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The semantics and pragmatics of chadian mei in Mandarin Chinese


Back to issue: Linguistische Berichte Heft 258
EUR 19.90


The current paper deals with the Mandarin Chinese construction chadian mei ‘almost NEG’ that is ambiguous depending on whether negation has a normal or pleonastic interpretation. The literature either takes mei as semantically vacuous in the latter interpretation (e.g. Zhu 1959; Liu 2011; Yuan 2013), or attributes the ambiguity to that of the approximation marker Chadian (Kaufmann & Xu 2013). This paper offers novel empirical arguments for the ambiguity of mei, and proposes a multidimensional semantic analysis for the ‘pleonastic’ mei: the apparent semantically vacuous mei is a counterfactual commentary expression with non-at-issue meaning contributions at the levels of conventional implicatures and conventional presuppositions. I argue that this analysis fits with the distributional properties of chadian mei and that additionally, it provides further empirical support for the three-dimensional semantic framework (Liu 2012).