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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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9. Conclusion 365


365 9. Conclusion This research has examined 20 episodes (about 20 hours) of the popular Chinese TV drama series Kewang ‘Expectation’, which gave rise to a corpus script of dialogues and monologues with over 142,000 Chinese characters. The corpus yielded a total of 1829 tokens of sentence/modal particle a, the subject of this study. The aim of the study is to capture the pragmatic and semantic functions of the particle in its contexts of use. The primary goal, it will be recalled, is to achieve the characterization of the particle’s core meaning or meanings which will enable us to explain the wide distribution and the complex behaviour of the particle. The scrutiny of the 1829 instances of particle a in their context of use has first of all led to the conclusion that the particle is emotional in nature. It supports the observation made by Lü Shuxiang ([1947] 1982) that the particle is different from all the other Chinese modal particles in that it injects an ‘emotional element’ into whatever utterance it is attached to. What has been gained from this study is not only to have confirmed Lü’s observation but also to have identified the exact nature of the emotional element the particle can inject into an utterance. It is found that all the emotional overtones that the particle can add to utterances can be cast into three groups: volitive, exclamative and surprisive. 9.1 Volitive function As already defined in Chapter 4, the volitive function of particle...

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