contrastive readings of adjectival predicates

P}l Kristian Eriksen p.k.eriksen at ILF.UIO.NO
Thu May 22 15:28:51 UTC 2003

  Dear colleagues,

    A peculiar phenomenon can be observed in Mandarin Chinese. Unmodified
adjectival predicates in this language can only be used with a contrastive
interpretation. (Notice that adjectives in Mandarin are considered a sub-
class of verbs, but this phenomenon is not observed for other verbs in

    Wo qiong   (Tonal diacritics are left out of the example)
    I  poor
    "I am poor" (contrastive reading)

    The example above forces the interpretation that my being poor stands
in contrast to someone else, who might not be poor. Adjectival predicates
in Mandarin can only avoid this forced contrastive reading if they are
modified by adverbs of degree, like "very", "quite", "a bit", "too", and
so on - or if they are negated. In order to render an unmarked,
non-contrastive reading of an adjectival predicate, when no other particular
adverb of degree is licit, the adverb "hen" ("very") is introduced into
the sentence. However, "hen" does not in such cases put any emphasis on the
degree of the predicate, as would otherwise have been expected from such an
adverb. (This emphatic reading can only be obtained if "hen" is phonetical-
ly stressed)

    Wo hen qiong
    I  very  poor
    "I am poor" (non-contrastive reading)

    I have so far not encountered other languages than Mandarin Chinese
where this is found, so I was curious if you know of any languages in
which it is. If you do, would you please describe to me what form
adjectival predicates take in the language in question. Are adjectives a
sub-class of verbs? If they do take verbal morphology, what are the most
important TAM-categories expressed at the main clause level? Or if they
are accompanied by a copula, which TAM-categories does the copula express
for them?

    I will post a short summary of the information I get on this. Many
thanks in advance,

    Paal Kr. Eriksen

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