Thursday 17 June — Zhaole Yang & Hang Cheng

Speaker: Zhaole Yang & Hang Cheng (Leiden University)
Title: On Mandarin propositional assertion sentences with shì and de
Date: Thursday 17 June
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


In Mandarin, a number of different constructions surface with a copular like element shi or a sentence final de or both. They are easily confused with cleft constructions which also contain shi and de. The current study concentrates on one type of shi…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 shi 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 shi 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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