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Discourse Markers in Chinese: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives  

Fangqiong Zhan

In the process of communication, different expressions in discourse often convey unequal amounts of information: some expressions have rich semantic content, expressing the specific message that the speaker wishes to convey; others seem to be nonsemantic and non-truth-conditional. The latter are not part of the propositional content the message conveys and do not contribute to the meaning of the proposition. These expressions mainly function as a relational operator to connect the propositions in the discourse. In a sequence of discourse segments S1–S2, such expression usually occurs at the initial position of S2 followed by a phonological break (a comma in writing), i and it does not affect the propositional content of the messages conveyed in the segments of the discourse. The discourse-functional expressions in language have long been the focus of attention on the part of scholars, and the term “discourse markers” (DMs) (huayu biaoji, in Chinese) has often been used in previous studies. The concept of DMs originated from “recurrent modifiers,” the common modifiers in spoken language proposed by the British linguist Randolph Quirk in the 1950s. He pointed out that “recurrent modifiers” have an important role in information transmission but have no grammatical effect. In the 1980s, DMs gradually became an independent linguistic topic among Western scholars. In the field of Chinese linguistics, from the 21st century onward, the concept of DMs has been examined in depth, and the application of the related theories to the research of Chinese DMs has been the topic of widespread discussion. However, most Chinese studies on DMs are case-based, and therefore systematic and theorized understandings of Chinese DMs have not yet been reached. This article reviews the research status of DMs in recent Western and Chinese linguistic communities, summarizes the studies on the synchronic semantics-pragmatics and diachronic development of Chinese DMs, and reveals issues worthy of further study in the future.

Article

Perfects in the Romance Languages  

Gerhard Schaden

This article is devoted to the description of perfect tenses in Romance. Perfects can be described as verbal forms which place events in the past with respect to some point of reference, and indicate that the event has some special relevance at the point of reference ; in that, they are opposed to past tenses, which localize an event in the past with respect to the moment of utterance. Romance is an interesting language family with respect to perfect tenses, because it features a set of closely related constructions, descending almost all from the same diachronic source yet differing in interesting ways among each other. Romance also provides us with a lesson in the difficulty of clearly pinning down and stating a single, obvious and generally agreed upon criterion of defining a perfect.

Article

Meanings of Constructions  

Laura A. Michaelis

Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).

Article

Semantics and Pragmatics of Monkey Communication  

Philippe Schlenker, Emmanuel Chemla, and Klaus Zuberbühler

Rich data gathered in experimental primatology in the last 40 years are beginning to benefit from analytical methods used in contemporary linguistics, especially in the area of semantics and pragmatics. These methods have started to clarify five questions: (i) What morphology and syntax, if any, do monkey calls have? (ii) What is the ‘lexical meaning’ of individual calls? (iii) How are the meanings of individual calls combined? (iv) How do calls or call sequences compete with each other when several are appropriate in a given situation? (v) How did the form and meaning of calls evolve? Four case studies from this emerging field of ‘primate linguistics’ provide initial answers, pertaining to Old World monkeys (putty-nosed monkeys, Campbell’s monkeys, and colobus monkeys) and New World monkeys (black-fronted Titi monkeys). The morphology mostly involves simple calls, but in at least one case (Campbell’s -oo) one finds a root–suffix structure, possibly with a compositional semantics. The syntax is in all clear cases simple and finite-state. With respect to meaning, nearly all cases of call concatenation can be analyzed as being semantically conjunctive. But a key question concerns the division of labor between semantics, pragmatics, and the environmental context (‘world’ knowledge and context change). An apparent case of dialectal variation in the semantics (Campbell’s krak) can arguably be analyzed away if one posits sufficiently powerful mechanisms of competition among calls, akin to scalar implicatures. An apparent case of noncompositionality (putty-nosed pyow–hack sequences) can be analyzed away if one further posits a pragmatic principle of ‘urgency’. Finally, rich Titi sequences in which two calls are re-arranged in complex ways so as to reflect information about both predator identity and location are argued not to involve a complex syntax/semantics interface, but rather a fine-grained interaction between simple call meanings and the environmental context. With respect to call evolution, the remarkable preservation of call form and function over millions of years should make it possible to lay the groundwork for an evolutionary monkey linguistics, illustrated with cercopithecine booms.

Article

Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese  

Yoshiko Matsumoto

The noun-modifying clause construction (NMCC) in Japanese is a complex noun phrase in which a prenominal clause is dependent on the head noun. Naturally occurring instances of the construction demonstrate that a single structure, schematized as [[… predicate (finite/adnominal)] Noun], represents a wide range of semantic relations between the head noun and the dependent clause, encompassing some that would be expressed by structurally distinct constructions such as relative clauses, noun complement clauses, and other types of complex noun phrases in other languages, such as English. In that way, the Japanese NMCC demonstrates a clear case of the general noun-modifying construction (GNMCC), that is, an NMCC that has structural uniformity across interpretations that extend beyond the range of relative clauses. One of the notable properties of the Japanese NMCC is that the modifying clause may consist only of the predicate, reflecting the fact that referential density is moderate in Japanese—arguments of a predicate are not required to be overtly expressed either in the main clause or in the modifying clause. Another property of the Japanese NMCC is that there is no explicit marking in the construction that indicates the grammatical or semantic relation between the head noun and the modifying clause. The two major constituents are simply juxtaposed to each other. Successful construal of the intended interpretations of instances of such a construction, in the absence of explicit markings, likely relies on an aggregate of structural, semantic, and pragmatic factors, including the semantic content of the linguistic elements, verb valence information, and the interpreter’s real-world knowledge, in addition to the basic structural information. Researchers with different theoretical approaches have studied Japanese NMCCs or subsets thereof. Syntactic approaches, inspired by generative grammar, have focused mostly on relative clauses and aimed to identify universally recognized syntactic principles. Studies that take the descriptive approach have focused on detailed descriptions and the classification of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring instances of the construction in Japanese. The third and most recent group of studies has emphasized the importance of semantics and pragmatics in accounting for a wide variety of naturally occurring instances. The examination of Japanese NMCCs provides information about the nature of clausal noun modification and affords insights into languages beyond Japanese, as similar phenomena have reportedly been observed crosslinguistically to varying degrees.