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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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6. Analysis of Particle a with Interrogatives 167


167 6. Analysis of Particle a with Interrogatives The corpus data of this study reveals an extensive use of particle a with Chinese interrogative sentences. As in English and any other natural languages, Chinese interrogative sentences uttered in discourse are char- acteristically used as questions. A total of 663 questions are found with particle a present in the utterance-final position. These questions can be syntactically classified into three types, namely, question-word questions (qw-questions), disjunctive/choice questions (ch-questions), and yes-no questions. Examination of the corpus data reveals clearly that questions from any of the three types can be genuine or put to uses other than seek- ing information. This chapter focuses on the particle’s roles with different types of questions in their interrogative and non-interrogative uses and on the characterization of the particle’s semantic meanings with questions. 6.1 Particle a with question-word questions (qw-questions) As already mentioned in Chapter 2 (Literature Review), question-word questions are those which are formed with the use of an interrogative pronoun or interrogative adverb like shenme ‘what’, shei ‘who/whom’, nar ‘where’, weishenme ‘why’, etc. Such a word points to a situation as- pect unknown to the questioner. The interrogative words in Chinese are the equivalents of those in English which are often referred to in the literature as ‘wh-words’ and which help form the syntactic category of what is often called ‘wh-questions’ in the English language (see, for example, Greenbaum and Quirk, 1990). To be more accurate with regard to the characteristics of Chinese language, the phrase...

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