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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Alternatives and Exhaustification: Non-Interrogative Uses of Chinese Wh-words
by Liao, Hsiu-Chen, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2011, 285; 3446166
Abstract (Summary)

This work investigates the non-interrogative uses of Chinese wh-phrases as a path to understand the design of wh-phrases in general. Chinese wh-phrases can appear in veridical contexts and receive a universal interpretation, only when they associate with the marker dou. When they are bare wh-phrases (i.e. not in association with dou), their non-interrogative uses only have existential meanings, and the uses are subject to a non-veridicality condition, a widespread property of non-interrogative uses of bare wh-phrases crosslinguistically.

The behavior of Chinese wh-phrases is a reminiscent of English any. Any has similar peculiar restrictive distribution. It conditionally appears in veridical contexts with a universal reading, as in John picked any flower *(on the ground). And its other uses are subject to a non-veridicality condition, like its use as a negative polarity item in negative sentences or as a Free Choice item in modalized sentences (e.g. you may pick any flower). Therefore it is tempting to try a polarity-based analysis for the non-interrogative uses of Chinese wh-phrases. This is the line taken in the present dissertation. It argues for the application of a unified framework for both the polarity system and the Chinese wh-system. Specifically, it shows how Chierchia's bi-dimensional alternative-based framework for polarity items can be extended to Chinese wh-phrases.

To apply the framework, the thesis assumes that Chinese wh-words can function like Free Choice items. That is, it follows Karttunen (1977) in assuming that wh-words are existentially quantified. Then it adds the idea that Chinese wh-words can activate subdomain and scalar alternatives. When they activate alternatives, they call for a recursive process of exhaustification. The process derives different readings in different contexts, and results in a semantic clash in some cases, enabling us to explain the non-veridical condition mentioned above. This thesis also discusses some differences between Chinese wh-phrases and other polarity items. It explicitly illustrates how the approach accounts for the differences in a single parameterized mechanism through slight modification or a switch.

To summarize, the approach gives us an overall simple analysis of the Chinese wh-system and the whole polarity system, and the mechanism displays a strong explanatory strength in explaining complicated empirical facts in a systematic way.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Huang, C.-T. James
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics
Keywords: Alternatives and exhaustification, Chinese, Chinese polarity system, Dou and focus-marking, Focus, Free Choice, Indefinites, Polarity, Wh-dependency
Publication Number: 3446166
ISBN: 978-1-124-49818-8
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