Chapter in:Building Categories in Interaction: Linguistic resources at work
Edited by Caterina Mauri, Ilaria Fiorentini and Eugenio Goria
[Studies in Language Companion Series 220] 2021
► pp. 272–294
The on-line construction of meaning in Mandarin Chinese
Focus on relative clauses
Mandarin Chinese employs a fairly wide range of constructions to encode categories, and specifically ad hoc categories. These include, for instance, a general extender as 等等 děng(děng) ‘etc., and so on’, non-exhaustive connectives as 啊 ā… 啊 ā (see Zhang 2008), exemplifying constructions, and so on. In this paper, I focus on the use of a specific strategy of on-line category construction in Chinese, namely postnominal relative clauses (RCs). Postnominal RCs are particularly interesting since in Mandarin Chinese, as in nearly every Sinitic language, normally all modifiers (including RCs) appear before the head noun; it has been proposed that postnominal RCs are always added as afterthoughts, to resolve a potentially ambiguous reference, or just to narrow down the scope of predication (see Wang & Wu 2020). I conduct a manual search of postnominal RCs in excerpts of transcribed spoken dialogue from the National Broadcast Media Language Corpus, and I propose an analysis of the use of postnominal RCs as devices for on-line categorization, focussing on their interaction with other strategies for category-building. I also discuss the pragmatic and functional correlates of the use of postnominal RCs, as opposed to canonical, prenominal RCs.
Keywords: Chinese, categorization, relative clause, headedness, word order