A Typology of Counterfactual Clauses


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Qian YONG


Awarding Institution
Award date26 Jan 2016


This dissertation aims to discover fascinating properties of the counterfactuals in genetically, geographically and typologically independent1 languages and to further find a common denominator of these properties. Our final goal is to provide an explanation of universal tendencies in terms of correlates of formal features and semantic/pragmatic functions underlying language use and language change.
Chapter 1 provides a brief introduction of some logic properties of counterfactuals and establishes the scope of the thesis. Chapter 2 presents a synchronic survey of counterfactuals. Considering the complexity of counterfactuals in Mandarin, we take a corpus-based method to document and analyze the ways in which counterfactuals are expressed in Mandarin. In Chinese, counterfactuals are not coded by overt grammatical means, but inferred from various cues in the discourse-pragmatic contexts, such as forms referring to the current time of speaking, negators, first person pronouns, proximal demonstratives, modals and so on. We based the investigation of Mandarin counterfactual clauses on the Lancaster Corpus of Mandarin Chinese (1st version), the UCLA Corpus of Written Chinese (2nd edition) and Texts of Recent Chinese (TORCH). Some further statistical analyses are conducted to show that the presence of the abovementioned stimuli is positively correlated with the expressions of counterfactuality in Mandarin. Additionally, CLOB corpus (Brown family, British English), CROWN corpus (Brown family, American English) and English-Chinese Bilingual Parallel Corpus are also introduced to make a contrastive study between counterfactuals in Mandarin and English (British/American). At the end, we try to integrate language-particular and cross-linguistic work together and conclude that counterfactuals in Mandarin are mainly realized by CFEnhancing (counterfactuality enhancing) markers rather than by dedicated CF markers.
Chapter 3 contains a synchronic description of counterfactual constructions, of their lexico- morphological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic properties. The description is based on a sample of 155 languages which are geographically and genetically representative of the world’s languages.
Firstly, we find that the concept of ‘counterfactuality’ can not be universally defined. Counterfactuality can be either pragmatically implicated or morpho-syntactically coded. Secondly, our data reveal that counterfactual meaning can be realized through various syntactic forms ranging from simple clauses to complex (coordinate, co-subordinate and subordinate) clauses. Thirdly, we catalogue various forms which languages employ to express counterfactuality. Languages exhibit a direct strategy if they use one dedicated CF marker out of six possible types: conjunction, verb, adverb, particle, clitic or affix. Sometimes, languages may involve combinations of forms, such as lexical verbs with particular inflections, compound mood forms, compound TAM forms and so on. Last but not least, besides counterfactual conditionals, we also examine counterfactual wishes and counterfactual obligations. Counterfactual clauses might sometimes develop pragmatic effects such as failed attempt, closely missed event, mistaken identity, and rhetorical question.
Chapter 4 is devoted to a diachronic development of CF markings. Based on the empirical study of the formal features of counterfactuals in chapter 3, we find that the markings of counterfactuals tend to be complex. One frequent combination of markers that shows up in many languages is that of a past tense together with perfect in past counterfactuals. According to Dahl (1997), the stacking use of CF markings consists of elements of varying historical layers. This motivates a closer look at the diachronic history of each marking in the combinations that do occur. Therefore, a diachronic study of frequently used CF markers such as past tense, perfective/imperfective aspect, irrealis mood markers is conducted. We propose a cross-linguistic whole life-cycle of CF markers which start as past tense markers, become fake past tense markers, develop into CF markers and end as future tense markers.
Chapter 5 distills the cross-linguistic findings of chapter 2, 3 and 4. In languages without dedicated marking strategy, counterfactual meaning is produced through pragmatic implicature by hinting at the known factuality. Mandarin analyzed in chapter 2 exemplifies this type. The hearer bases his or her evaluation of counterfactuality on the presence of many CFEnhancing markers like past/perfect tense markers, which locate the hypothetical utterance in the factual past, or like first person subjects and proximal demostratives, which increase the epistemic status of the situation by indicating speaker participation, or like irrealis mood markers which help to indicate a purely hypothetical domain, or like negators which may increase the probability of expressing counterfactuality since things that happen are more real than things that do not happen. However, some languages may have counterfactuality coded either by some specialized opaque markers outlined in chapter 3 or by grammaticalized uses of TAM features (e.g. from the real past to fake one) outlined in Chapter 4 or by lexicalized compounds like yaobushi (要不是, if not be) in Mandarin. In many other languages, the cues for indicating counterfactuality are not salient. The sense of counterfactuality is conveyed by a union of syntactic, morphological and lexical features as mentioned in Chapter 3. It is generated through the gestalt integration of all these different features.
第一章介紹了違實句的邏輯概念以及論文的研究範圍。第二章是對違實句進行共時案例研究。鑒於現代漢語中違實句的複雜性,我們以語料庫為基礎,對現代漢語中違實句的形態特徵進行統計和分析。由於現代漢語中的違實句並沒有被顯性語法特徵所標記,只能借助語用捷徑,包括時制特徵,否定,第一人稱代詞, 近指代詞,情態詞等進行語境暗示。本章使用的語料庫包括蘭卡斯特現代漢語語料庫(第一版),UCLA漢語書面語語料庫(第二版)以及 TORCH語料庫。一些統計學的算法驗證了上述特徵確實與違實句正向關聯。此外,本章還引進了布朗家族的另外兩個語料庫,CLOB(英式英語)和 CROWN(美式英語)以及英漢雙語平行語料庫,以便對英語和漢語中的違實句進行跨語言對比研究。最後,我們試圖將漢語的特性與跨語言共性相結合,並且總結漢語違實句主要依靠違實強化標記而非違實標記。
第三章是對違實句的詞彙形態、句法、語義以及語用特徵進行共時類型學研究。該研究選用的語種庫涉及 155種語言,在地理位置上以及起源上皆具有代表性。首先,我們發現違實概念不具有語言普遍性。違實義既可以通過語用推理形成,也可以通過句法形態予以標記。其次,資料顯示違實義可以實現為多種句法形式,既可以是簡單句也可以是複雜句包括並列,並屬和從屬。再次,資料顯示違實句有多種標記形式。語言既可以使用特定違實標記,如連詞、動詞、副詞、小品詞、附著詞、語素等,也可以使用非特定違實標記,多以組合形式出現,如特定詞彙動詞、複合語氣形式、複合時體態形式等。最後,除了違實條件句,我們也考察了其他典型違實義的表現形式,如違實期望和違實推理,以及非典型違實義如轉折義,“幾乎”義,“以為”義和反問義。