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Remarks on the syntax of Mandarin yes-no questions

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According to C.-T. Huand (1991), Chinese “A-not-a questions” are not syntactically unitary but fall into two types whose syntax has literally nothing in common. I argue that Huang is incorrect in assimilating the “disjunctive” variety of A-not-A questions to alternative questions, in that disjunctive questions are subject to a number of restrictions that do not apply to alternative questions, for example, a restriction that the positive conjunct precede the negative one. While accepting the basic idea of Huang's rule for “reduplicative” A-not-A questions, I note that restrictions on negation are mirrored not only in disjunctive questions where, for Huang the negative element is a real negation, but also in reduplicative questions, where for Huang there is only an apparent negation. I conclude that the full spectrum of A-not-A questions in Chinese reflects not synchronically unrelated constructions but rather different ways of specializing an, alternative question for the function of a yes-no question.

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An earlier version, of this paper was presented at the First International Conference on Chinese Linguistics, Singapore, June 24, 1992. For comments on earlier drafts of this paper and discussion of the relevant examples, I am grateful to C.-T. James Huang, Jiang Zixin, Lin Fu-Wen, and two anonymous JEAL referees.

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McCawley, J.D. Remarks on the syntax of Mandarin yes-no questions. J East Asian Linguis 3, 179–194 (1994).

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