The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 9/24 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: Negation Scoping and Focus in Mandarin Biased Questions
Time: Thursday, September 24th, 12:30pm – 1:50pm

Abstract: The role of negation in biased yes/no questions has been under much discussion in the literature. I present evidence from the 4-way readings of Mandarin negative yes/no questions, which support Romero & Han’s (2004) VERUM operator account. A question like (1) can have 4 different readings, depending on the placement of focus and boundary tone.

(1) ta bu     chi niurou ma
     he NEG eat beef     MA
(a) ‘Doesn’t he eat beef?’ Focus on ‘eat’, H% Biased question
(b) ‘Does he not eat beef?’ Focus on NEG, H% Surprised question
(c) ‘He eats beef.’ Focus on ‘eat’, L% Rhetorical question
(d) ‘He doesn’t eat beef.’ Focus on NEG, L% Negative dogmatic assertion

The contrast between readings (a) and (b) has its parallel in English biased questions, the Outside-NEG reading vs. Inside-NEG reading (Ladd 1981). Romero & Han (2004) analyzes the contrast to stem from a difference in scoping between negation and VERUM, a silent operator. In this talk, I show that in Mandarin, VERUM can be pronounced at PF as ​shi, and displays overt scoping with negation that confirms Romero & Han’s prediction of the two readings. And when the Mandarin VERUM is optionally silent, focus can cue the negation scoping at LF, via association with focus (Rooth 1985).