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Title: Degree Modifications and Boundedness of Adjectives in Mandarin
Authors: Chen, Yuan-Lu
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Chinese Languages
Mandarin Chinese
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: National Chung Cheng University (Taiwan)
Abstract: This thesis discusses the syntax and semantics of Mandarin predicative adjectives. Mandarin does not require any copular to link the subject and the adjectival predicate; instead, under certain conditions, degree modifications on the adjectival predicate are obligatory. This thesis proposes that Mandarin adjectives have no intrinsic boundedness and the degree adverbs specify the boundedness of an adjective, and by doing so the adjectival predicate is time-anchored with the boundedness-based temporal inference pattern, proposed in Lin, Jo-Wang (2006) and Smith (2008). First, I show that in addition to the degree modification, the reduplication, the comparative construction, the perfective aspectual marker -le, the negation word, the A-not-A construction and the yes-no question constructions can all license adjectival predicates. It is argued that what all these licensing conditions have in common is their intrinsic boundedness feature. The boundedness is important for a tenseless language such as Mandarin because a tenseless language uses aspectual boundedness to infer the temporal location of an event. Specifically, in the absence of a temporal modifier, bounded events are located in the Past and unbounded events are located in the Present (Lin, Jo-Wang 2006; Smith 2008). In other words, bare adjectival predicates are out because they are not time anchored. Second, I explain the syntax and semantics of hen. It has two interpretations: as an intensifier ‘very’ and semantically bleached. It is proposed that the semantically bleached hen is a late-insertion directly merged at Asp0 simply for specifying the situation type as Stative. And thus the semantically bleached hen has a last-resort nature. In the presence of any other elements with boundedness feature, this bleached aspectual marker hen will not occur. And if hen does occur in the presence of any other elements with boundedness feature, it is expected that it must be base-generated at Deg0 and have an intensifier meaning. Third, I argue for the existence of adjectives in Mandarin, and propose a universal feature of the syntactic category of adjectives, namely adjectives cannot be directly linked to temporal location. Thus other elements are needed for specifying the temporal information. In tenseless languages such as Mandarin, boundedness is used to infer the temporal location; in tense languages such as English, temporal information is directly encoded in TP. Mandarin adjectives lack intrinsic boundedness and English adjectives cannot take any tense-related suffix such as -ed. As a result, other elements must specify the boundedness of Mandarin adjectival predicates, and English adjectival predicates must use a copula to specify the tense information. The fact that in a tense language, such as English, degree modifications are never obligatory follows the prediction of this thesis.
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