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Lecture | CHiLL series

Minimal success and its associated inferences: Telicity marking with V-DAO in Mandarin Chinese

Wednesday 10 April 2024
Chinese Linguistics in Leiden (ChiLL)
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


This talk addresses telicity marking using the morpheme DAO ‘arrive/to’ in Mandarin Chinese, arguing that DAO in the sequence V-dao (DP), e.g. chi-dao yu ‘eat-DAO fish, lit. get to eat fish’, indicates that the event described by V (DP) is successful to a minimal extent.  Evidence is adduced from restrictions on the use of DAO with semelfactive verbs and its preference for negative contexts with achievement and activity verbs. I posit that DAO in such cases evokes a “scale of attainment’’ associated with the predicate P denoted by V (DP), and V-DAO (DP) entails that P is achieved to a minimum non-zero value. V-dao sentences are associated with two kinds of inferences.  First, V-dao shows negative polarity effects, occurring naturally in negative contexts but showing restrictions in positive contexts, e.g. #shui-dao “sleep-DAO” meaning “get to sleep” is infelicitous, but mei shui-dao ‘NEG sleep-DAO, i.e. didn’t sleep at all’ is natural.  Second, V-dao is associated with a “manage to” interpretation, as in the case of chi-dao yu ‘eat-DAO fish, lit. get to eat fish’ above.  I argue that both are inferences arising from the meaning of V-dao as indicating minimal success.  Finally, I show that the minimal success interpretation of V-dao itself arises from pragmatic strengthening of a non-maximal entailment.

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