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Chinese Conditionals and the Theory of Conditionals

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As is well known, in conditionals and, more generally, in structures involving adverbs of quantification, indefinite NPs like a cat display a variable quantificational force. Within DRT this phenomenon is analyzed by assimilating indefinites to variables. Unlike other variable-like elements, however, indefinites cannot be anaphoric to something else. That is, one cannot say things like "a cat usually meows if a cat is hungry" meaning "a cat usually meows if it is hungry." This is generally explained in terms of a novelty condition: indefinites must introduce novel variables. Cheng and Huang (1996) discuss and analyze two types of Chinese conditionals in which wh- words display quantificational variability. In one type of conditional, their behavior is fully analogous to that of indefinites. In the other, they behave like indefinites in the antecedent, while in the consequent they must be interpreted as bound pronouns. Thus, in DR-theoretic terms, Chinese wh-words obey the novelty condition in the antecedent but not in the consequent of a conditional. This behavior is unexpected. The present paper addresses this issue. The main claim is that a certain version of Dynamic Semantics leads one to expect elements with exactly the properties of Chinese wh-words. In particular, Dynamic Semantics makes it possible to reverse, in a sense, the classic DR-theoretic strategy. One can view indefinites as existentially quantified terms: however, their existential force can be overridden by operators in their local environment that wipe out their existential force, as it were, and get them to act like variables. If one takes this line, the Novelty Condition becomes dispensable and the problem disappears. The behavior of Chinese wh-words is also compared to that of other elements analyzable as indefinite pronominals, such as si in Italian or one in English.

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Chierchia, G. Chinese Conditionals and the Theory of Conditionals. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 9, 1–54 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008317108361

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  • Dynamic Semantic
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