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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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Preface xi

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xi Preface Native Chinese speakers make frequent use of modal particles in their daily conversational exchanges, but these linguistic items are known to Chinese linguists and grammarians for being notoriously elusive in their pragmatic and semantic functions. My interest in studying these modal items originated from my teaching of Chinese as a foreign language to university students. Although being a native speaker of the language, I found myself unable to fully and clearly understand and explain to my students some of these particles concerning their use and meaning. The pursuit of a better understanding of these linguistic items led me to embark on my PhD study on Chinese modal particle a, one of the most frequently used modal particles in Mandarin Chinese and yet pragmatic and semantic descriptions of the particle in the literature are sketchy and inadequate. In order to capture the uses and the underlying meanings of the particle, I collected a large body of data from the popular Chinese TV drama series Kewang ‘Expectations’. Out of the total of 50 episodes of the series, the first 20 (about 20 hours in length) were transcribed which yielded a data script of more than 142000 Chinese characters with a total of 1829 instances of the particle all used in meaningful communicative situations. Within the contexts of their use, the particle occurrences were analysed and categorized and on this basis characterization of the particle was made in terms of its use and meaning. This book presents the results of this...

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