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Chinese Semantics  

Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng

Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.


Deixis and Pragmatics  

William F. Hanks

Deictic expressions, like English ‘this, that, here, and there’ occur in all known human languages. They are typically used to individuate objects in the immediate context in which they are uttered, by pointing at them so as to direct attention to them. The object, or demonstratum is singled out as a focus, and a successful act of deictic reference is one that results in the Speaker (Spr) and Addressee (Adr) attending to the same referential object. Thus, (1)A:Oh, there’s that guy again (pointing)B:Oh yeah, now I see him (fixing gaze on the guy) (2)A:I’ll have that one over there (pointing to a dessert on a tray)B:This? (touching pastry with tongs)A:yeah, that looks greatB:Here ya’ go (handing pastry to customer) In an exchange like (1), A’s utterance spotlights the individual guy, directing B’s attention to him, and B’s response (both verbal and ocular) displays that he has recognized him. In (2) A’s utterance individuates one pastry among several, B’s response makes sure he’s attending to the right one, A reconfirms and B completes by presenting the pastry to him. If we compare the two examples, it is clear that the underscored deictics can pick out or present individuals without describing them. In a similar way, “I, you, he/she, we, now, (back) then,” and their analogues are all used to pick out individuals (persons, objects, or time frames), apparently without describing them. As a corollary of this semantic paucity, individual deictics vary extremely widely in the kinds of object they may properly denote: ‘here’ can denote anything from the tip of your nose to planet Earth, and ‘this’ can denote anything from a pastry to an upcoming day (this Tuesday). Under the same circumstance, ‘this’ and ‘that’ can refer appropriately to the same object, depending upon who is speaking, as in (2). How can forms that are so abstract and variable over contexts be so specific and rigid in a given context? On what parameters do deictics and deictic systems in human languages vary, and how do they relate to grammar and semantics more generally?


The Semantics of Chinese Wh-Phrases  

Qianqian Ren and Haihua Pan

In formal semantics, a wh-phrase is traditionally assigned the semantics of an existential quantifier phrase, an abstraction operator, or a set of alternatives. Such semantics per se, however, is not sufficient to account for the behaviors of Chinese wh-phrases. A wh-phrase in Chinese may be used in a variety of contexts and express a variety of meanings. Apart from interrogative meaning, it may also give rise to existential or universal meaning. More specifically, it can be licensed in typical contexts that license negative polarity items like the c-command domain of negation, the antecedent clause of a conditional, and a yes–no question. It can also be licensed in modal contexts, including epistemic modality and deontic modality. Finally, it can produce a universal reading by being quantified by the adverb dōu ‘all’ or forming the so-called bare conditionals/wh-conditionals, which are composed by two clauses containing matched wh-forms without overt connectives. In order to achieve explanatory adequacy, it is necessary to consider whether and how the different functions of wh-phrases can be unified and whether they can be derived from more general principles or mechanisms. To maintain descriptive adequacy, variations in licensing and interpretation possibilities across wh-items and contexts must also be taken into consideration. Another feature of Chinese wh-phrases is that sometimes they seem to extend their scope beyond domains within which they otherwise take scope (e.g., a Chinese wh-phrase may take existential scope within the antecedent of a conditional, though it may also co-vary with another wh-phrase in the consequent of that conditional). In this respect, they behave like indefinites. As some evidence suggests that some cases where they display this feature may in fact involve the interrogative use, it remains to be seen whether the locus of explanation lies in the wh-phrase itself or in the question meaning. There are other big questions to consider: For instance, how do prosody, syntax and semantics interact with one another in licensing and interpreting a Chinese wh-phrase? Do the theoretical devices and mechanisms postulated have psychological reality? There is also much space for empirical research, which hopefully will help settle debates over the grammaticality of certain structures or the availability of certain readings.


Sluicing and Predicate Ellipsis in Chinese  

Audrey Yen-hui Li and Ting-chi Wei

This article focuses on sluicing-like constructions and those that have been subsumed under predicate ellipsis—the Aux(iliary)-construction (VP-ellipsis) and the shi-construction. Important facts and main analyses are evaluated in regard to their strengths and weaknesses, leaving some issues for further research. Regarding the sluicing-like construction, this article shows that neither the approach of base-generating a clause [pro (+ copula) + wh] nor the movement + deletion approach fully accommodates all the relevant facts. Nor is it adequate to adopt both derivations simultaneously, as it would wrongly allow sentences that are unacceptable in a number of cases. The second part of this article briefly compares the Aux-construction and the shi-construction. The two differ in the size of the part that is missing—in the former, a Verb Phrase (VP) licensed by an auxiliary, and in the latter, a Tense Phrase (TP) licensed by the verb shi. Neither one allows extraction from within the missing VP/TP, pointing to the advantage of a Logical Form (LF)–copying approach over a Phonological Form–deletion approach.