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Review of Focus and Background Marking in Mandarin Chinese
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005 21:30:01 -0700 From: Shiaowei Tham Subject: Focus and Background Marking in Mandarin Chinese
AUTHOR: Hole, Daniel TITLE: Focus and Background Marking in Mandarin Chinese SUBTITLE: System and Theory behind cai, jiu, dou and ye SERIES: RoutledgeCurzon Asian Linguistics Series PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2004
Shiao Wei Tham, Asian School I, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Centre, Monterey, CA.
I am grateful to Daniel Hole and Peter Sells for their help with this review. Any errors are of course, my responsibility.
Focus and Background Marking in Mandarin Chinese is an extremely comprehensive, detailed, and highly convincing study of four of the most elusive words in Mandarin that continually frustrate second-language learners and linguists alike. CAI, JIU, DOU, and YE occur in sentences with a range of interpretations, including "ONLY", "EVEN", and other less directly describable readings. This study provides individual analyses of each of these words, then synthesises them into a coherent system of focus- background marking in terms of quantification over alternatives in a focus- background structure.
In providing an overarching systemic analysis of focus-background marking, this study is no longer an analysis of individual focus marking words in a particular language, but rather yields predictions on possible analogous systems in other languages, and on the kinds of information structural relationships that may be lexicalized across languages. The study makes dexterous use of up-to-date findings from formal semantics, couched in precise, highly readable prose, but with minimal formal notation, combining insightful theoretical proposals with copious amounts of data, detailed analysis, and careful empirical motivation. As a result, this book is not only a valuable reference for researchers of Mandarin Chinese, but would also be of interest to theoretical linguists with varying degrees of affinity towards formal semantics.
To give an idea of the complexity and depth of the study, I first provide a brief glimpse into the range of meanings associated with CAI, JIU, DOU, and YE. CAI and JIU feature in a range of sentences with seemingly diverse meanings: for instance, CAI in (1) is interpreted as suggesting that Xiao Wang came rather late, yet in (2) it is interpreted as suggesting that 8 o'clock is early for now, which appears somewhat contradictory. CAI also occurs in sentences containing ONLY-foci (3).
(1) Xiao Wang ba dian CAI lai Xiao Wang 8 o'clock CAI come Xiao Wang came only at 8 o'clock.
(2) xianzai CAI ba dian now only eight o'clock It's only 8 o'clock.
(3) Lao Wang zhiyou cha CAI he Lao Wang only tea CAI drink Lao Wang drinks only tea.
The meaning of JIU is similarly difficult to pin down: indeed, it sometimes seems untranslatable: while one might try to translate JIU with "then" in (4), it is not clear what JIU in (5) would correspond to. The author notes that this translation gap is not specific to English, but is also true of other "common European languages".
(4) Ruguo tianqi hao, wo JIU qu if weather good I JIU go If the weather is good, I will go there.
(5) Women zai zher JIU neng wanr we at here JIU can play We can play here.
In contrast, the interpretation of DOU and YE sentences is more obvious: these items appear in sentences with a meaning of EVEN (6). Yet it is hardly obvious what effect DOU and YE achieve by their presence.
(6) Lian Lao Wang DOU/YE lai. even Lao Wang DOU/YE come Even Lao Wang came.
The puzzling aspects of these words have not gone unnoticed, of course, and many researchers have studied them in different combinations and to varying degrees. Convention links CAI with JIU (for reasons to be discussed below) (Biq 1984, 1988, Lai 1999); DOU is often studied in the context of EVEN-sentences (e.g. Shyu 1995), although the author notes that YE is relatively under-studied. Even where all of these words have been studied (the author cites Alleton 1972), however, no attempt has been made to relate these four words into a system of items that could be mutually complementary or conflicting. The current work provides a largely successful proposal for just such a synthesis. As a result, its conclusions raise implications for focus-background marking devices across languages, and are not limited in relevance to Chinese linguistics per se.
This study treats CAI, JIU, DOU and YE (henceforth CJDY) as information structure devices that indicate particular relationships between the focus and the background of a sentence. CJDY are called "parametric words" as they are proposed to involve a choice among alternatives. The author places these four words within a paradigm of focus-background marking that forms a quantificational square. A major innovation of this study is the proposal that CJDY are agreement words: they indicate (but do not bring about) particular focus-background configurations. The viability of focus- background agreement aside (and the author cites Yukagir as an example of a language with such a system), the claim that Mandarin contains agreement particles is controversial in itself, given the 'isolating' nature of the language and the paucity of morphological devices. Whether agreement analysis is correct or not, however, the observation that these markers reflect, rather than create, specific focus-background relations, seems astute and accurate.
Below, I provide a summary of each of the six chapters in the book, then follow up with an evaluation section.
The first is a brief introductory chapter giving a cursory overview of the phenomena to be dealt with, and provides an organization of the following chapters (2-6). The main analysis is found in chapters 3 and 4. Four distinct focus marking words are discussed, so each of chapters 3 and 4 is divided into at least three major sections dealing with them relatively independently. The first two sections are devoted to CAI and JIU respectively. Because the uses of parametric DOU and YE overlap to a large extent, discussion of these two items falls into the same section, which is the third major section. In addition, chapter 4 contains a fourth major section drawing these different threads into a paradigm of focus marking devices in Mandarin that unites these four words as part of a system.
Chapter 2 distinguishes parametric from other uses of CAI, JIU, DOU and YE (henceforth CJDY). It is a very important chapter that delineates the senses of CJDY to be dealt with in the rest of the book, separating these from various other meanings associated with CJDY, and in so doing, it imposes a clarity and organisation on the CJDY terrain hitherto unseen in previous literature. Each of the various use types of CJDY is considered in an independent section in chapter 2. This discussion yields a few rather surprising conclusions, such as the proposal that the sense of ONLY, which both CAI and JIU are associated with, is one of the parametric uses of CAI, and thus part of the book's concern, but not for JIU, and thus outside the purview of the book. Although surprising, this conclusion is convincingly argued for via intonational, distributional, and information structural properties of JIU to express a meaning of ONLY (called the 'focusing' use of JIU), that contrasts with corresponding properties of parametric CJDY. Section 2.5 then argues for identifying a PARAMETRIC use type for each of CJDY, based on two major criteria of obligatoriness and paradigmaticity. It is argued that parametric CJDY are obligatorily realized in their sentence, whereas in their other uses, they are not obligatory in their sentence. It is also proposed that CJDY form a semantically coherent paradigm of quantification over alternatives, each word constituting one corner of a quantificational square. This second "criterion" is really the entire proposal laid out in chapter 4. To argue for the existence of parametric CJDY based on an analysis of these items as a paradigm of parametric words smacks somewhat of circularity, but it is possible to view this assertion as a manifesto rather than an argument and to treat the existence of a class of parametric CJDY as a working assumption without affecting the progress of the rest of the book, so no real harm is done.
Chapter 3 takes on the difficult task of capturing the conditions under which CAI, JIU, DOU, and YE are obligatorily used or disallowed, although the main aim of the chapter, as noted below, is to argue for the analysis of CJDY as agreement markers that indicate agreement between specific information structural categories and a background. For each of CJDY, the chapter carefully details (i) the relative position of the information structural category (usually a focus, although in the case of JIU a contrastive topic is also possible) that interacts with CJDY; (ii) the type of focus (e.g. 'only' focus or 'even' focus) that each of CJDY is associated with; and (iii) how CJDY interacts with quantificational expressions. The chapter ends (section 3.4) with a discussion of the problem of categorizing CJDY. The author notes that CJDY have been treated in various ways in the existing literature, e.g. as adverbs (e.g., Li and Thompson 1981, Paris 1981, 1985), focus particles or focusing adverbs (e.g. Biq 1988), and as functional heads (e.g. Shyu 1995), but often with reservations by the relevant authors. Hole points out empirical and conceptual problems with each of these treatments, thereby laying out the groundwork for the agreement analysis of CJDY.
Before proceeding to chapter 4, it should be mentioned that chapter 3 could be frustrating for some syntacticians (as the author himself notes, p49), as many descriptive generalizations as to word order in CJDY constructions and their interaction with information structure are laid out without being given an explicit syntactic analysis. On the other hand, the generalizations are presented with extremely clarity and stated with great precision, so that this theoretical agnosticism does not affect the main analysis, which is after all semantic and pragmatic, rather than syntactic, and indeed, provides a useful database for potential syntactic analyses.
The meat of the analysis (and thus the book) lies in chapter 4, which provides not only individual analyses for CJDY, but also a synthesis of these four items into a focus-marking system which forms a paradigm of quantification over "contextually-relevant" alternatives. Within this system, the quantificational properties of CJDY make up a quantificational square: CAI reflects negated existential quantification over the domain of alternatives (no alternative will yield a true sentence); JIU reflects negated universal quantification over alternatives (some alternative will not yield a true sentence); DOU reflects universal quantification over alternatives (all alternatives true), and finally YE reflects existential quantification over alternatives (some alternative true). The chapter draws together the individual analyses of CJDY into a paradigm of focus quantification. As noted above, the four types of focus quantification indicated by CJDY are related via a quantificational square. The rest of this section demonstrates some of the predictions made by this paradigm about the logical relationships between CJDY sentences (e.g. because of their proposed quantificational properties, JIU (NOT ALL) forms a contradiction with DOU (ALL)). The final section of this chapter save for the summary looks briefly at two other parametric words HAI and ZAI, more as a foil to the proposed system, and as an indication of potential extensions to the paradigm, than as an actual part of the analysis.
Chapter 5 completes the picture by discussing issues of syntactic structure and semantic scope relations. It contains first, a solution for a mismatch between the semantic scope of modals with universal quantification force (i.e. "must") that have wide scope semantically, but occur in a syntactically subordinate position in CAI sentences. The solution takes the shape of an unconventional mapping from semantics to syntax: essentially, it allows the restrictor in a quantificational structure to map to a subordinate position while the nuclear scope maps to a matrix position. The author then takes on a relatively understudied class of CAI and JIU sentences which encode an evaluation of the desirability of affairs (e.g. zhe yang CAI dui 'this style CAI right': roughly "it's only correct if (done in) this way"; zhe yang JIU dui le 'this style JIU right ASP: roughly "that's right". These sentences are described as providing a modal ordering on a set of worlds. A third task of the chapter contrasts the multiply ambiguous English sentence "Three people can move the piano" to the counterparts of each of its intepretations in Mandarin. It is argued that each reading in English is encoded by a different construction in Mandarin, distinguished by the use of different parametric words (either CAI or JIU). Finally, the author takes the analysis of CJDY a step further by considering the combinations of two different parametric words in the same sentence.
Chapter 6, the concluding chapter, places the analysis of CJDY within the wider context of focus marking in Mandarin, contrasting the position of focus in CJDY sentences (typically pre-verbal), to the canonical post- verbal position of focus in other sentences. It also traces a potential historical source for CJDY-style focus agreement marking to contact with Manchu.
This study provides a comprehensive, insightful, and responsible scrutiny on information structure and semantics in Mandarin grammar, completed by a careful consideration of the syntax-semantics interface. The system of focus-background marking proposed raises typological implications for the possibilities of analagous systems in other languages. Below, I raise three points about the book that the reader might wish to be aware of, and then proceed to a slightly more in-depth discussion of potential shortcomings in the analyses. This discussion may perhaps be of greater interest to researchers/speakers of Mandarin.
First, one notable aspect of the book is the important role given to intonational factors in delineating sentence interpretations. Almost all example sentences contain an indication of where intonational prominence falls. In some cases, the intonational contour has the effect of excluding certain readings. This is especially the case in the discussion of JIU, and the native speaker reader should keep this point in mind when sentence interpretations begin to appear rather too restrictive (e.g. p148 ex.48).
Second, it is somewhat surprising that there is no clear definition of the term "parametric", given its importance in the study. The closest to an independent definition is that of Biq's (1984), from where the term is adopted (p.13 fn.1). On the other hand, there is sufficient descriptive criteria that these parametric uses can be clearly identified, and if we accept the major claims of the analysis, these parametric words do not have any easily statable meaning but rely on the information structure of the sentences they occur in for their "meaning".
Third, a brief note about the data is in order. This study provides vast amounts of data, many which are attested, or adapted from attested data. Elicited data is used, but not overwhelmingly, and the majority of relevant examples are in agreement with my own judgements. I simply wish to point out that various examples are taken from earlier works and thus appear somewhat dated or stilted (e.g. p31 ex.52c would have been much improved by adding an aspect marker GUO to both verbs in the sentence, but this example is presumably adapted from a naturally-occurring source). There are also occasional (very occasional) cases in which the data are slightly inaccurate. But these are only very minor infelicities (some are simply tone marking inaccuracies), and none of the very few inaccuracies affect the argument they are intended to make. For instance, ex.31 on p135 is, for myself, infelicitous because of the presence of RUGUO 'if' in the conditional clause, but the sentence would be perfect without RUGUO. Both in ex.31 and in the parallel ex.30, RUGUO may be removed without affecting the judgements and the argument at hand. A rather more potentially confusing typo is found on p165 (the first paragraph), in the discussion of two contexts for ex.70. In this paragraph, Context 1 and Context 2 should be substituted for one another.
Below, I discuss the analyses of CAI and JIU in a little detail. Among the analyses of CJDY, the treatments of DOU and YE are relatively uncontroversial. This is in part because DOU shares the same shape as the distributive marker in sentences containing universal quantification, and YE corresponds in form to an adverb meaning "also", that it seems relatively unsurprising for DOU to be associated with universal quantification and YE with existential quantification. The author takes pains, however, to show that parametric DOU is distinct from distributive DOU. Moreover, parametric YE is also treated differently from the YE that means "also", called "focusing YE" (p42-44).
The analyses of CAI and JIU deserve greater attention partly because their meanings, or at least the meanings of their non-parametric counterparts, are far less easily statable than those of YE and DOU. In previous works, analyses of CAI and JIU have been to a great extent intertwined, because they seem to be synonymous in some contexts, and strangely antonymous in others. For instance, both appear to mean "only" in (7), but while CAI in (8) suggests that the leaving at 8 is felt to be later than expected, JIU in (9) suggests that this event is earlier than expected. To add to further confusion, CAI also seems to have another interpretation similar to JIU in (9), exemplified by (10) below.
(7) Wo CAI/JIU he le liang bei cha. I CAI/JIU drink ASP two cups tea I only drank two cups of tea.
(8) Ta ba dian CAI zou (S)he 8 o'clock CAI come (S)he leaves only at 8 o'clock.
(9) Ta ba dian JIU zou (S)he 8 o'clock JIU leave (S)he leaves (immediately) at 8 o'clock.
(10) Xianzai CAI 8 dian. Now CAI 8 o'clock It's only 8 o'clock now.
Earlier analyses (e.g. Biq 1988, Lai 1999) typically go to great lengths to unify these meanings, but the present work shows convincingly (chapter 2) that JIU in (7) is distinct from JIU in (9), and that only JIU in (8) (but not in (7)) can be counted as "parametric", thus distinguishing further the uses of CAI and JIU, and imposing unprecedented clarity on their classifications. With this new classification, the analyses of CAI and JIU are successfully extricated from one another. Interestingly, CAI in (10) is unified with CAI in (8) --- this analysis of CAI with temporal phrases I find in particular to be the most convincing and complete, not only in this book, but also among previous work on CAI. Much of the results of the proposed analysis of CAI are achieved from the precise definition of "contextually-relevant domain of alternatives". This definition is based on the notion of an "eventuality bag", which is the set of (discourse-constrained) eventualities that have occurred up to the point in time at which a sentence is evaluated. Exploiting this notion, the analysis treats temporal adverbials occurring with CAI as uniformly indicating an "until" interpretation, ingeniously unifying the apparently contradictory (8) and (10). There is a slight shortcoming in the analysis of CAI sentences, however. In conditional sentences, CAI has often been noted to be associated with expressing a necessary condition. The analysis of conditional CAI sentences is based on a detailed compositional analysis of "only if" sentences that derives their semantics by first reversing restrictor/scope relations to a universally quantified sentence and applying existential quantification to this structure. This part of the analysis is compositional and very explicitly laid out, but I would have found it more useful to see a clear link between conditional CAI sentences and temporal CAI sentences, and between conditional CAI sentences and the negated existential meaning claimed to be associated with CAI.
The most challenging task in the book is presented by the analysis of JIU, which is also potentially the most controversial part of the proposed system. JIU is argued to reflect "negated universal quantification" over contextually-relevant alternatives (i.e. at least one alternative to the focus will yield a false sentence). There are two aspects to the analysis of JIU that are potential complicating factors. First, negated universal quantification (NOT ALL) takes up that corner of the quantificational square that is typically assumed to be non-lexicalized (potentially because its meaning is expressible by existential quantification combined with analytically encoded inner negation: EXIST NOT (Horn 1989/2001 p252ff, Hole in press p8). Second, JIU is also argued to interact not only with focus but also with a notion of contrastive topic. The section on JIU does an admirable job of presenting evidence for both of these assumptions, especially in providing convincing examples and in yielding the correct prediction that JIU cannot occur with the focus marker LIAN "even", which the author suggests encodes universal quantification over alternatives and is thus directly contradictory to JIU. I wish to point out, however, that the analysis of JIU, while in large part convincing, seems to miss one set of interpretations for JIU sentences. The problem is raised by an example such as (160) (p238), which has two possible interpretations. One is that given by the author, and predicted by his account of JIU (see below). The other, however, goes against the idea of negated universal quantification over alternatives.
(160) zai ZHER women JIU neng wanr be.at here we JIU can play We can play here (there are places where we can't play)
In addition to the interpretation given, the sentence may also be interpreted as providing an exemplar for a universal generalization; i.e. it can be preceded by a statement of "we can play anywhere", to mean "here is one of the places we can play at", which seems to contradict the proposed hypothesis. This is perhaps the only real empirical problem that one can point to in the entire book. Even so, the analysis of JIU remains convincing for the examples cited towards it, and the prediction it makes concerning the incompatibility of LIAN and JIU is very attractive. It is conceivable that the current analysis could be maintained for at least one set of JIU sentences, and the solution might ultimately lie in a non- unified analysis of JIU.
To sum up, this is an outstanding piece of work that I would recommend both to Chinese linguists, and to linguists interested in information structure. By postulating a coherent system of focus-background marking, and by positing CJDY as agreement words, the analysis underscores the core status of information structural factors in Mandarin grammar, converging with previous works such as La Polla (1995) and Li and Thompson (1976).
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Shiao Wei Tham is an assistant professor of Chinese at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Asian School I. Her research interests lie in lexical semantics, information structure, and their interaction. She has studied information structure in Chinese linguistics through its different locative constructions, and through cleft-like constructions. Her research interests include the encoding of locative, possessive, and existential meanings across languages, and the implications of such constructions for information structure.