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THE SEMANTICS OF THE INCHOATIVE AND CESSATIVE ASPECTS IN MANDARIN AND CLASSICAL CHINESE

Michael Heinz

Ph.D. Dissertation, 1990

Abstract

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.


 
 
Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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