Quantifiers and Scope Ambiguity in Mandarin: Theoretical and Experimental Perspectives


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date22 Mar 2021


The goal of this thesis is to explore the interpretation of doubly quantified sentences in Mandarin by addressing the following questions: (a) How do Mandarin native speakers interpret doubly quantified sentences, including simple transitive sentences and other complex constructions? (b) What factors are involved in interpreting Mandarin doubly quantified sentences? (c) How do these factors interact with each other? Can the scope patterns observed in various constructions be accounted for by a unified scope principle?

Chapter 1 briefly introduces quantifier scope ambiguity and critically reviews five influential accounts of quantifier scope in Mandarin. Some experimental studies on the interpretation of quantifier scope are also reviewed in this chapter. The research gaps between theoretical and experimental explorations of quantifier scope are discussed as well. 

Two issues are examined in Chapter 2: (a) Does the Isomorphic Principle hold beyond simple transitives in Mandarin, e.g., embedded nonfinite clauses, dative constructions, and shift constructions? (b) Is linear order or syntactic hierarchy the determining factor of quantifier scope? Two experiments are reported in this chapter, one investigating the scope interpretation of doubly quantified embedded nonfinite clauses and the other investigating doubly quantified ditransitive sentences. Based on the experimental results, I argue that no scope ambiguity is found in these constructions. The seemingly ambiguity observed in yi > mei ordered datives can be explained by the underlying structure together with the Extended Isomorphic Principle, which states that if a quantified phrase A c-commands another quantified phrase B in the underlying structure before vP-internal scrambling, then A takes scope over B at LF. The relative scope of quantified phrases is determined by syntactic hierarchy, while linear order only affects scope preference. 

Chapter 3 presents two experiments which aim to explore the influence of thematic hierarchy on quantifier scope. The scope patterns observed in doubly quantified locative sentences and ba sentences demonstrate that thematic hierarchy is not a determinant factor. The scope patterns can be better explained if the syntactic account proposed in Chapter 2 is taken into consideration. 

Chapter 4 examines the influence of quantifier type on quantifier scope and reports an experiment investigating doubly quantified sentences (simple transitives and datives) with different universal quantifiers (mei ‘every’ vs. suoyou ‘all’ vs. quan ‘all’). It is revealed that quantifier type also has an effect on scope preference. The effect of quantifier type can be accounted for by the semantic analysis of scope dependency proposed in F.-H. Liu (1997). 

Chapter 5 summarizes the scope facts observed in the experiments and provides a unified account of the three distinct scope patterns. It is argued that in Mandarin doubly quantified sentences, syntactic hierarchy determines scope possibility (i.e., the Structure-Scope Correspondence Principle), while linear order of quantifiers and quantifier type together influence scope preference. An alternative account and some further issues are also discussed in this chapter. Chapter 6 concludes.