Ablative acting as locative in an Inner Mongolian Mandarin topolect

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Yuqing Yang, a first-year MA student in our department, was talking to Jingran Joy Luo, another first year MA student in our department, when she noticed something special in Joy's manner of speech.  Namely, Joy used the ablative particle cóng 从 as a locative.  Normally, the locative is indicated by zài 在 in Mandarin.

Joy is from Baotou, which has the largest population (2,650,364 [in 2010]) of any city in Inner / Southern Mongolia.  Joy was totally oblivious to this special usage of hers until Yuqing pointed it out to her.  Although the ablative can be used as the locative in Joy's Baotou Mandarin, a certain criterion has to be met.  That is, there must be an option where the action one is planning will take place.

Here are some examples:

Nǐ shǔjià cóng zhè dāizhe ma?


"Will you stay here during the summer vacation?" — or will you go back to China?

Nǐ cóng nǎ'er chīfàn?


"Where will you eat?" — here, in a restaurant, or somewhere else?

Nǐ cóng zhè shuìjiào ma?


"Will you sleep here?" — or will you go back home or somewhere else?

Nǐ bù cóng zhè shuìjiào ma?


"Won't you be sleeping here?" — instead of going home or somewhere else?

Wǒmen fàngjià jiù cóng Běijīng dāizhe ba.


"During the vacation, will we just stay in Beijing?" — or will go elsewhere for excursions as well?

The pattern is very clear.  One wonders how it arose?


  1. Bathrobe said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 12:47 am

    This kind of verb used as a 'preposition' (to use English-language parlance) is normal in Chinese.

    zài 'at' also has its origins in the verb 在 zài 'to exist, be at a place'.

    Another is 跟 gēn, which can be used colloquially to mean 'at', but has the original meaning of 'be with, accompany, follow, stick with'. So 跟家 gēn jiā 'at home' literally means something like 'being with home'.

    cóng is definitely more mystifying. Maybe it is related to 跟从 gēncóng, which also means 'accompany, follow'?

  2. Chris Button said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 2:03 pm

    I wonder if it has anything to do with 自 EMC *dziʰ in its grammatical sense of "from" being nearly homophonous with 在 EMC *dzəj'/*dzəjʰ

  3. zheng-sheng zhang said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 7:49 pm

    Cantonese can use 向/响 instead of 系(在) for location. Not sure if it is restricted to things that are bound to happen.

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 9:27 pm

    Coverb/PP CONG is not exclusively "ablative" ("motion from") even in the standard language, which could be a factor. E.g. (1) and (2) below (all examples courtesy Google) sound entirely standard but would need to be translated with Eng. via or the like (= "prolative"?):

    (1) 伦敦 回 南京, 从 北京 转机
    London return Nanjing, CONG Beijing connect (i.e. catch connecting flight)

    (2) 从 哪 条 路 回家 最 安全
    CONG which MW road return-home most safe?

    And even interesting (3), with CONG occurring in both "ablative" and "prolative" senses, though Iess prepared to say this is standard Mandarin:

    从 这里 从 火车 去 昆明
    CONG here CONG train go Kunming

    So in certain cases, like (1), there is potential ambiguity with a "locative" sense (note we could of course say 在北京转机). It would be interesting to try to describe exactly when "locative" 从 is possible in Baotou… I am not clear what the informant means by "there must be an option where the action one is planning will take place".

  5. pamela said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 10:28 pm

    have no technical comments here but I'm often struck by how folky constructions parallel in unrelated languages. this is one. where I grew up people used "of" in this way. "I bought it of him," "I heard it of him," "of a Sunday we would visit," "he would be of home about now," "he's of Pittsburgh." in more formal English you can say "he asked it of me." means the same as "request ed it from me."

  6. Chris Button said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 11:47 pm

    Maybe it is related to 跟从 gēncóng, which also means 'accompany, follow'?

    Yes, and 从 replaced 自 in the sense of "from" which goes all the way back to the oracle-bone inscriptions (where it could also be the reflexive pronoun "self"). I just wonder if maybe 自 stuck around for a little longer in certain contexts (like the case here) such that it ended up eventually just being replaced by 在 when they were still very close in pronunciation.

  7. Chris Button said,

    November 26, 2019 @ 6:40 am

    hmm…I think I have my reasoning backward in the above comment…

    Nonetheless, the semantic association of 自 "self, from" with 从 "follow" is an interesting one. 自 *dzə̀js "self, from" is ultimately related to words like 姿 *tsə̀j "figure, appearance" and 次 *tsʰə̀js "subsequent". The semantics parallel the ultimate association of Persian az "from" with words like "signature", "sign", "signify" and of course "(sub)sequent"–all from Proto-Indo-European *sekʷ- "to follow"

  8. Lai Ka Yau said,

    November 26, 2019 @ 5:10 pm

    I'm not sure what the sociolinguistic situation is/was like at Baotou, but could it be a contact effect with some other language?

    Locative/ablative sharing a morpheme certainly isn't unheard of since Naxi nɯ˧, for example, performs both functions (among many others). I'm not sure if it's restricted to sentences where another option is available though.

  9. Chris Button said,

    November 26, 2019 @ 9:35 pm

    Locative/ablative sharing a morpheme certainly isn't unheard of

    Yeh – I don't think the sharing of a morpheme, or even the fusion of two that have merged in pronunciation, is particularly rare either. Here though we have two different sounding morphemes. As with the case of 从 and 自, one can of course displace another, but here we have a controlled environment and 从 is not a new grammaticalization in this case but an already existing particle. It does seem suggestive of a borrowed practice from another language (the close phonology of 自 EMC *dziʰ and 在 EMC *dzəj'/*dzəjʰ is a stretch to say the least, but interesting nonetheless).

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