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Classical Chinese is the written language used from the late 6th to the early 2nd century bce. Located between the Eastern Zhou (770–256) and the foundation of the Qin dynasty (221–207), its textual repertoire comprises the philosophical treaties of the Warring States period (475–221 bce) and, based on syntactic criteria, roughly coincides with the Late Archaic Chinese (LAC). In a diachronic perspective, this is the stage between the rise of a set of possibility and desiderative modals and their systematic use to express a progressively more varied set of modal meanings. Even though many of those expressions still instantiate in modern Chinese, as bùdébù, “have to,” which echoes the LAC construction of possibility modal in double negation, the usage of other markers fell in disuse to be replaced by specialized modal, especially for epistemic and deontic modality, starting from Early Medieval Chinese (2nd–6th c. ce). The main bulk of LAC modals is built around three possibility modals, characterized by different syntactic, aspectual, and argumental properties, and expressing three types of enabling conditions for the actualization of the state of affairs. The first, and the most productive, is kĕ, “be possible, can”; it is related to the presence or absence of external factors that allow or prevent a given event. The modal néng, “be able” is instead referred to inherent properties of the first participant; finally, dé, “come to get, manage” expresses the potential of actualization of the first participant in the given circumstances. Combined with negation, restrictive focus markers, and specific pragmatic environments, each marker conveys a more varied array of modal meanings, also shifting to the necessity domain. In the latter area, the primary normative source is bound to contingent circumstances (including the power emanated by an authority) rather than moral obligations. Additionally, the only item that occurs consistently in LAC literature as a direct equivalent of deontic “should” (yí宜) is more related to appropriateness than obligation. A further set of modal particles and speaker-oriented adverbs contribute to expressing the degree of factuality of the propositional content, conveying evidential and epistemic contents. Finally, the data show the centrality in LAC of the notion of necessity interpreted in terms of unavoidability, only possibility, and a lack of alternatives.


Annie Zaenen

Hearers and readers make inferences on the basis of what they hear or read. These inferences are partly determined by the linguistic form that the writer or speaker chooses to give to her utterance. The inferences can be about the state of the world that the speaker or writer wants the hearer or reader to conclude are pertinent, or they can be about the attitude of the speaker or writer vis-à-vis this state of affairs. The attention here goes to the inferences of the first type. Research in semantics and pragmatics has isolated a number of linguistic phenomena that make specific contributions to the process of inference. Broadly, entailments of asserted material, presuppositions (e.g., factive constructions), and invited inferences (especially scalar implicatures) can be distinguished. While we make these inferences all the time, they have been studied piecemeal only in theoretical linguistics. When attempts are made to build natural language understanding systems, the need for a more systematic and wholesale approach to the problem is felt. Some of the approaches developed in Natural Language Processing are based on linguistic insights, whereas others use methods that do not require (full) semantic analysis. In this article, I give an overview of the main linguistic issues and of a variety of computational approaches, especially those stimulated by the RTE challenges first proposed in 2004.