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The two sides of wh-indeterminates in Mandarin: A prosodic and processing account

On May 30th, Yang Yang succesfully defended her doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Yang on this great result.

Yang Yang
30 May 2018
Full text in Leiden University Repository


Mandarin is a wh-in-situ language, in which wh-words remain in their base position as declarative counterparts do. Mandarin is also a wh-indeterminate language, in which wh-words like shénme can have interrogative interpretation ‘what’ (wh-interrogative) or non-interrogative existential interpretation ‘something’ (wh-existential). Due to the wh-in-situ and wh-indeterminate nature, clausal typing (how to classify clauses as wh-questions) in Mandarin and the licensing of wh-indeterminates have been two intriguing topics. This dissertation investigates clausal typing in Mandarin and the licensing of Mandarin wh-indeterminates, from the perspectives of prosody and processing. By conducting a series of studies, we find that prosody plays an essential role in marking and typing wh-questions and listeners can anticipate clause-types by utilizing prosody since the clause onset. Hence we propose an extended clausal typing hypothesis, recognizing the role of prosody in clausal typing and making the original clausal typing hypothesis more complete, cross-linguistically speaking. As for the licensing of wh-existentials, we provide evidence and analysis that wh-existentials can also be licensed in veridical contexts with certain constraints, in addition to the commonly assumed nonveridical contexts. Regarding the licensing of wh-interrogatives, our processing evidence supports that a covert dependency is required between the wh-interrogative and the interrogative operator(Q) at CP-Spec.

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