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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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4. Analysis of Particle a with Declaratives 69


69 4. Analysis of Particle a with Declaratives This chapter focuses on the use of particle a with declarative sentences uttered in discourse contexts and on the semantic properties of the particle deduced from its use. 1 Following the criterion commonly adopted by Chinese grammarians, this study puts an uttered sentence into the declarative category if it is used to present a situation, a state of affairs, or a personal view or belief. The analysis of the data has lead to the iden- tification of two semantic functions of particle a with declaratives, which are termed ‘volitive’ and ‘surprisive’ respectively in this book. When attached to a declarative sentence, particle a in the volitive function con- veys the speaker’s strong wish (i.e. volition) that the addressee will act in the way as desired by the speaker towards what has been said in the declarative. 2 The surprisive function of particle a with a declarative, on the other hand, refers specifically to the function of the particle in denoting the 1 In the literature of linguistics, a distinction is often drawn between ‘utterance’ and ‘sentence’. This distinction is described by Hoye (1997: 70): ‘The term “utterance” is a pragmatic notion which refers to speaker meaning and the production of spoken and written stretches of language in a given context. The term contrasts with the traditional notion of sentence, which refers to syntactic structure and the gram- matical relations between words and what these mean independent of context. A sentence is a...

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