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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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5. Analysis of Particle a with Imperatives 131

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131 5. Analysis of Particle a with Imperatives As already mentioned in Literature Review (Chapter 2), it is widely acknowledged by Chinese grammarians that particle a is one of the particles that can occur with imperative sentences in Mandarin Chinese. Imperatives in Mandarin Chinese, like those in English and other lan- guages, are used characteristically as commands or directives. 1 In this study, a total of 262 imperatives are found to have particle a attached to them. Again, as in the case of declaratives, two distinct modal meanings, namely ‘volitive’ and ‘surprisive’, are identified from the use of the particle with imperatives. The former with imperatives refers to the speaker’s strong wish that the requested action be carried out by the addressee and the latter indexes the speaker’s feeling of surprise at what the addressee is doing or not doing when the speaker issues his/her request for the addressee to do just the opposite. 5.1 Volitive meaning in speaker commands As already noted in Chapter 2, the observation is made by Y. R. Chao (1968) that an imperative/command with particle a attached ‘has a slight- ly insistent air’ (p. 804) and the particle with an imperative/command ‘has a slight effect of “do” in the translation’ (p. 795). So he translates the sentence Zao dianr huilai a! into ‘Do come early!’ The examination of the data in the present study reveals that about 67% of the a-suffixed imperatives identified in the data (175 out of the total of 262) display...

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