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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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1. Introduction 1


1 1. Introduction Mandarin Chinese has a grammatical category which comprises what are generally referred to in Chinese grammars as yuqici ( ), a term which is variously translated into English as ‘modal particles’, ‘mood particles’ or ‘emotional particles’. These particles predominantly appear at the end of sentences, and they are seen as modifying the whole sen- tence rather than a linguistic constituent of a sentence, therefore they are also known as ‘sentence-final particles’ or ‘sentence particles’. In spite of the terms used, it is also generally acknowledged that some of the particles can occur in sentence-internal positions, e.g. after a phrase or a clause (see, for example, Y. R. Chao 1968). Recognized as a salient feature of spoken rather than written Chinese, modal particles are also referred to as ‘utter- ance particles’ or ‘utterance-final particles’ by Luke (1990) and Chappell (1991). The number of Chinese modal particles as listed by different grammarians or linguists varies from person to person or from book to book. It ranges from five to more than a dozen. An exceptionally extend- ed list of sentence-final (and phrase-final) modals was provided by Y. R. Chao (1968: 795–814). It is, however, pointed out by Chappell (1991) that the first 12 on Chao’s list parallel those found in works by others on Mandarin grammar and the extended list is the result of finer distinctions Chao made and polysemy he posited for some of the major Mandarin particles. In spite of the disparity in the number of Mandarin modal...

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