chinese temporal structure and its implication in clt

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Temporal Structure and Its Implication in CSL
GU Yang
Department of Linguistics & Modern Languages
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
[email protected]
A sentence expresses a logical proposition which has a truth value. A proposition contains a
relevant event or state depicted by a verb plus its argument(s) (semantic participants). To have
truth value, such a verb phrase must be spatiotemporally anchored (EnC 1987); a sentence hence
must be tensed. It is argued by many linguists that in natural language syntax, there exists a
functional category of tense which encodes the spatiotemporal notion and functions to anchor a
given verb phrase. Such an anchoring is analogous to interpreting referentiality of an entity in
time and space. As tense is a temporal focus, its interpretation is structure-dependent. There is a
topological relation holding between the verb structure and clause structure for the temporal
interpretation of tense. Due to linguistic typology and grammaticalization, languages my have
overt or covert tense morphology.
In this presentation we discuss a series of Mandarin structures and explain how tense is
manifested via various structural expressions and how it is analyzable under the core feature of
reference in the temporal structure. We demonstrate that the temporal structure for interpreting
Mandarin tense involves verb, aspect, as well as discourse structures. All these manifest
sophisticated linguistic knowledge of the Mandarin native speaker, which makes teaching and
acquisition of Mandarin tense a challenging and demanding task. As there is no overt tense
morphology in Mandarin Chinese and the interpretation of tense is complex in the language, it is
foreseeable that this is an area where problems will arise in terms of teaching CSL, especially for
speakers whose native languages either have systematic tense morphology or use different
grammatical strategies to anchor verb phrases. To facilitate the audience, we will reflect on a
number of learnability problems and offer some suggestions.