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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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2. Literature Review 5


5 2. Literature Review This chapter is concerned with providing an overview of the current knowledge and understanding, as manifested in the literature, of Chinese modal particles as a grammatical category and of the modal particle a in particular which is the focus of this book. Five sections are included in this chapter. Section 2.1 addresses Mandarin modal particles as a lin- guistic category. Section 2.2 presents what is commonly recognized in the literature about particle a. Section 2.3 provides various accounts of the supposed meanings or functions of the particle. Section 2.4 takes a more holistic and critical look at the various accounts of the particle in the literature. And the last section gives an overview of works on modal particles in other Chinese dialects and in languages other than Chinese. 2.1 Modal particles in Mandarin Chinese Modal particles are unstressed in tone and they are bound morphemes in that they must be attached to sentences or phrases and do not function as independent grammatical constituents when occurring in sentences. They constitute a subgroup of what is also referred to in Chinese grammar as ‘helping words’ ( zhuci).1 As a group, modal particles, like the other groups of particles or helping words in Mandarin Chinese (i.e. structural particles and aspect particles, are always placed into the overarching category of xuci ( ), which are rendered in English as ‘empty words’, ‘non-content words’, or ‘function words’. The other overarching category standing in contrast 1 Three groups of ‘helping words’ are recognized in...

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