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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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3. Approach to the Study 45


45 3. Approach to the Study Given the extensive distribution and complex behaviour of particle a as reflected by the reviewed literature, it is assumed that the particle can be put to a variety of uses in a wide range of situations. In sharing the position asserted by Goddard (1998: 6) that ‘the meaning of a word is the main determinant of its use’, it is also assumed that all the uses of the particle should be tied to its fundamental meaning or meanings. This study seeks to capture the whole range of the particle’s uses and the meaning or meanings that underlie its uses. In Section 3.1 of this chapter, considerations of conceptual and methodological issues will be address- ed. Section 3.2 will discuss the corpus data used and the last two sections will describe the analytical procedures and the procedures for presenting the results. 3.1 Preliminary considerations 3.1.1 Conceptual framework of modality Modality in languages has been an important part of linguistic study and description. It is the focus of the linguistic works by Perkins (1983), Palmer (1986), Maynard (1993), Bybee and Fleischman (eds. 1995), and Hoye (1997). Discussions of modality also feature prominently in major linguistictic works such as Lyons (1977), Saeed (1997), Goddard (1998), Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002). Modality is defined in very general terms by Lyons (1977: 452) as ‘his [the speaker’s] opinion or attitude towards the proposition that the sentence expresses or the situation that the proposition describes’. This view is generally...

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