Modal Concord in Mandarin?

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It seems to me that there are many cases where two or more morphemes that express the same meaning can be used together in one sentence in Mandarin. Although to some extent one of them seems redundant, they are nonetheless grammatical. I wonder if all these cases can be regarded as certain kind of concord? Maybe not in the strict sense, but to some extent, it might very well be. For example, the possibility modal neng and de can both express ability. Normally one is enough.

(1) Ni neng zuo-wan gongke ma?

you can do-finish homework Q

Can you finish doing the homework?

(2) Ni zuo-de-wan gongke ma?

you do-can-finish homework Q

Can you finish doing the homework?

But if you use both, it is perfectly ok. At least a lot of times, I would use such sentences as:

(3) Ni neng zuo-de-wan gongke ma?

So  according to Zeijlstra (2007) “Modal Concord (MC) is a phenomenon where two modal expressions do not yield a cumulative reading, but yield only one modal operator at LF”. Indeed I feel the Mandarin examples do not have a cumulative reading either.

Besides modal concord, I think there are many other “concord” examples. For example, universal concord, as I have argued in one of my papers. Generally Mandarin is a language with a lot of overt operators, and many of such operators can be used together, resulting in various concord phenomena. Of course these are just some informal thoughts so far. I’ll look into such issues more carefully when I have time. But of course if you are interested in these ideas, please leave me a message, and we’ll probably work together on some interesting paper.


Issues in NPI licensing in questions

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Elene Guerzoni and Yael Sharvit (2007) A Question of Strength: on NPIs in Interrogative Clauses, Linguistice and Philosophy 30:3 argues that NPIs in embedded questions are licensed by Exhaustivity. They leave the issue with root questions open for future discussion, only suggesting that root questions might be pragmatically exhaustive by default. I want to raise a few issues to their argument.

1. Some questions (how and why) do not have an exhaustive reading, or it is hard to define what counts as an exhaustive reading. Are NPIs allowed in such questions?

How will they build any house on the beach?
Why will they build any house on the beach?

Does syntax or morphology play any role here?

In what manner/by what means will they build any house on the beach?
For what/for what reason/for what purpose will they build any house on the beach?
What will they build any house on the beach for?

2. Some questions (some where and when questions, probably) favor a default non-exhaustive reading. Are NPIs allowed?

Where can I buy any copy of the New Yorker?
When can I buy any copy of the New Yorker?
(Suppose it is available at 3, 6, 9pm)

3. There are non-exhaustive markers. Therefore such markers should make NPIs unacceptable in a question. Is it so?

Who for example has any interest in NPIs.

4. There are exhaustivity markers. If a sentence is overtly marked to be exhaustive, are NPIs still allowed? Is there any influence from the exhaustivity marker at all?

Who all had any interest in NPIs?

I do not have any conclusions yet, and I haven’t surveyed native speakers for their judgement yet. Therefore any comments are welcome.



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If counterfactuals need to be expressed differently from other types of conditionals, then there should be a grammatical device for doing so, e.g. the subjunctive in Spanish, the conditionnel in French, and the backward-shifted use of tense in English. Although in grammar books of English, there is always a category of subjunctive mood, it is actually not a separate paradigm of conjugation at all. The so-called English subjunctive is different from the real subjunctive in many other languages where the conjugation takes a different form from other verb forms.

So I’ve read that in Danish and Dutch there isn’t a subjunctive mood. I wonder how they express the counterfactuals in Danish and Dutch. Are there any grammatical devices reserved especially for the counterfactual conditional in these two languages? Is it possible that they just don’t distinguish between the counterfactual conditional and other types of conditionals? They are all conditionals. Whether it is a counterfactual conditional or a plain conditional could be indicated by context, choice of words and maybe even intonation.

But then if there is no grammatical device specifically related to the counterfactual in many languages, is it necessary to categorically distinguish the counterfactual from other types of conditionals?