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Focus in Chinese  

Peppina Po-lun Lee and Yueming Sun

Focus is a phenomenon intertwined between different levels of linguistics and context/discourse, and different languages appeal to different ways in marking focus. Chinese mainly adopts syntactic structures and focus markers for focus marking. Different from European languages, it is widely acknowledged that Chinese uses more syntax and less phonology in focus realization. It is argued that Chinese is a language that exhibits a reverse relationship between syntactic positioning and phonological prominence of focus, and focus types in Chinese are generally viewed from a grammatical perspective. With syntax as a prominent way of focus marking, Chinese appeals to a wide range of syntactic constructions to mark focus. While sentence-final position by default is taken as the position where new information is located, focus can be grammatically marked by constructions like shi…de ‘be…DE’ construction, bare shi construction, and bare de construction, with bare shi construction seemingly representing the closest to cleft constituent among the three. Apart from the variants in different shi constructions, object preposing is also another way of grammatical focus marking in Chinese, which involves the issue of whether the preposed object marks focus or subtopic, with both bearing a contrastive feature. Apart from focus marking through syntactic constructions, Chinese appeals to preverbal focus adverbs as their focus particles. Natural language includes two types of focus particles—namely, restrictive and additive particles. For restrictive adverbs, Chinese appeals to the first group through the adjunction of the exclusive adverb, including zhi(-you/-shi) ‘only(-have/be)’, with exclusiveness conducted by grammatical mechanism. Apart from this, the second group includes the widely recognized restrictive focus particles that do not perform restrictive focus marking through adjunction. Typical members include jiu ‘only’, cai ‘only’, and dou ‘all’, which are sensitive to focus and affect the truth condition of a sentence. Among the restrictive focus particles, jiu and cai are most controversial, with both translated as only in English. For additive particles, one widely discussed focus-marking construction is lian...dou/ye ‘even...all/also’, which is argued to mark inclusive or additive focus. Other additive adverbs include at least four—namely, you ‘again/too’, ye ‘also’, hai ‘still’, and zai ‘again’, with their English counterparts taken as also, even, again, still, or too. Focus markers in Chinese tend to be polysemous in meaning, making their semantics very complicated. On top of this, it is claimed that the linear order of constituents also plays an important role in focus structuring in Mandarin, with discourse and prosody structurally interacting with word order or syntactic structures to determine focus structures in Chinese. Linearity and syntax represent the two major ways of focus marking in Chinese. This is unlike English and other European languages, in which intonation and phonological prominence represent the major way.