Chinese Discourse Adverbs as Presupposition Triggers


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Mengxi YUAN


Awarding Institution
  • Yurie HARA (Supervisor)
  • Haihua PAN (Supervisor)
Award date18 Aug 2015


In cooperative human communication, the speaker needs to mark the relationship between his utterance and the given information, because the hearer interprets the utterance with respect to the information she has already got. Languages adopt various devices to mark the relationship between the utterance and the context, and this dissertation is concerned with two of them, i.e., Mandarin adverbs dique ‘indeed’ and zhende ‘really’. These two adverbs do not contribute to the truth-conditional meaning of an utterance, but rather convey information about how utterances containing them are connected to the previous discourse, hence belong to the group of discourse markers. This dissertation explores the semantic contribution of discourse markers through a detailed study of dique and zhende.
On the basis of empirical data and a naturalness rating experiment, I show that dique and zhende impose different restrictions on the previous discourse of a sentence, hence they are analyzed as presupposition triggers. Dique presupposes that its prejacent is old information, while zhende presupposes that its prejacent is old information and it is challenged by some discourse participant. This difference in presuppositional content explains the distinct behaviors of dique and zhende. I also provide a syntactic analysis of the discourse adverbs that corresponds to the semantic account.
The interaction between dique/zhende and interrogative clauses reveals some interesting semantic properties of questions. VP-initial dique/zhende can occur in ma questions. These adverbs presuppose that a possible answer has been suggested, while the question indicates that the speaker is still seeking an answer. Thus, ma questions are modified by the adverbs so that the modified questions express the speaker’s bias towards the suggested answer. Unlike ma questions, the other three kinds of questions, i.e., A- not-A questions, alternative questions and wh-questions, cannot co-occur with VP-initial dique/zhende. This distributional difference suggests that these three kinds of questions have distinct semantics from ma questions. I show how the syntactic and prosodic features of the three kinds of questions derive an assertion of ignorance, which requires a neutral context. The neutrality requirement contradicts the presuppositions triggered by VP-initial adverbs, resulting in the incompatibility between these questions and VP- initial adverbs.
This dissertation shows how discourse adverbs mark various relationships between the utterance and the previous discourse, and demonstrates how discourse adverbs modify assertions and questions by contributing to presuppositional contents.