Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2001
This article examines the competing theories dealing with the origin of the so-called plural suffix -men in Chinese. Their internal consistency is assessed both diachronically and—in a novel approach—on the conceptual level, that is, with reference to the fundamental value of -men today. As a result, the theses favouring an autochthonous development come out on top, to the detriment of those postulating an exogenous source. -Men is in all likelihood an outcome of the grammaticalization of the notion of ‘clan’, operating on a substratum of ancient Chinese collectives.