Quantificational and Non-quantificational Nature of Temporal Adverbials in Mandarin Chinese


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Jun GUO


Awarding Institution
Award date7 Apr 2016


In previous studies, there is a lack of profound understanding of the nature of the temporal adverbs denoting plural events in Mandarin Chinese in terms of the opposition between quantificational adverbs and non-quantificational adverbs. This dissertation discusses the possibility of dividing the representative temporal adverbs (zong, lao, changchang, pinpin) into two types: one type of adverbs (represented by zong,lao, pinpin) are purely temporal modifiers and the other type of adverbs (represented by changchang) are adverbial quantifiers. Zong and lao are selected as key research objects for they are easily mistaken for quantificational adverbs in literature and they have relatively complex semantic features. Figuring out the type of adverbs which zong or lao belongs to can shed light on the understanding of the semantic nature of more temporal adverbs in Mandarin Chinese.
The first focus of this thesis is on exploring the real semantic nature of zong and lao. Starting out with some intriguing data, I observe that there seems to be a discrepancy between zong/lao and always in terms of semantic interpretation. Unlike the quantifier always, zong/lao may not require a tripartite structure for interpretation. Instead, it may have two possible non-quantificational readings: continuous iteration reading and magnitude of time reading. A question immediately arises is if zong or lao is not a Q-adverb, which kind of adverb does it belong to? Previous studies on the distinction between Q-adverbs and freq-adverbs in English and other languages shed light on exploring the real semantic nature of zong/lao. It is argued in this thesis that zong/lao is a frequency adverb rather than a universal quantifier and this argument is supported by the results of many tests showing the difference between zong and the assumed Q-adverb changchang in many ways. I also compare zong/lao with pinpin which behaves like a prototypical freq-adverb and observe that zong/lao as a freq-adverb allows variations from some properties that are assumed to be able to characterize the frequency adverbs in some widely discussed languages (especially English) or pinpin which strictly behaves like frequently. It is argued that zong and lao, as non-quantificational adverbs, function as predicate modifiers further specifying the quantities of the plural or iterated events. A formal representation based on the event-based approach is given for a better understanding of the two possible readings of zon and lao. The identification of zong and lao as freq-adverbs is significant for making it possible to establish a finer classification among the temporal adverbs subsumed under the notion of the so called “frequency adverbs” in Mandarin Chinese. In addition, this classification can better capture the different semantic properties displayed by different temporal counting adverbs.
The second focus of this thesis is on examining the compositionality manifested by zongshi and laoshi. It will be argued that zong/lao and shi contribute to the meaning of zongshi/laoshi separately. Abundant data are provided to prove that shi does have an important influence on the predicate selection of zong/lao. To account for this effect brought about by shi, I claim that shi is an assertion operator which evaluates or asserts the situation denoted by the predicate. Adopting Huang’s (1988) analysis, I argue that shi in zongshi/laoshi functions as a raising verb which takes a propositional argument and this argument can explain the parallel between zong/lao and zongshi/laoshi with respect to syntactic distribution. Then I investigate zongshi and laoshi with respect to semantic function, scope taking and information-structural properties. The main argument is that the attachment of zong/lao to –shi has pre-determined that zong and lao are modifiers of times when the propositional argument taken by shi is evaluated or affirmed. Zong/lao can extend its scope from VP to sentence through syntactically adjoining to shi. In addition to that, shi can also pre-determine the information-structural properties of zong/lao. An important observation made here is that for adverbs like zongshi/laoshi in Mandarin Chinese, focus-background partition is triggered only after the syntactic constraints have been satisfied. In other words, the syntactic constraints are impossible to be overridden by semantics.
Based on the data and findings, the current analysis may lead to an important claim, namely that in Mandarin Chinese, the temporal A-quantification may be pre-determined lexically, with lexical factors dominating over semantic factors, whereas in English, the semantic factor plays the dominant role in shaping the tripartite structure of temporal adverbials. This claim, if proved to be on the right track, will help us gain a better understanding of the picture of A-quantification in Mandarin Chinese. Furthermore, this analysis can also shed new light on the study of other linguistic expressions sharing the same pattern with zong and laoshi as well as lao and laoshi in terms of word-building.