The Semantics of Mandarin Decomposition Adverbs
The University of Manchester
Dr. Martina Faller
Dr. Vera Hohaus
Current researches indicate that some English adverbs cause ambiguity when used with certain predicates. For example, ‘John closed the door again’ could either mean that John closed the door twice or that the door was closed before and somehow was open and John closed it. ‘John almost closed the door’ could mean that John was about to start closing the door but he didn’t action or that John was close to fully closing the door.
The structural analysis to the ambiguity claims that the main verb in the sentences can be decomposed into a phonetically-empty verbal head and a result adjective, such as ‘V-head + closed’ in the first example. The adverb ‘again’ can modify either the verbal head or the result adjective, thus causing two readings. However, it has been found that not all adverbs can modify the result adjective. Adverbs like ‘again’ which have access to the result state in a decomposition structure are called the decomposition adverbs.
However, Mandarin equivalents to these English adverbs behave differently somehow. For example, ‘Xiao Ming chongxin guan le men’, equivalent to ‘John closed the door again’ where ‘again’ is translated by ‘chongxin’, only permits the restitutive reading that the door was closed before. Similar phenomena in Mandarin raise counterexamples to the prediction of some theories that are trying to capture the ambiguity cross-linguistically.
My research aims to study the so-called decomposition adverbs in Mandarin, compared with their equivalents in English and other well-studied languages. The ultimate goal is to develop a cross-linguistic typology of these adverbs, taking into account their semantics, syntax and pragmatics. My research project, thereby, brings together semantics of Mandarin and formal semantics, two subfields of linguistics that currently have rare interaction.
Semantics and pragmatics interface