Temporal Reference in Mandarin Chinese


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Abstract

This paper discusses how Chinese, a so-called tenseless language, determines its temporal reference. For simplex sentences without time adverb or aspectual marker, I show that temporal reference is correlated with aktionsart or grammatical viewpoint. For sentences with an aspectual marker, I discuss the temporal semantics of le and guo in detail, showing how their tense/aspectual meanings contribute to temporal reference. I propose to analyze le as an event realization operator and guo as an anteriority operator. For subordinate clauses, I show that temporal reference of complement clauses of verbs is basically determined by verbal semantics of individual verbs, which may impose some temporal restriction on the temporal location of the embedded event. As for relative clauses and temporal adverbial clauses, many different factors such as lexical verbal semantics, referential properties of determiners, lifetime effect of noun phrases, semantic or pragmatics constraints on temporal connectives, inference rules and world knowledge, etc., all interact to help determine temporal reference. Many data discussed in this paper indicate that there is no evidence of (covert) tenses in Chinese. Therefore, challenging work remains for those who have claimed that Tense Phrase is projected in Chinese phrase structures.

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