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Title: A Cognitive-Functional Investigation of Questions in Chinese
Authors: Gao, Han
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: The University of Hong Kong
Abstract: This thesis re-casts the grammar of questions in Chinese in terms of the cognitive-communicative functions which it encodes. In light of Givón’s cognitive-functional theory of grammar (Givón 1995; 1998; 1999; 2001; 2002a), this study views the coding of questions in terms of the language’s responses to cognitive and communicative pressures. The encoding can take place at one of three levels: conceptual lexicon, propositional semantics and discourse pragmatics. It is argued that the system of questions in Chinese consists of multitudinous members. Specifically, question words code conceptual lexicon; the A-not-A construction and the K-VP question form code propositional semantics; while intonation, the particle ma, the alternative construction, the tag construction, and the topic-only (i.e., “NP/S+ne”) form code multi-propositional discourse. From this cognitive-functional perspective, some controversial issues are revisited, including the scope of questioning, the degree of question mood and the degree of grammaticalization of various question forms. In addition to the above proposal, the thesis presents two case studies, using the framework of Cognitive Linguistics (Langacker 1987, 1990, 1991; Lakoff 1987; Taylor 2002), together with typological and historical considerations where necessary and relevant. The findings of these two case studies are related to the other question forms with a view to building a coherent account of the overall grammar of questions in Chinese. The first case study demonstrates that the grammaticalization of the A-not-A construction and its ancient antecedent VP-NEG form are triggered by cognitive structures involving affirmative-negative pairs. Such a construction is better characterized as polysemous with the basic meaning of selection between the two alternatives “A” and “not A”, and this basic meaning combines with conceptual properties and contextual factors to yield different interpretations in actual use. Such a treatment provides an explanation for the fact that an A-not-A expression (and its ancient antecedent VP-NEG form) may or may not convey a questioning message. In the second case study, it is argued the NP/S+ne question is to a certain extent grammaticalized, as evidenced by its high frequency of use and ‘uncontextualized’ use, which may be traced to the cognitive-functional relationship between topic and question. Whether a topic is interpreted as a topic-only question depends on whether it is conceptually salient and whether an information gap is received by participants in the conversation. The topic-marker ne is there to indicate a connection between the topic and previous proposition(s), and in so doing help locate the unstated point of questioning. Therefore, in spite of being grammatically manifest at the clause level, the NP/S+ne question nevertheless reflects grammatical coding at the discourse-pragmatic level. The case study also suggests that the ‘uncontextualized’ use of the NP+ne question may be motivated by human beings’ cognitive basis about spatial perception, which is grammatically realized in topic-configurational languages. Our observation on this use of the topic-only question in Chinese should thus be relevant to linguistic typology.
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