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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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8. Particle a in Sentence-internal Positions 305


305 8. Particle a in Sentence-internal Positions In the corpus data, there are a total of 523 tokens of particle a used sentence-internally instead of attached to the end of a sentence. Out of this number, 516 tokens are used as a pause particle while the other 7 are used as an enumeration device with nominal or verbal series. These two sentence-internal uses of the particle are discussed respectively in 8.1 and 8.2 of this chapter. 8.1 Particle a as a pause particle It was already pointed out in Chapter 2 (Literature Review) that particle a is generally regarded as one of the pause particles when it occurs after a constituent within a Chinese sentence. (The other commonly listed pause particles include ne, ba, and ma). 1 Li and Thompson (1981: 86) suggest that ‘these pause particles may be called topic markers as they serve to mark the topic.’ Fang Mei (1994) disagrees and argues that these particles can occur with sentence constinuents which are not sentence topics. As far as particle a is concerned, the corpus data of this study reveals that although what the particle is attached to in most cases can be identified as sentence topics following the general definitions established by Y. R. Chao (1968) and Li and Thompson (1981), there is at the same time a considerable number of cases in which the linguistic form before the particle cannot be viewed as such. It is necessary at this point to review what is regarded by...

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