higher intensity than qɑw5 qəŋ1)

tɕɑw1 ŋjɛw3

‘curved, bent’ (not a very high degree of curvature)

tɑj5 tew1

‘multicolored’ (general use, but relatively shallow colors)

ti3 ti4

‘very small’ (general use)

ti3 tju4

‘very small’ (higher intensity than ti3 tju5 and ti3 tju4)

ti3 tju5

‘very small’ (general use)

tiw3 tjɔ5

‘very dry’ (general use)

3 voj3

‘very stupid’ (more subtle connotation than vɑ3 vəŋ1)

3 zu1

‘very light’ (also: flighty, frivolous attitude)

zɑw1 ze5

‘very numb, insensitive’ (less intensity than zɑw1 zɑk7)

3.2 The rhyming class

The intensifiers in the rhyming class are organized into six groups: intensifiers with labial onsets (Group1), dorsal onsets (Group 2), glottal onsets (Group 3), coronal onsets (Group 4). fully reduplicated pairs (Group 5). and three syllable expressions (Group 6). Within those groups, intensifiers are further differentiated as sets of intensifiers sharing similar onset feature changes. Finally, within some sets, intensifiers are differentiated into subsets of similar feature changes.

In a few cases where a pair of intensifiers rhyme with each other but do not rhyme with the base adjective, then the rhyming pair being analyzed in that section is underlined, e.g., tom1 ‘dull’ → tom1 ŋɔ22 ‘very dull’.

The third syllables of three-syllable rhyming expressions (e.g., m̥ow1 ‘rash (adj.)’ → m̥ow1 low1 ‘very rash’ → m̥ow1 low1 tow2 ‘extremely rash’) are analyzed as a separate set. The two rhyming syllables being analyzed in that section are underlined, e.g., m̥ow1 low1 tow2. In addition, for a few intensifiers where speakers report that the rhyming syllables cannot be separated, e.g., pjɑj5 ljɑj5 sjɑj5 ‘extremely messy’; *pjɑj5 ljɑj5, then the whole expression is listed along with the more typical two-syllable expressions with the first two syllables underlined to show they are being analyzed in that section, e.g., pjɑj5 ljɑj5 sjɑj5.

Group 1 Labial base onsets

Set 1.1: Voiced labial becomes a voiceless coronal obstruent

Feature changes in this set:

[+voice] → [-voice]

[labial] →[coronal]

Variation in Onset Place: 7 cases of [], 1 case of [tj], 1 case of [h], 1 case of [t]

mbɔ:k7 tɕɔ:k8

‘very protruding, having many protrusions’

mbjɑ3 tɕɑ4

‘very blurry’ (most common)

mbjɑm6 tɕɑm6

‘very damp/humid’ (general use)

mbjɑw3 tɕɑw4

‘very muddled’

mbu3 hu5

‘very protruding, having many protrusions’

ʔbɑj3 tjɑj4

‘very crooked’

ʔbok7 hok8

‘very coarse’ (used for large objects such as rocks)

ʔmɛj5 tɛj1

‘very stingy/selfish’

mət7 tɕət8

‘very tight’

mɔk7 tɕɔk8

‘very fierce, brave’

vɑ:ŋ1 tɕɑ:ŋ2

‘very tall’

Set 1.2: Voiceless labial becomes a voiced coronal sonorant

Feature changes in this set:



[-lat]→[+lat] (exception: pən1 ʔnən1)

[-son]→[+son] (exceptions: m̥ow1 low1)

pən1 ʔnən1

‘very stupid’

pi2 pju1 lju1

‘very fat’ (pi2 ‘fat’) (pju1 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

pi5 li5

‘messy’ (e.g. a messy desktop) (pi5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

pjɑj5 ljɑj5 sjɑj5

‘very messy’ (e.g. messy writing or messy soup, differs from pi5 li5 si5 or pjɑ:n6 ljɑ:n6 ɲ̥ɑ:n6; pjɑj5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

pjɑ:n6 ljɑ:n6 ɲ̥ɑ:n6

‘very messy’ (e.g. a messed up pile of books) (pjɑ:n6 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

pjɛ:k7 ljɛ:k7

‘very dirty’

pj2 lj2

‘very flat’ (general use)

m̥ow1 low1

‘very crude’ (derogatory)

fɑ:ŋ3 ljɑ:ŋ2

‘very wide’

fɑ:n1 ljɑ:n2

‘very slow or gentle flavor’ (e.g. alcohol) (Note that fɑ:n1 ljɑ:n2 doesn’t have the secondary meaning ‘relaxed, easy’ found in fɑ:n1 foj1)


phɑj3 tɑj4

‘very crooked’ (the base may be in free variation with ʔbɑj3)

fɑ:t8 ɣɑ:t8

‘very disheveled, weary’ (fɑ:t8 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Group 2. Dorsal base onsets

Set 2.1: Voiced dorsal becomes a voiceless coronal

Feature changes in this set:


Other feature changes are listed below by subset.

Subset 2.1.1:



ʁɑ:t7 tɕɑ:t8

‘very agile’, also ‘hurried, hasty’

Subset 2.1.2:



ʔɣɑj3 ɲ̥ɑj1

‘very long’

Subset 2.1.3:



ŋɑ:t7 tɑ:t7

‘very still and quiet’ (ŋɑ:t7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ŋət8 sət8

‘very stupid’

tom1 ŋɔ22

‘very dull’ (of a knife), ‘unintelligent’ (of a person) (tom1 ‘dull’)

Set 2.2: Voiceless dorsal becomes a voiced coronal

Feature change in this set: [dorsal]→[coronal]. Other feature changes are listed below by subset.

Subset 2.2.1:





In this subset, the bases are not attested as monosyllabic adjectives.

ʔdɑ3 qəŋ5 ləŋ5səŋ5

‘very hard’ (ʔdɑ3 ‘hard’)

ʔdɑ3 qət8 lət8

‘very hard’

ʔdɑ3 qe5 le5se5

‘very hard’

məŋ4 5 ljɔ5ljɔm1

‘very happy’ (məŋ4 ‘happy’)

66 6

‘very bald’

qɔm6 lɔm6


qɑŋ5 ljɑŋ5 ljɑ4

‘very simple, crude’ (e.g., a simple house)

qɑk7 lɑk7


qɛw3 lɛw3

‘clever, mysterious’

qu5 lu5

‘round’ (for ball-like objects)

tɕoŋ3 kwɛm3 ljɛm3

‘very skinny’; free variant: tɕoŋ3 kwɑm3 ljɑm3

Subset 2.2.2:





ʔmɑ3 kwɛt8 njɛt8

‘very soft’ (ʔmɑ3 ‘soft’) (kwɛt8 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

xət7 kwɑt8 nɑt8

‘very lazy’ (ʔmɑ3 ‘soft’) (kwɑt8 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

qɔn4 ʔnjɔn3

‘very short’ (general use)

xom3 ʔnom5

‘very sour’ (higher intensity than xom3 pjɑ:t7)

Subset 2.2.3:



3 ljɔ4

‘very poor’

xop7 ljop8

‘very dizzy with success’ (xop8 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Subset 2.2.4:

pi25 ndjɑ5 ndjom1

‘very fat’ (pi2 ‘fat’) (kɑ5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Set 2.3: Voiceless dorsal becomes a voiceless coronal obstruent

Feature changes are listed by subset below.

Subset 2.3.1:


xɑ:n3 tjɑ:n2

‘very red’ (can be derogatory)

xək7 tɕək8

‘very crowded, constricted’ (general use)

xom3 tom4

‘very sour’ (higher intensity than xom3 pjɑ:t7)

xom3 tom5ʔnom5 som5

‘very sour’ (higher intensity than xom3 ʔnom5)

Subset 2.3.2:




In this subset, the bases are not attested as monosyllabic adjectives.

5 sjɔ5

‘to be stunned, stupefied’

kəŋ5 səŋ5

‘can’t help doing something, have no alternative’

Subset 2.3.3:



kh3 tiŋ4

‘very brown’

Subset 2.3.4



qɑj2 tjɑj1

‘very crooked’ (tends to be derogatory)

Set 2.4: Voiceless velar fricative becomes a voiceless uvular stop

Feature changes in this set:



xɔŋ1 qɔŋ2

‘very hollow’ (Another version,xɔŋ1 tɕɔŋ2, is observed in the Shuilong region)

xok7 qok8

‘very hurriedly, not carefully’ (adverbial)

Set 2.5: Voiceless velar stop becomes a voiced velar fricative

Feature changes in this set:




khoj3 ɣoj4

‘very hollowed, sunken (object) or greedy’

Set 2.6: Tone change only

koŋ2 koŋ6 koŋ3

‘very much’ (only used when speaking to a child in a silly manner)

Group 3. Glottal base onsets

Feature change: [glottal]→[coronal]

ʔom3 tom4

‘very hunchbacked’

ʔom5 tom2

‘very humid’ (weather)

Group 4. Coronal base onsets

Set 4.1: Voiceless coronal obstruent becomes coronal nasal (with same [back] feature)

Feature changes in this set:




pu1təŋ1 ʔnəŋ1 (also: pu1 təŋ1)

‘very swollen’ (e.g. an inflated basketball) (təŋ1 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

tjəŋ1 ɲəŋ1

‘very long’ (time)

tjəŋ5 ɲəŋ5

‘very full’ (of food)

tjɑk7 ɲɑk7

‘very broken’

tom1 ʔnom1

‘very dull’ (of a knife), also ‘dumb’ (of a person)

tow5 ʔnow5

‘very dull, slow’ (of ability to think)

xom3 tom5 ʔnom5som5

‘very sour’ (higher intensity than xom3 ʔnom5) (ʔnom5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ɕəŋ2 tɕoj2 ɲoj2

‘very stupid’ (ɕəŋ2 ‘stupid’) (tɕoj2 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

pi2 tjəŋ2 ɲəŋ2

‘very fat’ (pi2 ‘far’) (tjəŋ2 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

The following intensifying expressions for ndəm5 ‘short’ (height) bear close phonological resemblance. The consultant reports all four expressions, but it is unclear whether they should be classified as individual entries or “free variants” of a single entry. In addition, except for :t7, the bases are not attested as monosyllabic adjectives.

ndəm5 tɛ:t7 nɛ:t7

‘very short’ (height) (ndəm5 ‘short’ (height))

ndəm5 te2 ne2

‘very short’ (height) (ndəm5 ‘short’ (height))

ndjɛn3 tɔ:t7 nɔ:t7

‘very short’ (height) (ndəm5 ‘short’ (height))

ndəm5 tʊ:t7 nʊ:t7

‘very short’ (height) (ndəm5 ‘short’ (height); also the consultant reports that tʊ:t7 can also function as an independent word meaning ‘short’)

Set 4.2: Voiceless coronal obstruent becomes a lateral

Feature changes in this set listed below by subset.

Subset 4.2.1:

Feature changes :




ɕəŋ2 tɛt8 lɛt8

‘very straight’ (can only refer to objects) (tɛt8 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

tɕɑ:t7 ljɑ:t7 sjɑ:t7

‘very disorderly, messy’ (e.g., a messy dinner table) (tɕɑ:t7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

xɑ:n3 tjɑ:n2 ljɑ:n2

‘extremely red’ (higher intensity than xɑ:n3 tjɑ:n2) (xɑ:n3 ‘red’)

Subset 4.2.2:

Feature changes:



sən4 sop7 ljop8

‘very flustered, hurried’ (sən4 ‘flustered, hurried’) (sop7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Set 4.3: Nasal or lateral coronal becomes a voiceless coronal obstruent (or voiceless nasal)

Feature changes listed by subset below.

Subset 4.3.1:





The bases in this set are not attested as monosyllabic adjectives.

ndəm5 ne2 se2

‘very short (height)’ (ndəm5 ‘short (height)’)

nj1 sj1

‘very filthy, unrespectable’

nj5 sj5

‘very filthy, unrespectable’

njɔ5 ɕɔ5

‘very filthy, unrespectable’

ɲoj2 ɕoj2

‘very stupid’

Subset 4.3.2:





lət8 sət8

‘very blunt, stubborn’

Subset 4.3.3:





lwɔn4 tɕɔn2

‘very blunt, dull’ (e.g. a knife)

lwɔn6 twɔn6

‘very disorderly, messy’

ləŋ5 təŋ4

‘very careless’

ləŋ5 tɕəŋ4

‘very straight’

lɑp7 tɑp8

‘very chatty, talkative’ (derogatory)

Subset 4.3.4:






ljɑ:n6 ɲ̥ɑ:n6

‘very messy’ (e.g. a pile of books) (ljɑ:n6 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Set 4.4 Voiced coronal obstruent onsets becomes another coronal obstruent

Subset 4.4.1:




ʔdɛ:t7 sɛ:t7

‘very quiet’

Subset 4.4.2:



ʔdɛ:t7 lɛ:t7 sɛ:t7

‘very quiet’ (higher intensity than ʔdɛ:t7 sɛ:t7)

Set 4.5: Coronal obstruent becomes an obstruent with different place of articulation

Feature changes listed by subset below.

Subset 4.5.1:



tɕəm4 ɣəm4

‘very fierce’

ɕəŋ2 thu3 ɣu4

‘very stupid’ (ɕəŋ2 ‘stupid’) (thu3 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Subset 4.5.2:


[coronal]→[dorsal, +labial]

ʔdɑ:ŋ1 kwɑ:ŋ2

‘very bright’, esp. when light suddenly emerges (could be related Chinese guang ‘light; ray; bright’, but the Sui consultant views kwɑ:ŋ2 as a purely Sui intensifier and it is not otherwise attested in Sui. However, a similar word kwɑ:ŋ1 exists which means ‘bright’.)

Subset 4.5.3:




tom1 2 ŋɔ22

‘very dull’ (of a knife), ‘very dumb’ (of a person) (tom1 ‘dull’) (tɔ2 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

Subset 4.5.4:



tɕoŋ3 fj4

‘very skinny’ (higher intensity than tɕoŋ3 tɕɛn1)

tiw3 fiw4

‘very dried up’ (higher intensity than tiw3 tjɔ5 )

Subset 4.5.5:




ʔnəm1 fəm2

‘very black/dark’

Subset 4.5.6:




tsɛ:k7 vɛ:k7

‘very bright’

Subset 4.5.7:



ʔdjɑ:n3 vjɑ:n3

‘very shiny/glittering’

Set 4.6: Tone change only

ʔdɑ3 ʔdɔ:t7 ʔdɔ:t8

‘very hard’ (ʔdɔ:t7 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ʔnɑ3 ʔnɑ4

‘very far forward, frontmost’

ti3 ti4

‘very small’ (same meaning as ti3 tju4)

lən2 lən6 lən3

‘farthest behind’ (only used when speaking to a child in a silly manner)

Group 5. Fully reduplicated pairs

The expressions in this set, primarily ABB full reduplication pairs, are considered distinct from the rhyming/alliterative intensifiers since (a) these ABB expressions are usually clearly onomatopoeic, unlike the rhyming/alliterative intensifiers and (b) these expressions usually occur as verb modifiers, unlike rhyming/alliterative intensifiers which apparently cannot modify verbs. (c) Further, note that the fully reduplicated pairs attach to phonologically distinct syllables (e.g., ku1 ‘to laugh’ → ku1 ɕi5 ɕi5 ‘to laugh quietly’). Although rhyming/alliterative intensifiers occasionally attach to a phonologically distinct adjective (e.g., ʔdɑ3 ‘hard’ → ʔdɑ3 qət8 lət8 ‘very hard’), such examples are uncommon among the rhyming/alliterative type. Thus, the fully reduplicated set shown here appears to represent a separate process.

ʔɑw1 5 xæ̃:t8 xæ̃:t8

‘sound of breathing’ (ʔɑw1 5 ‘to inhale’)

ʔɲɛ3 ɲɑ2 ɲɑ2

‘sound of crying’ (ʔɲɛ3 ‘cry’)

mbjɑw3 mbjɑw3

‘snow falling in sheets’ (verb modifier)

n1 ɣɑ:k7 ɣɑ:k7

‘many tears falling’ ( n1 ‘eye’)

jɑ:p7 jɑ:p7

‘talks a lot, talkative’ (onomatopoeic; most commonly modifies verbs)

kiw1 kwhit7 kwhit7

‘sound of whistling’ (kiw1 ‘whistle’)

ku1 ɕi5 ɕi5

‘to laugh quietly’(ku1 ‘laugh’)

ku1 2 2

‘to laugh loudly’(ku1 ‘laugh’) (xɑ̃2 xɑ̃2 also has the sense ‘disrespectful’)

kwɑ:ŋ1 lɑp7 lɑp7

‘shining very brightly, strong light’ (kwɑ:ŋ1 ‘shining, bright’) (ʔdɑ:ŋ1 ‘shining, bright’) also: kwɑ:ŋ1 lip7 lip7 andʔdɑ:ŋ1 lip7 lip7

phjɑ:t7 2 2

‘to bleed a lot or filled with blood’(phɑ:t7 ‘blood, bleed’)

phjɑ:t7 lj1 lj1

‘to bleed a lot or filled with blood’(phɑ:t7 ‘blood, bleed’)

sʊt7 ndɑ:t7 ndɑ:t7

‘very scalding, scald a lot’ (higher intensity than sʊt7 som1) (sʊt7 ‘to scald, scalding, hot’)

tik7 meŋ5 meŋ5

‘very full’(tik7 ‘full’) (meŋ5 may be related to Chinese man ‘full’)

tiw4 vɑ:m6 vɑ:m6

‘sound of stomping feet’ (tiw4 ‘to stomp’)

tow6 ju1 ju1

‘very sharp’ (e.g., of a knife) (tow6 ‘sharp’)

Group 6. Three-syllable rhyming expressions

In this section, the second and third syllable of three-syllable expressions are analyzed as base+reduplicant pairs. Neither of the syllables are attested as monosyllabic adjectives.

Set 6.1: Coronal lateral to voiceless coronal nasal

Features changed in this set:





pjɑ:n6 ljɑ:n6 ɲ̥ɑ:n6

‘extremely messy’ (e.g. a disorderly pile of books)

Set 6.2: Coronal lateral to voiceless coronal stop

Features changed in this set:





m̥ow1 low1 tow2

‘extremely crude/rash’ (m̥ow1 ‘crude/rash’)

qom3 lom2 tom2

‘sound of thunder’ (onomatopoeia) (included here for comparison)

qu5 lu5 tu4

‘very round’ (slightly different usage than qu5 lu5 su5; e.g. a person who has rolled into a ball; higher intensity than qu5 lu5)

Set 6.3: Coronal lateral to voiceless coronal fricative

Features changed:





ʔdɑ3 qəŋ5 ləŋ5 səŋ5

‘extremely hard’ (ʔdɑ3 ‘hard’)

ʔdɑ3 qət8 lət8 sət8

‘extremely hard’ (ʔdɑ3 ‘hard’)

ʔdɑ3 qe5 le5 se5

‘extremely hard’ (ʔdɑ3 ‘hard’)

ʔdɛ:t7 lɛ:t7 sɛ:t7

‘extremely quiet’ (ʔdɛt7 ‘quiet’)

ɕəŋ2 tɛt8 lɛt8 sɛt8

‘extremely stupid’ (ɕəŋ2 ‘stupid’)

m̥ow1 low1 sow1

‘extremely crude/rash’ (m̥ow1 ‘crude/rash’)

pi2 pju1lju1 sju1

‘extremely fat’ (pi2 ‘fat’)

pi5 li5 si5

‘extremely messy’, also includes the meaning ‘narrow’, e.g., a messy, narrow room (pi5 li5 ‘messy’)

pjɑj5 ljɑj5 sjɑj5

‘extremely messy’, e.g., messy writing or messy soup, not the same meaning as pi5 li5 si5 or pjɑ:n6 ljɑ:n6 sjɑ:n6

pjɑ:n6 ljɑ:n6 sjɑ:n6

‘extremely messy’ (e.g. a disorderly pile of books)

pjɛ:k7 ljɛ:k7 sjɛ:k7

‘extremely dirty’ (pjɛ:k7 ‘dirty’)

pj2 lj2 sj2

‘extremely flat’ (pj2 ‘flat’)

66 6

‘extremely bald’

qɔm6 lɔm6 sɔm6

‘extremely round’ (qɔm6 lɔm6 ‘round’)

qɑk7 lɑk7 sɑk7

extremely mysterious’ (qɑk7 lɑk7 ‘mysterious’)

qok8 lok8 sok8

‘very round-wheel-like’ (qok8 lok8 ‘wheel’(n.))

qu5 lu5 su5

‘very round’ (qu5 lu5 ‘round’ (not wheels))

tɕɑ:t7 ljɑ:t7 sjɑ:t7

very disorderly’

tɕoŋ3 kwɛm3 ljɛm3 sjɛm3

‘extremely skinny’ (tɕoŋ3 ‘skinny’)

xɑ:n3 tjɑ:n2 ljɑ:n2 sjɑ:n2

‘extremely red’ (xɑ:n3 ‘red’)

Set 6.4: Coronal nasal to voiceless coronal fricative

Subset 6.4.1:

Features changed in the onset:






ndəm5 tɛ:t7 nɛ:t7 sɛ:t7

‘extremely short (stature)’ ( ndəm5 ‘short’ (height))

ndəm5 tʊ:t7 nʊ:t7 sʊ:t7

‘extremely short (stature)’ ( ndəm5 ‘short’(height); note similarity with ndəm5 tɛ:t7 nɛ:t7 sɛ:t7)

ndəm5 te2 ne2 se2

‘extremely short (stature)’ ( ndəm5 ‘short’ (height))

ndjɛn3 tɔ:t7 nɔ:t7 sɔ:t7

‘extremely short (length)’ ( ndjɛn3 ‘short’ (length))

ʔmɑ3 kwɛt8 njɛt8 sjɛt8

‘extremely soft’ (ʔmɑ3 ‘soft’)

pi2 tjəŋ2ɲəŋ2 sjəŋ2

‘extremely fat’ (pi2 ‘fat’)

pu1 təŋ1 ʔnəŋ1 səŋ1

‘extremely swollen’ (pu1 ‘swollen’)

tjəŋ1 ɲəŋ1 sjəŋ1

‘extremely long time’ (tjəŋ1 ‘long time’)

tjəŋ5 ɲəŋ5 sjəŋ5

‘extremely full’ (tjəŋ5 ‘full’ (of food))

tjɑk7 ɲɑk7 sjɑk7

‘extremely broken’ (tjɑk7 ‘broken’)

tom1 ʔnom1 som1

‘extremely dull’ (tom1 ‘dull’)

tom1 2 ŋɔ22

‘extremely dull’ (tom1 ‘dull’)

tow5 ʔnow5 sow5

‘extremely slow (intelligence)’ (tow5 ‘slow in intelligence’)

xom3 tom5 ʔnom5 som5

‘extremely sour’ (xom3 ‘sour’)

ɕəŋ2 tɕoj2 ɲoj2 ɕoj2

‘extremely stupid’ (ɕəŋ2 ‘stupid’)

pi2 tɛt7 nɛt7 sɛt7

‘extremely fat’ (pi2 ‘fat’)

xət7 kwɑt8 nɑt8 sɑt8

‘extremely lazy’ (xət7 ‘lazy’)

Subset 6.4.2:

Features changed in the onset:





ʔɣɑj3 ɲ̥ɑj1 sjɑj1

‘extremely long (length)’ (ʔɣɑj3 ‘long’ (length))

Set 6.5: Voiced labial fricative to voiceless coronal fricative

Features changed in this set:



tsɛ:k7 vɛ:k7 sɛ:k7

‘extremely bright’ (light)

ʔdjɑ:n3 vjɑ:n3 sjɑ:n3

‘extremely shiny, glittery’ (ʔdjɑ:n3 ‘shiny, glittery’)

3.3 The No-Pattern Class

Intensifiers in this class show no apparent phonological connection between base and reduplicant.

ʁəm1 ndj1

‘very muddled’ (referring to liquids, includes the sense ‘dirty’, cf., ʁəm1 ʁoj1)

qɑj 2 pət8

‘very crooked’ (for physical objects)

qɑj2 ɲɔ2

‘very crooked’ (esp. for describing a child or little animal in a humorous sense, e.g. a child walking in an unstable manner)

qɑj2 tjək8

‘very crooked’

ɲ̥u1 ʔnɑk7

‘very smelly’ (general use)

pi2 ɲəŋ2

‘very fat’ (for both farm animals and people)

tɕɛn3 ɲ̥ɛt7

‘very tight’ (note that this intensifier is distinguished by vowel length from ɲ̥ɛ:t7 in ɲ̥ɛ:t7 ɲ̥ow1)

tik7 ndɛp8

‘very full’ (general use)

tju3 ɲɔk7

‘very sticky’ (most common; tju3 ɲɑw3 ‘very sticky’ occurs rarely and indicates higher intensity)

xɑ:n3 səŋ1

‘very red’ (general use, not derogatory; cf. xɑ:n3 tjɑ:n2)

xom3 pjɑ:t7

‘very sour’ (general use)

zən1 ɲɑk7

‘very heavy’ (general use)

ʔɣɑj3 ɲ̥ɔ3

‘very long’ (e.g., long rope or bamboo; more limited use than ʔɣɑj3 ʔɣəŋ2)

ʔɣɑk7 ʔbət7

‘very wet’ (most common)

ʔɣɑk7 ʔdɑ:t7

‘very wet’

ndu3 ɣoŋ2

‘very hot’ (temperature)

ljɛk8 khəŋ3

‘very strong/healthy’ (esp. referring to a child’s health)

pɑ:k8 ljəŋ2

‘very white’ (e.g. a line of white clouds)

pu1 ɲɔ1

‘very swollen’ (esp. swelling due to an insect bite)

xək7 tɕɛ5

‘very crowded, constricted’ (higher intensity than xək7 tɕək8)

kh3 ndi2

‘very brown’ (often humorous usage)

ʔdɑ:ŋ1 th3

‘very bright’ (e.g., a bright sunrise)

qom2 fju2

‘having many protrusions, not level’ (has a gentler connotation than qom2 qɛj2 and qom2 qək8)

ɕi5 ʔɲej1

‘very dense and fine’ (ɕi5 is not attested as a monosyllabic adjective)

ɲ̥u1 ndjɛn1

‘very smelly’ (general use)


Burusphat, Somsonge, Xuechun Wei, and Jerold A. Edmondson. 2003. Sui (Shui)

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Edmondson, Jerold A., John H. Esling, Jimmy G. Harris, and James Wei. 2004. A Phonetic Study of the Sui Consonants and Tones. Mon-Khmer Studies 34/47-66.

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Author's contact information:

James Stanford

Rice University

Department of Linguistics

Herring Hall 217


[1]I would like to thank Yen-Hwei Lin for her extensive advice on this project, the Sui people who patiently taught me to speak their language and kindly allowed me to elicit this set of data, Jerold Edmondson, Tim and Debbie Vinzani, Grover Hudson, Dennis Preston, David Dwyer, the editors and reviewers of Journal of East Asian Linguistics, the audience at the Third Workshop on Theoretical East Asian Linguistics, and Qiannan Minority Teacher College.

[2] Shuiyu Diaocha Baogao [Report on Investigations of the Sui language] is an unpublished manuscript from 1956. A copy of the manuscript was acquired through the help of Jerold Edmondson.

[3]In the region under investigation, the sound represented by /w/ is usually perceived as having a labio-dental place of articulation when it occurs in syllable-initial position. It may be that it is a labio-dental approximant (cf. Edmondson et al. 2004). The underlying form is not yet entirely clear, so the sound is transcribed [v] in syllable-initial position in this study.

[4] Future study may reveal that the checked tones could be combined with corresponding unchecked tones into an underlying system of just six tones. Li (1948) opts to use all eight tones for clarity, and this transcription system is adopted here.

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