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Chinese Pragmatics  

Xinren Chen

Pragmatics is a relatively new core branch of linguistics, alongside syntax, semantics, phonetics and phonology, and morphology. Committed to the study of meaning in dynamic contexts, it addresses language in use, thus complementing the other core branches on different borders. As at phonetic, morphological, and syntactic levels, universalities and variations exist across languages at the level of pragmatic research. While earlier pragmatic researchers tended to explore the more theoretical and thus universalist aspects of pragmatic issues such as speech acts, implicature, deixis, presupposition, face, (im)politeness, and metapragmatics, later researchers tend to examine more variational aspects across languages. In the latter case, compared to the English language, the Chinese language remains underexplored in terms of its pragmatic characteristics. Thus, the ‘Chinese’ aspects of pragmatic issues are less well studied. Topics of particular interest include the following: (a) Chinese speech acts (e.g., invitation, compliment and response, thanking), (b) Chinese deixis, (c) Chinese address forms, (e) Chinese presupposition triggers, (f) Chinese face, (g) maxims of Chinese politeness, (h) Chinese mitigators, (i) Chinese boosters, (j) Chinese particles, and (k) Chinese discourse markers. It is hoped that a survey could better facilitate the understanding of Chinese communication and enable contrastive pragmatic studies involving the Chinese language.


The Passive Construction in Chinese  

Haihua Pan and Xiaoshi Hu

Central to the passive construction in Chinese is the categorial status of the passive marker bei and the syntactic nature of passivization. In this respect, different analyses have been proposed in the literature. The passive marker bei is argued to be a preposition, a verb, or a passivization morpheme. Accordingly, some scholars propose analysis of Chinese bei-passives as non-canonical passives, which are different from the be-passive in English. By contrast, others argue differently and think English be-passivization in terms of unaccusativization also applies to Chinese bei-passives, and the only difference between Chinese and English is that the passivization domain for Chinese is the whole verb phrase while that for English is the verb only. In the article, we will review different proposals on the bei-passive in Chinese by examining their crucial arguments and identifying their potential problems.


Morphology in Sino-Tibetan Languages  

Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano

Sino-Tibetan is a highly diverse language family, in which a wide range of morphological phenomena and profiles may be found. The family is generally seen as split into two major branches, i.e., Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman, but while Sinitic is a fairly homogeneous group in terms of morphology, the so-called Tibeto-Burman branch of the family includes isolating languages like Karen, languages with transparent and regular agglutinative morphology (Lolo-Burmese, Tibetic, and Boro-Garo), but also paradigmatically complex languages, with elaborate argument indexation and transitivity management systems; while in some languages morphological complexity is mostly a conservative trait (e.g., Rgyalrongic and Kiranti), other languages developed innovative paradigms, with only few vestiges of the archaic system (Kuki-Chin). Some notable morphological phenomena in modern Tibeto-Burman languages are verb stem alternation, peculiar nominalization constructions, and long sequences of prefixes, which in some languages (Chintang) may even be freely permutated without any relevant change in meaning. Also, while Sinitic languages are normally taken to be a prototypical example of the (ideal) isolating morphological type (with virtually no inflection, stable morpheme boundaries, no cumulative exponence, and no allomorphy or suppletion), phenomena of strong reduction of morphemes, blurring of morpheme boundaries and fusion between root and suffix, and nonconcatenative morphology, as well as allomorphy and (proto-)paradigmatic organization of morphology, are attested in some Chinese dialects, mostly concentrated in an area of Northern China (Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces). Moreover, ‘Altaic-type’ agglutinative morphology, including case marking, is found in Sinitic languages of the so-called Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund; in this case, the development of agglutination, as well as other typological traits (as SOV word order), is clearly the product of intense and prolonged contact between Northwestern Chinese dialects and Tibetic and Mongolic languages of China. On the other hand, Southern Chinese dialects have developed in closer contact with Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai, and Austroasiatic languages, and are thus closer to the typology of Mainland Southeast Asian languages, with a very strong isolating profile.


Discourse Coherence in Chinese  

Saina Wuyun

Discourse coherence is motivated by the need of the speaker to be understood, which is a psychological phenomenon reflected in the organization of natural discourse. It can be realized via the continuity or recurrence of some element(s) across a span (or spans) of text; alternatively, it can be defined in terms of cohesion, where the interpretation of some element in the discourse is dependent on that of another. The study of Chinese discourse can be traced back to the Han Dynasty, when the area of endeavor known as classical article-logy (Wénzhāngxué: 文章学) was affiliated to literature. The study of discourse coherence of modern linguistic sense starts from the late 1980s, when counterparts of ‘discourse analysis’, ‘discourse coherence’, and ‘cohesion’ in Chinese linguistic study were assigned a roughly equivalent connotation to those in the West. Two different approaches are differentiated based on the different foci of attention on this issue, namely the entity-oriented and the relation-oriented approach. The former focuses on the continuity of a particular element called “topic” in discourse and the topic chain thus formed, while the latter concerns itself with the connective relations within a discourse and the devices being adopted to realize these relations. Existing analyses toward discourse coherence in Chinese provide different classifications of coherence realization, most of which can be grouped into either of these two orientations. Topic continuity is one way of realizing discourse coherence in Chinese. The topic of a discourse is what the discourse is about, and always refers to something about which the speaker/writer assumes the receiver has some knowledge. Headed by the topic, a topic chain is a stretch of discourse composed of more than one clause that functions as a discourse unit in Chinese. A topic can play a continuing or (re)introductory role with regard to the previous discourse and a chaining or contrastive role with regard to the subsequent discourse within a topic chain. It is via these specific functions that the coherence of a discourse is maintained. Traditional approaches to composite sentences and clause clusters in Chinese provide careful description of the realization of both coordination and elaboration relations, which to a large extent are consistent with the systemic functional approach toward the cohesive devices and the Rhetorical Structure Theory framework. These traditional classifications of cohesive relations are still referred to by current studies. Via the connective devices (implicit ones such as the underlying logical relation, or explicit ones such as connective adverbs and conjunctions), the logical relation between adjacent clauses are specified, and in turn a global coherent discourse is constructed. A coherent discourse is a cluster of clauses bearing all kinds of semantic relations realized via explicit or implicit connective devices. The coherence of discourse relies on the internal cohesive relations within a topic chain as well as the connection among all topic chains of the discourse in question. The study of inner-sentential composition as well as the inter-sentential discourse connectiveness are both investigations on the cohesion of a discourse in Chinese.


Tense and Aspect in Mandarin Chinese  

Jiun-Shiung Wu

Chinese has been known to be a language without grammaticalized tense. However, this statement does not mean that native speakers of Chinese cannot tell the temporal location of a Chinese sentence. In addition to temporal phrases, which often are considered to identify the temporal location of a Chinese sentence, the aspectual value of a sentence, either situation aspect or viewpoint aspect, plays a significant role in this issue. Basically, a telic event receives a past interpretation unless explicitly specified otherwise whereas an atelic event gets a present reading until overridden. In addition, there is a possibility, based on examples where the past has an effect on the whole discourse in Chinese instead of single sentences, that tense is a discourse-level feature in Chinese. On the other hand, Chinese has a rich aspectual system, including four aspect markers: perfective le, experiential guò, durative zhe, and progressive zài. The former two are perfective markers and the latter are imperfective markers. Perfective le interacts with eventualities of different situation types to yield different readings. Going with an accomplishment, perfective le receives a completive reading or terminative reading. Presenting an achievement, perfective le gets a completive reading. Perfective le plus an activity forms an incomplete sentence. Together with a state, perfective le induces an inchoative reading. Most of the theories that explain the diverse readings of perfective le resort to the obvious, differentiating point in the temporal schema of a situation: either the (natural) final endpoint or the initial point. Experiential guò has several semantic properties, including at least one occurrence, a class meaning, discontinuity, compatibility only with recurrable situations, and temporal independence. There are two major accounts for the semantics of experiential guò: the temporal quantification account and the terminability as the sole inherent feature account. For the former, experiential guò is considered a temporal quantifier and all the properties follow from the semantic properties of a quantifier. For the latter, terminability is argued to be the sole inherent semantic property for experiential guò and all the properties are derived from discontinuity. The semantics of the two imperfective makers are less complicated. It is generally accepted that progressive zài presents an unbounded, ongoing event but that durative zhe introduces a resultative state. One possible further semantic distinction between progressive zài and durative zhe is that the former has an instant reading whereas the latter has an interval reading. Moreover, the rhetorical function of durative zhe needs to be considered so that a satisfactory explanation for the V1 zhe V2 construction can be achieved.


Georg von der Gabelentz  

James McElvenny

The German sinologist and general linguist Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893) occupies an interesting place at the intersection of several streams of linguistic scholarship at the end of the 19th century. As Professor of East Asian languages at the University of Leipzig from 1878 to 1889 and then Professor for Sinology and General Linguistics at the University of Berlin from 1889 until his death, Gabelentz was present at some of the main centers of linguistics at the time. He was, however, generally critical of mainstream historical-comparative linguistics as propagated by the neogrammarians, and instead emphasized approaches to language inspired by a line of researchers including Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), H. Steinthal (1823–1899), and his own father, Hans Conon von der Gabelentz (1807–1874). Today Gabelentz is chiefly remembered for several theoretical and methodological innovations which continue to play a role in linguistics. Most significant among these are his contributions to cross-linguistic syntactic comparison and typology, grammar-writing, and grammaticalization. His earliest linguistic work emphasized the importance of syntax as a core part of grammar and sought to establish a framework for the cross-linguistic description of word order, as had already been attempted for morphology by other scholars. The importance he attached to syntax was motivated by his engagement with Classical Chinese, a language almost devoid of morphology and highly reliant on syntax. In describing this language in his 1881 Chinesische Grammatik, Gabelentz elaborated and implemented the complementary “analytic” and “synthetic” systems of grammar, an approach to grammar-writing that continues to serve as a point of reference up to the present day. In his summary of contemporary thought on the nature of grammatical change in language, he became one of the first linguists to formulate the principles of grammaticalization in essentially the form that this phenomenon is studied today, although he did not use the current term. One key term of modern linguistics that he did employ, however, is “typology,” a term that he in fact coined. Gabelentz’s typology was a development on various contemporary strands of thought, including his own comparative syntax, and is widely acknowledged as a direct precursor of the present-day field. Gabelentz is a significant transitional figure from the 19th to the 20th century. On the one hand, his work seems very modern. Beyond his contributions to grammaticalization avant la lettre and his christening of typology, his conception of language prefigures the structuralist revolution of the early 20th century in important respects. On the other hand, he continues to entertain several preoccupations of the 19th century—in particular the judgment of the relative value of different languages—which were progressively banished from linguistics in the first decades of the 20th century.