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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

On Mandarin propositional assertion sentences with 'shì' and 'de'

Thursday 17 June 2021
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Online via Skype (email m.p.m.bogaards@hum.leidenuniv.nl for access)

In Mandarin, a number of different constructions surface with a copular like element shì or a sentence final de or both. They are easily confused with cleft constructions which also contain shì and de. The current study concentrates on one type of shì…de construction which has a propositional broad focus interpretation (often translated in English as “It is (indeed) the case/situation that…”). For instance:

(1) Nà-ge    dìfang    wǒ     shì    qù-guo     de.
      dem-cl  place      1sg     be     go-exp     sfp
      ‘It is (indeed) the case that I have been to that place.’

(2) Zài-shì-nèi              shì     bìxū     dài        kǒuzhào      de.
      at-room-inside      be      must    wear    mask           sfp
      ‘It is (indeed) the case that one must wear a mask in indoor spaces.’

(3) Wǒ    shì    chángcháng   qù       nàli      chīfàn         de.
      1sg    be     often               go       there   eat.meal    sfp
      ‘It is (indeed) the case that I often have my meals there.’

(4) Zhāng Sān     shì   zhīdào    zhè-jiàn      shì          de.
      Zhang San     be     know     dem-cl        thing      sfp
      ‘It is (indeed) the case that Zhang San knows this thing.’

In addition to the situation denoted by the predicate, these sentences also involve the speaker’s conviction about the proposition when shì and de appear. This study first defines the key syntactic and semantic properties of such propositional assertion sentences that can be distinguished from other constructions with shì and/or de. On the basis of these, shared features of all types of predicates that can be licensed in the scope of shì…de are examined. The licit predicates must be finite, stative, and declarative. Three selectional restrictions imposed by the propositional assertion sentences are accordingly put forth: [+finite], [+stative], and [-q]. We further argue that [+stative] is associated with de, [-q] is associated with shì, and [+finite] is related to both. In addition, the function of modals (e.g. (2)), aspects (e.g. (1)), and habitual elements (e.g. (3)) in relation to eventuality is discussed. We argue that they can serve as “type shifters”, turning eventives into statives.

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