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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.

Article

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.