Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 145-165

Tense as a discourse feature: rethinking temporal location in Mandarin Chinese

  • Jiun-Shiung WuAffiliated withDepartment of Foreign Languages, National Chiayi University Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In this paper, I argue that tense is a discourse feature in Mandarin if tense is extended to mean temporal location in general instead of grammaticalized location in time, as defined in Comrie (Tense, 1985). The evidence comes from the observation that tense does not affect temporal relations in Mandarin. The final endpoint imposed on an activity by past tense is not accessible to the other sentences in the same discourse while the final endpoint imposed by rhetorical relations, such as Narration, is. I argue that this difference results from the fact that in Mandarin tense does not impose a final endpoint until a coherent discourse is formed. I also discuss the implications of this paper for the determination of temporal locations in Mandarin, the status of Tense Phrase (TP) in Mandarin, the semantics of the perfective le, and modeling Mandarin discourse.


Temporal location Tense Semantics Discourse Mandarin Chinese