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Issues In The Semantics Of Mandarin Questions

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This dissertation strives to explain certain long-standing issues in Mandarin questions within a new framework, i.e. the Alternative Semantics theory, and also to bring in hitherto unnoticed new data. Part I of the dissertation examines argument wh-questions. Starting from Tsai's (1999) Lexical Courtesy Hypothesis, according to which wh-movement in general should be avoided if possible, I present an analysis of Mandarin wh-in-situ within the framework of Alternative Semantics (Rooth 1985, Shimoyama 2001) which does not resort to LF movement or unselective binding. Furthermore I propose that the scope marking of questions in this theory is achieved by focus intonation. Experimental phonetic data are provided to support this important new claim. I also apply this new theory to polarity, A-not-A and alternative questions in Mandarin, showing that they are formed by syntactic specification of a set of alternatives on different levels respectively. The Alternative Semantics analysis is further extended to wh-existential and wh-universal constructions. I show that existential closure can be applied either locally or non-locally as a consequence of the compositional semantics in the wh-existential constructions. In the universal construction "mei...dou" ("every...all"), the long-standing problem of double-distributivity is accounted for by universal concord in the sense of Kratzer (2006) Part II examines "how" and "why" questions using event semantics. Data from Mandarin show that there is an event singularity presupposition in manner "how" and causal "why" questions, and this presupposition leads to a singleton set when the true answers are considered. This explains such cross-linguistic puzzles as the distribution of the exhaustivity marker "all" in wh-questions and the lack of quantificational variability effect in embedded manner and causal questions. I also propose an analysis of verbal "how" questions in Mandarin (e.g. Yuehan zenme-le Mali? literally "John how-ed Mary?"). The verbal "how" is treated as a ditransitive verbal variable in the lexicon, and it can account for the three special constraints on the use of such verbal "how" questions, i.e. the malefactivity reading, incompatibility with negation, and lack of a ditransitive use. I also propose a new typology of wh-questions based on the parameters of the interpretational variability of wh-pronouns and scope marking strategies.

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2009-10-13T20:25:10Z

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dissertation or thesis

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