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Epistemic IndefinitesExploring Modality Beyond the Verbal Domain$
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Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Paula Menéndez-Benito

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199665297

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199665297.001.0001

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Where do Chinese wh-items fit?

Where do Chinese wh-items fit?

(p.30) (p.31) 2 Where do Chinese wh-items fit?
Epistemic Indefinites

Gennaro Chierchia

Hsiu-Chen Daphne Liao

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates wh-items in Mandarin from a cross-linguistic perspective, seeking to unify their various uses. It stems from: (i) previous approaches to indefinites in Chinese (Cheng 1991; Lin 1998); (ii) Kartunnen’s semantics for questions; (iii) recent work on epistemic indefinites (EIs); and (iv) recent approaches to polarity (e.g. Chierchia 2013). The chapter claims that indefinites in all languages denote existential terms and activate a grammatically determined set of alternatives, factored into meaning through a process of ‘exhaustification’, responsible for the scalar and ‘free choice’ readings of ordinary indefinites (OIs). EIs are viewed in the same way, the only difference from OIs being that EIs’ alternatives cannot be ‘pruned’ (i.e. ‘ignored’) depending on the context. Therefore, with EIs, epistemic effects come about obligatorily. The differences within types of EIs (including Chinese wh’s) are part of (a small set of) parametric differences on how alternatives can be factored in.

Keywords:   wh-items, Mandarin, polarity items, exhaustification, grammatical theory of implicatures

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