The aspectual system of Chinese




Yang, Suying

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Mandarin Chinese has a very interesting and complex aspectual system. This thesis studies this system from a new perspective, a modified version of Smith's (1991) two-component theory. It is shown that the modifications developed in the thesis increase the explanatory power of the theory so that a clearer picture of the Mandarin Chinese system is obtained. Situation aspect is compositional in nature. It is determined by the interaction of the intrinsic nature of the verb, the kind of argument the verb takes and certain other phrases that may occur in the sentence. In this thesis, a three level model is developed to account for the compositional nature of aspect. It is argued that aspect composition processes take place at three different levels: (i) the lexical level through some lexical processes; (ii) the subcategorizational level through the interaction of the verb and its arguments and (iii) the post-subcategorizational level through the interaction of the core sentence and certain adverbial constituents. This model has a few advantages. First, it defines clearly what plays what role in situation aspect composition processes. Secondly, this model makes it possible to talk in clear terms of verb types and situation types. Actually this model replaces Smith's situation shifting with situation formation. The three-level model is supplemented by two new criteria for verb classifications and a further distinction between boundedness and telicity. The two new criteria are: (i) the (±result) feature that distinguishes Accomplishment verbs from Achievement verbs and (ii) the (±bounded) feature that distinguishes Activity verbs from Semelfactive verbs. The distinction between boundedness and telicity differentiates temporal boundaries and spatial boundaries, the former is referred to by the feature (±bounded), and the latter is referred to by the feature (±telic). In light of the modified version of Smith's two component theory, the Mandarin Chinese aspectual system is shown to fit in the big picture of the universal grammar. The perfective and the imperfective are the two basic viewpoints in Mandarin Chinese. The perfective is marked by le and guo, and the imperfective is marked by zai and zhe. However, these viewpoints have some language specific properties. The most outstanding special properties are displayed by le. Unlike the perfective in languages like English and French, the perfective marker le does not provide a final endpoint. It only emphasizes the occurrence of a situation as a whole. As a consequence, it requires that the situation it marks is either (+bounded) or (+telic). Guo provides an endpoint to situations and so it is compatible with any situation type either open-ended or closed. However, as it emphasizes the experiential meaning of a particular event, it is limited in use pragmatically. Zai emphasizes the progress of a situation, it is not sensitive to endpoint at all. Its function is close to the English progressive form and like the English progressive form, it fits in the general imperfective schema. Zhe imposes a static view to situations, and because of this property, zhe is selective about situation types. In Mandarin Chinese, there are some constructions that show certain syntactic and semantic constraints. These constraints are studied in light of the aspectual theory adopted and developed in the thesis. And it is argued that a top-down approach advocated by the Construction Grammar and the Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar may well explain the form-meaning correspondences of these constructions.



Chinese language, Chinese language, Semantics