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On Chinese Modal Particle A (啊)

A Pragmatic and Semantic Study

Ying Xian Ingrid Wang

Chinese modal particles feature prominently in Chinese people’s daily use of the language, but their pragmatic and semantic functions are elusive as commonly recognised by Chinese linguists and teachers of Chinese as a foreign language. This book originates from an extensive and intensive empirical study of the Chinese modal particle a (啊), one of the most frequently used modal particles in Mandarin Chinese. In order to capture all the uses and the underlying meanings of the particle, the author transcribed the first 20 episodes, about 20 hours in length, of the popular Chinese TV drama series Kewang ‘Expectations’, which yielded a corpus data of more than 142’000 Chinese characters with a total of 1829 instances of the particle all used in meaningful communicative situations. Within its context of use, every single occurrence of the particle was analysed in terms of its pragmatic and semantic contributions to the hosting utterance. Upon this basis the core meanings were identified which were seen as constituting the modal nature of the particle.

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Table of Contents

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Preface ..................................................................................................... xi List of Tables .......................................................................................... xiii Abbreviations and Symbols Used in Glosses and Transcribed Sentences ................................................................................................. xv Abbreviations for Titles of Textbooks and Dictionaries for Learners of Mandarin Chinese ............................................................................. xvii 1. Introduction ........................................................................................ 1 2. Literature Review .............................................................................. 5 2.1 Modal particles in Mandarin Chinese .......................................... 5 2.2 Preliminary descriptions of particle a .......................................... 8 2.2.1 Phonetic and ideographic variants of particle a ................. 8 2.2.2 Syntactic distribution of particle a ................................... 10 2.3 Alleged functions of particle a ................................................... 11 2.3.1 Particle a with declaratives .............................................. 12 2.3.2 Particle a with imperatives............................................... 18 2.3.3 Particle a with interrogatives ........................................... 21 2.3.3.1 The five types of questions ................................. 21 2.3.3.2 Alleged functions of particle a with questions .... 24 2.3.4 Particle a with exclamatives ............................................ 29 2.3.5 Particle a in sentence-internal positions .......................... 30 2.4 A critical overview ..................................................................... 34 2.4.1 The use of insufficient and/or self-constructed data ........ 34 2.4.2 Lack of effort in characterizing the particle’s modal properties ......................................................................... 35 2.5 Modal particles in other dialects and languages ......................... 40 3. Approach to the Study ..................................................................... 45 3.1 Preliminary considerations ......................................................... 45 3.1.1 Conceptual framework of modality ................................. 45 3.1.2 Commonly adopted method ............................................. 47 3.1.3 Data-based empirical approach ........................................ 51 3.2 Language data ............................................................................ 55 viii 3.3 Analytical procedures ................................................................. 61 3.4 Procedures for result presentation .............................................. 66 4. Analysis of Particle a with Declaratives ......................................... 69 4.1 Volitive meaning in speaker emphasis ....................................... 70 4.1.1 Particle a with support-lending assertions ....................... 70 4.1.2 Particle a with assertions of enlightenment ..................... 85 4.1.3 Particle a with assertions which imply the speaker’s message ............................................................................ 99 4.1.4 Particle a with reports of the speaker’s next move or future action ................................................................... 104...

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