THE SEMANTICS OF THE INCHOATIVE AND CESSATIVE ASPECTS IN MANDARIN AND CLASSICAL CHINESE
Ph.D. Dissertation, 1990
This thesis explores the semantics and diachronic development of the
Standard (Mandarin) Chinese aspectual marker LE. It appears in post-verbal
and sentence final positions, and has two functions: as a marker of cessation
(le(C)), it indicates that the activity associated with the verb to which
it is appended has come to and end; as a marker of inchoativity (le(I)),
it indicates that the situation referred to by the sentence to which it
is appended is 'new'. Evidence from earlier stages of Chinese demonstrates
that the character which represents LE was originally associated with
the completive aspect, and that the morpheme went through a series of
syntactic, semantic and phonological changes whereby it came to represent
both the inchoative and cessative aspects. The homographic/homophonic
representation of LE in Standard Chinese is contrasted with other Chinese
dialects, wherein different pronunciations and/or characters are associated
with the two aspectual categories. It is hypothesized that parallels between
the cessative and inchoative aspects informed the diachronic development
of le(C) and le(I). The distribution and interpretations of LE in Standard
Chinese are examined within a Situation Semantics framework. A complementary
pair of rules are developed; le(C) and le(I) are constraints which provide
information about the histories described by the sentences in which they
appear. LE posits the existence, in a given domain of discourse, of a
situation other than the situation described by the sentence to which
the morpheme is appended. The two situations can be distinguished only
with regard to a highly restricted set of parameters: those which involve
temporal order, and those which involve the polarity value in the fact
which represents the meaning of the sentence to which LE is appended.
The application of these rules to the interpretation of sentences which
include negation and/or temporal adverbs is also explored.
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